Tag Archives: Ryanair

Sports Direct: the Ryanair of the High Street?

Sports Direct store in Crown PointPile ’em high, sell ’em cheap

Ian Golding, the customer experience consultant has an enviable CV and an excellent blog (which I strongly commend). Last month, he posted a great article about the customer experience offered by Sports Direct, a UK budget sporting goods store.

The point of his post was that Sports Direct offer a poor customer experience because, in effect, their goods are so cheap the customer experience doesn’t matter.

Ian also suggests that Sports Direct are effectively playing the same role in high street retail as Ryanair play in air travel.

A conscious choice

As regular readers of this blog will know, I have written about the Ryanair customer experience here and here.  I think that there may some significant differences in the ways in which they think about the customer experience when compared with Sports Direct.

I suspect that the biggest difference is that Ryanair understand the things which make the biggest difference for their customers.  As a result, they manage their customer experience to be good along a very few dimensions (on time, seen to be low-cost) and explicitly limited in others (no refunds) in order to to support its business model.

Sports Direct, however, appear not to manage the customer experience, but instead to allow it to be an unconscious side-effect of their low-cost operation.

Is simply cheap sustainable?

Because they seem to compete solely on cost, Sports Direct may be vulnerable to another company offering a similar cost proposition with a better customer experience.  Ian muses if Sports Direct’s low-customer-experience is sustainable in the face of new competition such as that offered by French sports shed operator Decathlon.

Ryanair, on the other hand, I don’t think are so vulnerable to attack on this front.  Two factors argue for this.

The first is that Ryanair actively manage their customer experience and know which aspects of the experience make the biggest difference to their customers.  As a result, if they needed to dial elements of the key parts of the customer experience up or down, I am sure they could.

The second factor is more pragmatic. As I mentioned in my post, Ryanair: Kings of the Customer Experience, Ryanair compete as a low-cost airline because their business model is ruthlessly designed round the limited customer experience they choose to offer. Other operators do not seem to have the single-minded strategic will to make similar choices – and so they live with business models which are intrinsically more expensive to run.

What you pay attention to, you get

The takeaway, I think, is this:  every business, whether it thinks about it or not, offers their customers an experience which reflects the things to which the company pays attention.  If a company focuses solely on least cost supply and appears to pay little attention to the customer experience, then customers get an experience akin to the ‘dark cave’ which Ian describes as being offered by Sports Direct.

Such companies are vulnerable to competition from others which do pay attention to the customer experience and design their low-cost operation around the experience they actively choose to offer.

In short, if we don’t pay attention to customer experience in the boardroom, we shouldn’t surprised if, in return, customers stop paying attention to us.

Image credit: Betty Longbottom under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.

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Ryanair’s customer experience revisited

Ryanair passenger numbers
Ryanair passenger number growth, CAPA Centre for Aviation

I wrote Ryanair: Kings of the Customer Experience to challenge the blind orthodoxy that offering a perfect customer experience should be the aspiration of every business.

This may be true if you run a seven-star hotel complete with customer butlers, but it does not apply, I believe, for most companies. Most of us need to trim our ambitions to focus on things which cause customers most pain or friction and on those things which customers most value.

An excellent response

Jim Lucas of Lucavia read my post about Ryanair, the Irish-based European budget airline,  and wrote an excellent article in response: The Real Ryanair, Please Stand Up.

Jim and I violently agree that Ryanair have set out strategically to offer a service based on the core things which their customers value: “…Low cost, on time, with bags, that’s it.”

Jim, however, then goes on to say:

‘…To me, Ryanair hasn’t, “…Designed a customer experience to compete strategically.” Their customers don’t care about it and they know it. Instead, Ryanair has chosen a low-cost, high-efficiency strategy vis-à-vis their competition to meet the needs of the utilitarian traveler. (Jim’s emphasis)  In that space customer “service” is all that is required and an experience isn’t a consideration.’

I think Jim’s view is one that many customer experience practitioners share: that customer experience is something separate from the service a company designs and offers.

The whole of the experience

I don’t share this view. I believe that everything that we do which affects the customer is part of the customer experience.  This includes offering the service, yes, but also the things we do which affect how this service is perceived: (I refer to this in another post when I refer to the qualia of customer experience).

Hence my use of Ryanair as an example. What they seem to do, explicitly and intentionally, is manage the customer experience to diminish expectations around anything which lies outside of their core offering.

Get you there on time? Sure.

Cheaply? Yes.

Refunds? Don’t bother.

This setting of expectations is, I believe an absolute part of the customer experience, which Ryanair actively manage in order to support their highly successful business model. This is a strategic choice which, judging by Ryanair’s business success, seems to be working very well.

Good is better than nice

From this choice came the other point of my earlier Ryanair article: “Customer experience is not about being nice, it is about meeting strategic goals.”

Talking to some marketing folk the other day at the IQPC CMO Customer Exchange Event a couple of weeks ago, I found myself reframing this statement so that it became:

Customer experience is not about being nice; it’s about being good.

I think this is profoundly true. Customer experience is not simply an offshoot of the customer service skills industry, as many people seem to believe.

As an air passenger, for example, I value getting to my destination on time, with my bags, more than I value a customer agent’s smile if my bags have been lost.

Yet many organisations, judging by the way they run their services and where they direct their investment, seem to put this the other way round. Yes, being nice is, well, nice – but it is less important than being good at the things for which the customer is paying.

What Ryanair do, better than any other organisation of which I am aware, is to deliver on the stuff that matters to their customers while at the same time actively managing down customer expectations – and delivery – of other stuff.

They are, I believe, managing the customer experience, and doing so very well.

Which is why, while I may not like Ryanair,  I have to admire them.

