Ryanair unveils new strategy: 'be nice to customers'

Mon Sep 23, 2013 6:06am EDT
 
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By Conor Humphries

DUBLIN (Reuters) - Ryanair, Europe's biggest budget airline, has promised to transform its "abrupt culture" in a bid to win customers from costlier rivals, admitting for the first time that a reputation for treating its passengers badly might have become a problem.

The Irish firm, this week voted the worst of the 100 biggest brands serving the British market by readers of consumer magazine Which?, said on Friday it would become more lenient on fining customers over bag sizes and overhaul the way it communicates.

"We should try to eliminate things that unnecessarily piss people off," Chief Executive Michael O'Leary told the company's annual general meeting, after several shareholders complained about the impact of customer service on sales.

He said the company would overhaul its web site, set up a new team to respond to emails and stop fining customers whose carry-on baggage exceeds minimum sizes by a matter of millimeters.

"A lot of those customer services elements don't cost a lot of money ... It's something we are committed to addressing over the coming year," O'Leary said.

While Ryanair's obsessive focus on cost cutting has enabled it to become one of the world's largest airlines, flying more scheduled international passengers last year than any other airline, shareholders complained that the company's reputation for poor customer service was limiting its room for growth.

"I have seen people crying at boarding gates," said private shareholder Owen O'Reilly. "There is simply something wrong there that needs to be addressed."

O'Leary, who for years has scoffed at complaints about customer service, citing statistics about revenue growth and on-time departures, nodded sheepishly as other shareholders chimed in with anecdotes about family members refusing to fly Ryanair and verbal attacks they had suffered at dinner parties.   Continued...

 
A model airplane rests on a table during an announcement of the commitment for Ryanair to purchase aircraft from Boeing, in New York March 19, 2013. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson