Ryanair – the brand we can now learn to love


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0 michael oleary

I have always described Ryanair as ‘the brand we love to hate’. Famed for its ‘no frills’ approach, for years, millions of consumers decided that despite the appealing cost, the un-acceptability of the Ryanair experience was a big turn off. Equally as many millions of consumers were prepared to put up with the ‘no service’ proposition and until recently, Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary revelled in the financial returns that this strategy delivered.

Michael O’Leary became as famous for his ability to deliver remarkably positive financial returns for his company, as he did for his public disdain for the customer. These are just some of the things he has said about customers in the past:

“If drink sales are falling off, we get the pilots to engineer a bit of turbulence. That usually spikes sales.”

On passengers who forget to print their boarding passes: “We think they should pay €60 for being so stupid.”

“Anyone who thinks Ryanair flights are some sort of bastion of sanctity where you can contemplate your navel is wrong. We already bombard you with as many in-flight announcements and trolleys as we can. Anyone who looks like sleeping, we wake them up to sell them things.”

“MBA students come out with: ‘My staff is my most important asset.’ Bullshit. Staff is usually your biggest cost. We all employ some lazy bastards who needs a kick up the backside, but no one can bring themselves to admit it.”

If you can believe it, there are even worse examples than this with even fruitier language. The reason why the airline became the one that most loved to hate is not very difficult to understand. However, as a passionate defender of all things Customer Experience, I am about to write a sentence that I NEVER in a million years imagined I ever would…… brace yourselves…..

Michael O’Leary is the new HERO of Customer Experience!

Whilst I will never accept or codone the things Mr O’Leary has said and done in the past when it comes to his customers, I am absolutely accepting of a leader who is prepared to admit he is in the wrong. Too many business leaders do not have the humility to admit failure – those that do should be commended for having the balls to do so. Michael O’Leary has become one of those leaders.

If you have no idea what I am talking about, let me share with you this ‘up to date’ quote of Michael O’Leary’s following their latest round of financial results:

‘If I had known being nicer to our customers was going to work so well I would have done it years ago.’

Do not adjust your screens – you did just read that correctly. Michael O’Leary has finally acknowledged that improving the customer experience has had a POSITIVE effect on the financial performance of his business. He has admitted that he was wrong not to change the way the airline treated customers much sooner and is committed to making the Ryanair Customer Experience even better.

If I were any other airline in the industry, I would be very afraid. Ryanair’s co-founder, the late Tony Ryan, was desperate to make Ryanair the best-loved airline in Europe. Michael O’Leary vehemently disagreed with him and insisted that they should focus on being the lowest cost. They were actually both on to something – creating Europe’s lowest cost AND most loved airline  would be quite some proposition. This is now the proposition that Michael O’Leary is trying to fulfil.

Customer Experience Professionals all over the world are often challenged by business leaders as to the real benefits of Customer Experience. We are challenged with talking about ‘fluff’ rather than substance. Does it really make a difference? Well if you do not believe me, then speak to the new Customer Experience HERO – Michael O’Leary. For the greatest customer experience sceptic on earth to ‘see the light’, there is no better way of demonstrating to any business the potential reward for putting customers on the strategic map.

Over the last few weeks, since Michael O’Leary shared his epiphany with the world, I have discussed his new conclusions about the benefits of Customer Experience with many people. A significant proportion of those people have suggested they will now give Ryanair ‘another chance’. Improving the Customer Experience really does work. Ryanair could become the ‘brand we can now learn to love’. There is still a lot of work for them to do – to continue to improve the full ‘end to end’ experience, whilst convincing us that he will maintain and sustain his focus on Customer Experience indefinitely.

I for one am very grateful. Grateful for his admission. Grateful to have an amazing advocate of the financial benefits of improving Customer Experience. Grateful for any past, present or future customer of Ryanair. Long may we hear the Ryanair ‘trumpet’!

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Ian Golding, CCXP
A highly influential freelance CX consultant, Ian advises leading companies on CX strategy, measurement, improvement and employee advocacy techniques and solutions. Ian has worked globally across multiple industries including retail, financial services, logistics, manufacturing, telecoms and pharmaceuticals deploying CX tools and methodologies. An internationally renowned speaker and blogger on the subject of CX, Ian was also the first to become a CCXP (Certified Customer Experience Professional) Authorised Resource & Training Provider.


  1. Hi Ian,
    do you really think that if such a man says “‘If I had known being nicer to our customers was going to work so well I would have done it years ago.”, he is admitting he was wrong?

    I fear it’s exactly the opposite: his only purpose is business. It’s what you say: “Michael O’Leary has finally acknowledged that improving the customer experience has had a POSITIVE effect on the financial performance of his business.”
    So, everything is good to improve business, EVEN to be careful with those wallets with two legs..

    No care about passengers for him, some times ago I read of his proposal to have even cheaper no-seat places, to maximize aircraft fulfillment, and Ryanair has been recently sanctioned here in Italy because they had no fuel reserve for eventual emergencies.

    Despite of this, people on Ryanair flights are much better than he says (God bless them). I often fly with Ryanair in the early morning, sleeping in the aircraft, and nobody woke me up. never.

    Ryanair is a cheap way to fly, and don’t ask to have a luxury level customer care. That is something different, it’s building business around the customer, not over him.

    Hope I’m wrong, so that I can also get your personal respect as well.


    Massimo Ligrani

  2. Many thanks for reading and responding Massimo. I do believe that he recognises that offering an improved experience in line with customer expectation DOES have a positive effect on financial performance – that is huge in the world of Customer Experience. Do I believe that he has ‘seen the light’ and now genuinely cares for people (customers and colleagues)? Now that is a different matter altogether! The fact that one of the worlds most prominent Customer Experience sceptics has publicly acknowledged the positive effect of improving Customer Experience is a very good thing. Can they sustain the improvement journey they have commenced – only time will tell.

  3. Right, Ian, only time will tell.

    we are now facing worldwide economic troubles which have much to share with how business has been done in last decades (it’s not only Ryanair, of course).
    the whole world of business has to redesign some of its proper rules, some principles, some purposes. profit is good, but it cannot be done burning everything around, respect for customers means a lot of things, as you certainly know, starting from respect for security, for employees and for everybody working in the value chain, for their rights and for their personal life, for environment, for future and kids, and everything you want.

    CRM is a culture and a way of life that businessman should keep inside themselves, to be effective in doing that in their companies.
    if I could suggest something to mr. O’ Leary, I would like to tell him to ask one more dollar (or euro) for each ticket, and to use it for helping his employees managing their babies (if they have) when they’re away, to improve technology on aircrafts, so that they can be more “green”, to launch special tickets and travel packs for families, for older people, and whatever can really give “care” to everything moves around a simple, cheap flight.

    My best regards,

    Massimo Ligrani


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