Article by Rupert Sellers
Well, not Ryanair. The airline’s boss, Michael O’Leary hasn’t given a damn about customer service for 20 years and has been very public with his foul-mouthed comments. When he was promoted to Chief Executive in 1994, his mission was to revolutionise air travel across Europe with a low-cost, no frills model – similar to Southwest Airlines in the US. With ruthless determination, O’Leary’s plan worked and today Ryanair is one of the world’s most profitable airlines.
But times are changing. This month, Ryanair has declared that profits are down, while their rival, easyJet has just announced a 50% jump in pre-tax profits. So what’s going on? Has O’Leary’s free PR campaign, using ‘negative publicity’ for his appalling customer service, finally backfired?
To have created a low-cost, no-frills airline model is a good thing and there are numerous budget airlines now operating in this space. We are all influenced by price and Ryanair’s success is largely down to being cheap or the ‘cheapest’ – a word that O’Leary constantly uses whenever interviewed.
But no company that relies on paying passengers to fill their planes should get away with a blatant disregard for customer service. The term ‘customer service’ is nothing to do with frills, such as free meal and drinks (as was standard on all airlines pre-Ryanair). Most customers are happy to dispense with frills for the sake of keeping down price.
Customer service is about attitude – which costs nothing
Customer service is about attitude, genuine care and empathy to people. Having worked in the hospitality industry for most of my career, great customer service is essential for a hotel to be successful – and it’s not just for external customers, but internal customers (ie staff) too.
Technology and Customer service
If customer service is essential for the Service industries, what about the Technology sector? We live in an increasingly automated, self-serve world – and for the most part, technology has made our lives a lot easier. We use multi-function smartphones and tablets; we shop online; we bank online; we compare things online. But when something goes wrong with the transaction or we can’t find something we are looking for, technology can be extremely frustrating.
Invariably, customer support is automated – We type in the problem and an FAQ panel provides a possible answer. If this hasn’t solved the problem, we want human contact.
Technology companies strive to differentiate with their product offering but, however slick and useful it is, the real winners in technology are those who embrace customer service and who solve problems for customers efficiently.
HR Technology and the human touch
In the people function of human resources, new HR technology tools are increasingly being used to streamline processes such as payroll, applicant tracking, recruiting and training. But many of these tools become redundant or are under-utilised if good customer service is not provided. Video interviewing is a classic example; the process is simple and intuitive but HR managers are going to be reluctant to use this screening tool if they are not fully supported by the customer service team. At Compact Interview, we have developed our system using the best video technology but we know that our human contact and empathy with clients and their candidates is what really helps us to be successful and set us apart.
Customer service is vital for any business that interacts with people. As profits dip at Ryanair, Michael O’Leary has decided to change tact and get touchy-feely with his customers. Really? I’m not convinced he will learn what genuine customer service is any time soon.