(My thanks again to Jim for his cogent and considerate response to the original article. His blog is well worth a read).

Image credit: Ryanair passenger growth numbers: CAPA – Centre for Aviation

Ryanair: kings of the customer experience.

Image of Michael O'Leary 2/06/2011Silver tongued charmer

“You’re not getting a refund, so **** off. We don’t want to hear your sob stories. What part of ‘no refund’ don’t you understand?”

“People say the customer is always right, but you know what – they’re not. Sometimes they are wrong and they need to be told so.”

“Mother pays £200 for being an idiot and failing to comply with her agreement at the time of booking. We think Mrs. McLeod should pay €60 [just] for being so stupid… Thank you, Mrs. McLeod, but it was your ****-up. We’re not changing our policy.”

“We already bombard you with as many in-flight announcements and trolleys as we can. Anyone who looks like sleeping, we wake them up to sell them things.”

Michael O’Leary is the CEO of Ryanair, a European budget airline headquartered in Ireland. The quotes above are some of the things he has said at press conferences and results announcements over the years; this thinking is reflected in the uncompromising ways in which the company operates. In many ways, he is the antichrist of orthodox customer experience thinking.

The Ryanair Customer Experience Paradox

According to much customer experience orthodoxy, Ryanair should be in serious trouble. Poor customer experience should result in customer dissatisfaction, disloyalty, social media backlash and poor brand reputation.

And it does.

In spades.

But here’s the thing.  The customer experience Ryanair offers does not  affect the bottom line. In fact, one might argue that it is a major reason for Ryanair’s consistent, spectacular bottom line growth.

Ryanair has just announced yet another set of stellar annual profits. To March 2013, the airline made  operating profits of €718m ($924m) on revenues of €4.88bn ($6.28bn), up 11% from last year.  And this is no flash in the pan: Ryanair consistently grows revenues and profits every year. Ryanair is a company that likes recessions.

Something is amiss.  And on the basis of the company’s sustained growth and returns, it doesn’t look like it’s Ryanair. So is received customer experience wisdom mistaken?

And if so, does this mean that we should abandon our efforts to improve the customer experience?

Just the opposite.  Ryanair succeeds (and its CEO is noteworthy) precisely because it is one of the few companies to have understood exactly the customer experience that it needs to compete strategically – and then makes sure this is what it delivers.

Ryanair proves the strategic case for customer experience

Ryanair is a lean, low cost airline.  It sets expectations for customers about how it works and what it will and (and particularly) won’t do.

It does not burden itself with the very high costs associated with exceptional customer service, because it offers very little by way of customer service.  This is why O’Leary is so uncompromising about refunds – because if Ryanair compromise on this once, they will have to do it again.  And then they will need to employ people to manage refunds. And they will get more complaints, because customers will think that they might get something by complaining.

So Ryanair will have to staff a complaints department.  And this will lead to escalations, and reporting, and budgets, and bureaucracy, and management’s attention will get distracted by customer issues, and this will take their eye off the ball of running things very cheaply and efficiently.

And at that point, their cost base will have ballooned and they will no longer be competing on cost.  (And then their competitors will kill them by competing on service).

Instead, Ryanair are very explicit about the customer experience they offer.  They are low-cost. They will get you there, on time. With your bags.  That’s it.  No other promises. They deliberately limit the customer experience and manage it tightly because doing so is essential to their strategic success.

And against these things – the things which, because they really understand their customers, they know are most important to them – Ryanair are among the best in Europe.

And this is the lesson Ryanair teaches all of us about the customer experience.

Customer experience is not about being nice,
it’s about meeting strategic goals

We must not fall into the trap of blindly accepting that our goal is to make things a great as we can for customers. This is not the purpose of customer experience transformation.

Our purpose is instead to specify, build and deliver the customer experience we need in order to meet our organisations’ strategic goals.  And then we must drive this experience as ruthlessly and singlemindedly as Michael O’Leary drives Ryanair to succeed.

Ryanair and Michael O’Leary are, in effect, posing each of us a very challenging question:  what is the customer experience our companies need to offer so that we can best meet our strategic goals?

PS I hate flying by Ryanair, but I do so when I have to. 

(Image credit: ilovemyirishculture.com under a Free Art License)

How do you know your strategy is working? You say no.

124833a
The Separation of the Sheep and Goats,
Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo, Ravenna, c540AD

A good strategy sets out our priorities. Priorities, however, are only valid when we know what we won’t do.

In my experience, organisations are full of managers willing to claim that “…X is our top priority.”

It is much harder to find managers willing to say  “…X is our top priority, so we won’t do Y.”  Which is funny, because this is what top priority means: other things won’t get done. And this is OK, because we are putting our resources and attention into the things that matter most instead..

What tells us what matters most?  Our strategy. If our strategy is clear, we know which markets, customer, products, services and capabilities are most important to us. By implication, we also know which are not.

For those of us interested in customers (and I assume that is pretty much all of us), then if our strategy is any good, we have to make some tough calls.

For example: Are all our customers equally important?

For most organisations, the answer is probably no.   So the next question follows. What are we doing to make sure that our most important customers get the service they need and expect?  And what are doing to make sure that lower priority customers do not get service or resources at the expense of our top priorities?

This is often a tough call. But organisations which genuinely answer these questions can be very successful. Apple, as one example, do not seem interested in mobile phone customers on tight budgets, and they are doing all right. Low cost airline Ryanair, as another, are interested only in the budget customer – and they are one of the most profitable airlines in Europe.

Setting strategy is easy. Doing it is hard. And our willingness (or otherwise) to use strategy to set high and low priorities is one of the one of the reasons why.