Michael O' Leary's decision to tackle Ryanair's reputation for poor customer service is a powerful reminder that culture is king when it comes to driving growth. The impact of the company's 'abrupt' culture has resulted in an intense battle to secure loyalty from both recreational and business travellers who expect great service as standard.
The airline's solution includes the 'elimination' of things that cause time and hassle for travellers, from relaxed baggage restrictions, the adoption of American Express ( the favoured credit card of choice for many business travellers) as well as a streamlined website that can get customers clicking and buying as painlessly as possible.
They are all positive steps forward in starting to rebuild a new culture and, like so many processes and tools put in place around culture change, they get a lot of focus from HR and management alike. But all the processes and systems in the world can't deliver culture change that sticks. That falls to a much more complex and often over-looked area: how to get people to do things differently and build a new culture characterised by new behaviours and rooted in deep belief.
If Ryanair is really committed to a culture that believes in exceptional customer service, it needs to remember that that cultures are built when people are inspired to take action and do things differently. Underpinning that is a core belief that customer service is a core part of their purpose. The attitude and behaviour of every Ryanair employee from senior leader to cabin crew should be demonstrating just how valuable customers are.
This stems from a powerful belief, shaped and driven from the top down, that customer service is paramount. But even more importantly, the belief is shared by every employee who understands how to live it in their everyday role (customer facing or not). Personal, and third-party anecdotal evidence would suggest that the company has a long way to go yet to achieve this part.
Ryanair could seek inspiration from JetBlue who has made no bones about setting the industry standard for airline service. The airline regularly wins industry awards for service and only staff who actively live those values can expect a career with the company. Such is the commitment to customer service that the company CEO estimates nearly 60% of customers are enticed to the airline by word of mouth recommendation.
This dedication to building and supporting the right behaviours often gets a lot less of the attention when it comes to overhauling cultures - people are, after all, somewhat more complex than processes. Ryanair has made a commendable commitment to making its culture better but it'll be interesting to see what further investment it makes at a practical, behavioural level to ensure its culture change is as effective and sustainable as possible.