In a recent survey published in Britain’s premier consumer magazine, Which?, budget airline Ryanair was voted last among 100 top brands in quality of customer service. Perhaps the airline is finally starting to realize that it needs to improve its awful reputation in order to remain competitive and make an effort not to “unnecessarily piss people off”.
“Ryanair chief executive Michael O’Leary told shareholders Friday his airline must improve how it treats passengers and handles complaints so that customers don’t feel pushed around by staff and unfairly imposed charges – and potentially take business to other airlines offering more than Ryanair’s budget model.”
But if Ryanair thought a Q&A session on Twitter with CEO Michael O’Leary would do any good, they failed miserably. The thing with inviting customers to a public debate is that you will not always get the responses you wish. We’ve seen a number of cases where critics have hijacked hashtags on Twitter because it’s a great opportunity to get exposure for your complaints. In a case with a brand that so many people hate, you would obviously expect that critics would take advantage of the situation. People who would otherwise have been silent, now feel there’s an excuse to voice their opinions.
Some examples under the hashtag #GrillMOL on Monday were:
“Were you born an arsehole or has it progressed throughout your life?”
“Is it company policy for your staff to be rude and unhelpful as possible?”
“Due to fly to Riga on Saturday but can’t go as my mum in law is losing her cancer battle. 388 quid to re-book seems unfair”
“Why no response for a refund request (sent reg. post) in over a month from seriously ill girl with special needs? @Ryanair #scum”
Here’s another great tweet from @AndyGilder, mocking Ryanair:
O’Leary’s history of nasty macho responses to everyone from customers to journalists and politicians has earned him the title “aviation’s most hated man”. The Twitter chat was no exception as he started out commenting female Twitter users’ avatars: “Nice pic. Phwoaaarr! MOL”, to which others responded:
@Ryanair how is it appropriate for an airline CEO to be a sexist pig?”, and: “People who fly Ryanair: do you also think this is an acceptable thing to tweet at a woman?”
A brand in trouble could make use of social media if their intent is genuine, if they are really there to listen and be prepared to change. If you open up a dialogue with critics just to mock them, prepare for disaster.
However, as is often the case, even bad publicity will get you attention and the @Ryanair Twitter account has gained nearly 2,000 new followers in the next two days. Perhaps this could be the start of something new, after all. But until the company changes its approach to customer service and to its own employees, I will not fly with Ryanair.