Ryanair looks to soften image in tougher market
Exchanges with customers on Twitter and plans for a simplified website -- Irish no-frills airline Ryanair is seeking to improve its public image as it flies into tougher market competition
Ahead of the Dublin-based carrier's latest quarterly earnings update on Monday, Ryanair has sought to soften its much-criticised public image of being a company that is lacking in good customer service.
Customers being hit by fines at the airport for failing to print off their tickets and for carrying too much weight in their luggage are among some of the biggest grievances, even if Ryanair's policy is posted on its website.
Ryanair recently simplified its online booking process, and will launch a new homepage later this month, after customers regularly complained about the confusing and long procedure.
The airline also said it would allow passengers to carry a second bag of hand luggage from December.
Ryanair’s chief operating officer Michael Cawley has said that while changes are being introduced there will not be a shift from the basic principles that transformed Ryanair into one of the biggest carriers in Europe.
“The idea that there’s going to be wholesale changes is wrong. There’s some changes announced and there will be more changes but we don’t want to throw out what’s good about Ryanair,” he told an aviation conference in Dublin last month.
“We need to be perhaps a little bit less vigorous in the implementation of (our policies). When we’re taking 70 euros ($95) from someone for a bag that doesn’t fit we should do it not with glee but with sympathy,” he added.
Ryanair had in September issued a shock profit warning that it blamed on intense competition and falling airfares, sparking a share-price plunge across Europe's airlines sector which highlighted its influence on the market.
It said that it expects to come in at the lower end of its full-year net profit range of 570-600 million euros. This could be revised on Monday when Ryanair posts earnings for its second-quarter period.
Following the profit-warning, outspoken chief executive Michael O’Leary declared that the company would strive to be less abrasive.
“I’m conscious that we need to eliminate a lot of minor things that irritate,” O’Leary told the company’s annual general meeting (AGM).
“We do need to soften the image when things go wrong. We need to be quicker and more responsive."
In summing up O'Leary added: "We should try to eliminate things that unnecessarily pisses people off."
The airline came under fire in the run-up to the AGM for charging a Dublin-based neurosurgeon 188 euros to change flights after his wife and three children were killed in a house fire in England. The airline later apologised to the customer.
O’Leary also admitted that the company needed to reduce its “macho” culture and subsequently took part in a rather amusing but forthright question-and-answering session on social-media site Twitter, under the hashtag GrillMOL.
Donal O’Neill, aviation analyst with Goodbody stockbrokers, said that September's profit-warning should be distinguished from the customer service changes.
“They’re partly related long-term but in the near term they are quite different issues,” he told AFP.
“In order to differentiate itself and in order to keep growing, Ryanair has to offer a slightly different product to its passengers and that’s with a longer-term view to appeal to those kinds of consumers that traditionally used legacy carriers (like British Airways and German airline Lufthansa).
“A lot of these services are focused on trying to continue to take traffic from those carriers and also to try win new traffic and maybe slightly higher-end traffic,” O'Neill added.
Ryanair transported almost 81 million passengers across Europe in the year to the end of October, its own data revealed on Friday.