Michael O’Leary, CEO of Ryanair, is in a bit of hot water.
According to the Irish Independent, O’Leary recently called Ryanair passenger Suzy McLeod an “idiot” and “stupid.” When asked about this odd approach to customer service, O’Leary did not back down. He explained, “I had not been intemperate, I had not lost my temper and it was not a tirade.”
The story began when Suzy showed up at the airport for her Ryanair flight without printed boarding passes. As a result, she had to pay fees totaling €298, about €60 per ticket. Outraged, she went on Twitter and complained, asking for a refund as a gesture of goodwill.
The normal response in a situation like this is for the company to apologize and refund the money. But Ryanair didn’t take this approach. Instead, the CEO observed that Suzy was stupid. O’Leary explained the response, “…we have replied, politely but firmly, thank you Mrs. McLeod but it was your f***-up and if you screw up, you compensate us and you send us a gesture of goodwill.”
Most people would call this an example of terrible customer management.
I disagree; I think this is an example of a brand wisely sticking with its strategy.
Ryanair is an exceptionally low-cost airline. The brand’s positioning is clear: Ryanair has low prices, poor service and high fees. It is hard to beat Ryanair on price but there are tradeoffs for passengers. Traditional airlines struggle to compete with Ryanair; they just can’t match the fares while delivering a generally acceptable level of service.
By strictly enforcing rules, Ryanair clarifies its positioning. It isn’t a luxury airline. It isn’t a gentle or kind airline. It doesn’t really care about goodwill. It is a cheap airline, arguably the best cheap airline in the world.
Ryanair was smart to deny Suzy’s request. The wording wasn’t perfect; the CEO shouldn’t have called her an idiot. But standing up for the brand was the right move.
A few pages after this article in the Irish Independent there was an ad from Ryanair advertising flights from Dublin to Rome for just €26. The brand’s proposition is clear: low prices and little service.