So Ryanair are considering charging passengers to use their inflight toilets. Have they proved that customer service really doesn’t matter after all, or will Ryanair have stepped beyond the pail on this one?
Ryanair’s latest wheeze to charge for their inflight toilets is the latest in an unofficial socio-economic experiment being run by the company. To what level can they continue to strip customer service out of the system before people will stop buying their cheap tickets? Just how badly do customers want to get to destinations for next to nothing? And, to be fair, it’s a fascinating experiment to watch.
At the moment it seems OK that luggage is lost, flights are cancelled without warning or recompense, grumpy tetchy service is endured, surprise charges at check-ins are standard, customer service lines are unhelpful and stampedes for boarding gates are the norm.
I took part in this socio-economic experiment with my family last year. We flew to Nantes to save a few hours off the drive time to Bordeaux. We were a little miffed that boarding staff forgot to invite priority ticket holders up first, after all it had cost us an extra £40. (This is a problem if you have children because the seats aren’t reserved by number, it’s a free-for-all on the plane.)
We marvelled at the unseemly haste to get us on board, by the absence of a smile or warm gesture from our hosts and by those bright yellow plastic headrests and unbelievably filthy seats. But it was on the way back that we shared the true Ryanair experience.
We were all herded into the departure gangway at Nantes, a glass walkway which gets very hot in the middle of summer, having been told that our plane was “ready to depart”. I was slightly confused by this as I had been looking out for our plane and had not found one.
It turned out that actually our plane hadn’t even been “ready to arrive”. To our amazement, after about ten minutes of waiting we saw it coming into land in the distance and taxi its way towards our gate. The elderly swayed in the heat, parents with impatient kids got tetchy and even young unencumbered couples’ jaws dropped as they realised what was going on.
We stood watching and wilting as passengers disembarked and within a few minutes we were climbing on board, settling down amidst the rubbish and odour left from the previous flight.
Currently this approach suits Ryanair and their business strategy. Low fares, high passenger volumes, quick turnaround times. Customers suffer the Ryanair experience for any of three reasons; 1. the fares are cheap 2. they are the only show in town (in many cases anyway) and 3. it’s their first time on board. But this model has two fundamental flaws.
Firstly, Ryanair is building no customer loyalty, no cushion, no extra fat around the corporate model. The margins and the goodwill are so slim that a little twitch here or there could mark the end.
And such a twitch might be the point at which customers realise that Ryanair don’t seek profits by maximising customer service but by eliminating it altogether.
Whether Ryanair introduce coin slots on inflight toilets is immaterial. The intent is there for all to see.
Secondly, It is also highly likely that management will apply the same ‘customer service’ ethos to their staff. Paying for their unifoms, training, low pay, long hours and high turnover rates are all signs of that ethos.
To neglect customers is to neglect your staff and vice versa. So the path of a downward spiral is set.
The model for Ryanair is working at the moment but it’s a high risk strategy. As long as customers are prepared to waive their rights to customer service then it all holds together. Of course, it is difficult to say that lessons can be learned until the day of judgement arrives. But for those embarking on their new business ventures, sideline customer service at your peril.
Treat customers and staff as if your life depended on it. Seek your profits through them, not inspite of them.
Tags: customer service
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