It seems that having created a market for budget travellers, with no service, let alone no frills, CEO Micheal O’Leary has been forced by market pressures to ease up on the no frills, and start to offer at least some elements of what could be termed the core offering of an airline. This may or may not mean the end of the sales of lottery tickets on flights.
Huge numbers of travellers have travelled with Ryanair since its inception, and while complaining about it, have travelled in numbers large enough to keep it relatively sucessful (until now). Things are afoot at Ryanair, but O’Leary does have form in the customer service #fail area. As the Guardian reports, “Barely a year ago, he notoriously dismissed the half million people on Facebook who backed a customer’s complaint over a boarding pass reissue charge of several hundred euros by calling it ‘her fuck-up. Now, though, he says: ‘We do need to improve.’”
That said, O’Leary and Ryanair may struggle to move into an alternative market. The brand does have a certain reputation, and it’s not really positive when it comes to customer service. Although there will be an initial willingness from consumers to accept at face value, O’Leary’s assurances that they will be able to provide a service to counter EasyJet (which is still not the pinnacle of customer service) and turn around a culture that has been established for nearly 20 years, will be a much more complex activity than simply telling people about it.
Much of the research in the field of organisational change suggests that a change in culture has to come both from the leadership and from a willingness amongst the staff to accept the change. One of the best ways to do this is to replace the leadership group, and in particular the CEO. I can’t imagine that is part of O’Leary’s plan. If the CEO has publicly said over the past twenty years that the customer is the problem, and that good service is not a right, then his staff from the top to the bottom will have absorbed this message. To ask them to suddenly go against all that they have “believed in” over their time with the company is to ask them to accept that they are bad decision-makers. It is an “attack” on their ego, and their ability to make autonomous choices.
The path from horrific service to passable service will be a long one. Change has to be demonstrated through both practical changes, and through symbolic change. Ultimately, all the staff have to first be assured that the dramatic change is not too dramatic as to challenge their egos, and secondly, they will have to “buy-in” to the process.