Ryanair: Profits Do Not Equal Loyalty


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Ryanair announced this week that they had 66% ($948m) increase in full-year profits. Michael O’Leary credits Ryanair’s Always Getting Better (AGB) Customer experience program as a catalyst for these results.  My reaction in a word: Rubbish!

Other improved stats for Ryanair attributed to the AGB program include:

  •      Passenger traffic increased 11% (90.6m)
  •      Revenue Rose 12% to $8.59bn
  •      Ryanair invested in 283 new planes to handle the increases in business

O’Leary and others said the AGB program is transforming their Customer Experience, service and the way they treat Customers. The Chief financial Officer, Neil Sorahan agrees, saying they improved and listened to their Customers. But I am skeptical—not that I would know personally. It will be a cold day in Hades before I step foot on a Ryanair plane to  “experience” it myself. My worry for them is like me they have built up a group of people that passionately dislike them.

My point here is that while the results are good and the increases are real, the reasons behind them aren’t what they think. Ryanair executive team says they have changed their ways, and are “transforming” their Customer Experience, but they haven’t really. They still approach their airline with an internal focus. Their words have changed; their actions haven’t. For example, earlier this month on a flight from Spain to London, the airplane took off without any toilet paper!

Here are some other examples:

  • They still have fees, for everything.  A recent article on the independent.iepraised the company for its reduction of “controversial airport fees.” Yes, they lowered them somewhat, but they are still there. Including everyone’s favorite, the airport check-in fee. This is a fee to get a boarding pass at the airport. Now it’s only $69, down from $107.
  • Their app is still confusing, hard to use, and leaves all the work to the Customer. In a survey published by UK branding company Siegel+Gale, the airline’s app (where you can download your boarding pass and save $69 in “airport check in fee) was singled out as a “major headache.” Interestingly enough, respondents also said they were willing to pay more for a simpler experience.
  • Some fees were reduced, but other prices are set to rise. Ryanair is raising its “core fees” starting next Monday (which, to be fair, is what other airlines do, too. But as my mum used to say, “If everyone was going to jump off a bridge, does that mean you have to jump, too?”). This means the checked bag fee, another favorite of Customers, jumps from $23 to $38.
  • The senior management isn’t listening to the voice of the Customer.When last October, Siegel+Gale’s 2014 simplicity index showed them as one of the worst-performing brands overall. O’Leary’s reaction to the results was that if their profits and revenue were increasing, then this survey was an attempt for the firm to get publicity. He said also that 87 million people (presumably the estimated number of passengers that flew Ryanair) said the survey was wrong. So maybe he heard what they said, but I think we can all agree he isn’t listening. Passenger inertia is not Customer loyalty.

These examples are classic moves of an organization being forced up the Naive to Natural curve by competition. Naïve to Natural is our model developed to help an organization assess their orientation toward Customers. Ryanair is the typical Naïve company. From their AGB slogan, it appears they were heading up to transactional. However, it is important to note that these moves were only precipitated by a poor performance one quarter—and when stockholders and stakeholders put their foot down and forced the issue.

Unfortunately, since the move is forced, it isn’t likely to be effective. Ryanair has a natural tendency to be internally focused–with a culture so off Customer centricity I call it Customer animosity. Cute slogans for PR and minor changes to annoying, internally focused fees do not make a great Customer Experience. A real Customer Experience transformation requires an outside-in approach to designing the experience and infusing the culture with the Customer at the heart of everything you do. Hiking fees and ignoring feedback are not an excellent start for this journey.

I don’t think a leopard can change its spots…but I could be wrong (it’s been known to happen.). It comes down to the Customers and whether they can forgive Ryanair for some of the worse attitudes to Customers I have ever seen. Have they built up so much resentment with Customers that it will result in their downfall or will the profitability continue to improve? The question for me remains, can they make real change in their Customer Experience as long as the leadership they have are in charge or will they just revert to type as soon as they can get away with it?

What do you think of Ryanair’s new Customer program? Have you seen a difference? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Colin Shaw
Colin is an original pioneer of Customer Experience. LinkedIn has recognized Colin as one of the ‘World's Top 150 Business Influencers’ Colin is an official LinkedIn "Top Voice", with over 280,000 followers & 80,000 subscribed to his newsletter 'Why Customers Buy'. Colin's consulting company Beyond Philosophy, was recognized by the Financial Times as ‘one of the leading consultancies’. Colin is the co-host of the highly successful Intuitive Customer podcast, which is rated in the top 2% of podcasts.


  1. My wise father was fond of saying, “Just because you loudly call a pig a cow does not change the nature of the pig.” Shakespeare’s Juliet was more eloquent with her rose comment making the same point. Too often organizations rely on PR pap to tell the tale of their brand success when it is their customers’ experiences that provide the credible truth. I have not flown RyanAir but their “call it a pig” strategy of marketplace influence is widely replicated by far too many. Thanks for reminding us that if “truth” resonates with customers as hollow and incongruent with their experiences, trust declines and the enterprise loses.

  2. . . . but whoever said that PR and advertising should be objective and unbiased? When the goal is creating revenue, anything a company says about itself is a distortion of reality. Hard as I tried to think of an exception (it seems like there should be), I couldn’t. Anyone?

    So Ryanair is a bad company (or a good company that repeatedly does bad things), and wants to put its public image in a positive light? Welcome to the club, because it has plenty of company. GM’s upbeat advertising about their safe, well-engineered cars as people were getting killed in their Cobalts comes to mind. Or, my personal favorite, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company touting its affiliation with the Youth Tobacco Prevention Program, as it continues to invest millions of marketing dollars in Joe Camel, a cartoon image used to brand and promote Camel Cigarettes.

    “R.J. Reynolds has been very active in supporting youth tobacco prevention programs over the years. For example, the company has provided significant financial resources to the Boy Scouts of America to help them enhance their youth tobacco prevention efforts, which reach more than 1 million Scouts each year.” (http://www.rjrt.com/youth-tobacco-prevention/)

    That’s nothing compared to how many young people the company reaches via Joe Camel.

    This hypocrisy makes Ryanair seem tame. But then, like every other company, RJR has a sales goal they need to reach.

  3. I think we should keep an open mind that O’Leary may in fact have had a change of heart. Of course the “proof will be in the pudding” but for now he at least sounds sincere and according to his interview with Adrian there are real programs put in place, not just a PR campaign.

    It’s rare, but people do change. In the early days of Zappos, Tony Hsieh did not have the focus on culture and “wow” customer service. At some point he realized it was important to not be just another online retailer selling on price, and has pushed into the culture dimension every since. (We’ll have to see if he is going too far with Holacracy.)

    To Andy’s point, for sure marketing/PR’s job is to put things in a positive light. But it does matter if the gap between message and reality is too large. If a brand promises one thing (think “fly the friendly skies” commercial from United) and then delivers something completely different, it creates distrust.

    So I say let’s suspend cynicism for a time and see if Ryanair’s actions (and resulting change in customer sat scores) matches O’Leary’s new rhetoric. Wouldn’t it be nice to see a kinder, friendlier Ryanair?

  4. Ryanair – a name that is never far from the lips of any Customer Experience Professional. I agree with the sentiment of your post Colin – Ryanair have not changed because Michael O’Leary has had an epiphany! They have changed because they have had no choice – that does not make them customer centric.

    However, I do believe that Michael O’Leary attributing an improvement in financial performance to an improvement in Customer Experience is a very good thing for those of us in the business of improving customer experiences.

    You may be interested in reading the post I wrote in November last year – http://www.ijgolding.com/2014/11/13/ryanair-the-brand-we-can-now-learn-to-love/


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