Good service costs nothing. Bad service costs you sales.

I’ve just returned from a holiday in France. Wall-to-wall sunshine, a stunning view of the Pyrenees, baguettes and cheap plonk. Oh no, that must be a false memory, since I don’t drink any more. But who says you can’t have fun without alcohol? Of course you can. Trust me. And though the holiday itself was amazing, the journey was the usual low-cost obstacle course. Ryanair, that is. Like millions of others, I fly them because they’re cheap, have an extensive network and did I mention they’re cheap? But price isn’t everything. I’d happily pay twice as much just to have a stress-free experience. But with low cost goes low expectations, and they were right on the money. The scramble for seats, the street-market in the sky (Panini? Scratch card? Train tickets? Over-priced sandwich, anyone?) and the confusion over the priority and normal queue at the gate. To be fair, the flights both ways were on time, so the possibility for frustration was limited. Unlike earlier in the year, when my flight was delayed for four hours. No drinks, snacks, access to the toilets, or announcements. Corralled in a stuffy departure lounge at Gatwick Airport, with rising temperatures and fraying nerves. Followed by the discovery in online forums that though Ryanair charges a premium to cover EU delayed-departure compensation rights, they refuse payment in over 95% of cases, citing aircraft safety concerns.

How low can you go?

But all is forgiven if the price is right, isn’t it? People hold their nose, avert their eyes, take a deep breath, and lie back and think of wherever – don’t they? Mostly. And then, one day, they crack. Which is what happened to Ryanair recently. Their numbers are down, and it looks like it’s because of their offhand treatment of their customers. Shareholders at the AGM in Dublin weren’t happy with the results or the forecasts. And so Ryanair’s cheeky CEO, Michael O’Leary, said they’d start being nicer to customers. As he’ll no doubt discover, it’s a virtuous circle. Treat your customers well, and they treat you well. Smile, and they smile back. Assume they’re telling the truth and they’ll do the same for you. Look like you care, and they’ll return the sentiment. So now, they’re changing their tune. And I think I did actually notice it. Gone was the nasty woman at Perpignan airport with the roll of €50 stickers, gleefully punishing people for an excess kilo here and there. Staff seemed a little more human, and less willing to assume that every passenger was a potential troublemaker. The airline even had a personal message from ‘Da Boss’ on its website, asking how they could improve their service. Could it be that he’d seen the light? O’Leary was my new best friend. I clicked on the link and poured my heart out. Lying back on the virtual couch, I told Dr Michael everything that was on my mind. All my gripes, my simmering resentments, and my suggestions for a better relationship. And then I clicked Submit. Please enter a valid suggestion, it said. Maximum 500 characters. Mine, when I cut and pasted it into Word to check it, weighed in at 2,500 words. So to the 10 kilos, and the 55 x 40 x 20cm, and the 100ml, we need to add the new restriction of 500 words. You really couldn’t make it up. Ryanair will get there one day with their customer service (they have no choice, if the shareholders have anything to do with it). They’re on the right track, but they need to adjust their course. At the end of the day, it’s not all about the numbers. Quality is just as important as quantity. Which is a lesson they’re taking on board, one flight at a time.