I recently received a dreaded email. ‘Important Information Regarding Your Ryanair Flight’. Yep, I’d become a victim of the latest Ryanair scandal, my upcoming flights to Lisbon cancelled. As frustrating as this was – and still is, as I battle to get the new, far-more-expensive flights I had to purchase reimbursed – from a PR perspective, it’s been fascinating to receive communications from Ryanair in the wake of this and actually see their PR ‘recovery’ live in action.
Ryanair are one of my favourite companies to observe from a comms perspective. They have a bad reputation but they don’t really care. They’re dirt cheap and that’s that. That’s their USP, and if you want all the frills, you can simply pay more elsewhere. No matter how irritated people get by the additional charges they always try to catch you out with, or their flight boarding procedure which for some reason always seems to start after the scheduled flight take-off time, they will still book with Ryanair. I admit there has been many an occasion when I have muttered ‘never again’ after a Ryanair flight, only to be enticed with ‘£9.99 flash sale!’. Michael O’Leary, their CEO, seems to live by his own ‘buy budget, get treated budget’ rule. You have to take your hats off to them.
We know what to expect from the Ryanair experience, but shouldn’t good customer service be a standard, regardless of how much we’ve paid? Especially when a disaster such as the flights cancellation fiasco hits. My initial email from Ryanair was pretty standard. I was given two options; I could transfer to the next available Ryanair flight or get a full refund. Both fair enough and what you would expect. The first option probably would have been the easiest, but with accommodation already booked and no Ryanair flights available from an accessible airport on the same dates, it wasn’t to be. So, I went for refund and rebooking with another airline, which ended up costing me twice as much as the original flights. At this point, there had been no information about compensation and reimbursement. As you can imagine, Ryanair’s online chat was offline and their phone line was off the hook, as disgruntled customers everywhere tried to get more info.
Big PR fail– a lack of clear information, or deliberately withholding information. It wasn’t until the Civil Aviation Authority came down hard on Ryanair that any information was given about reimbursing costs passengers had incurred as a result of flight cancellations. And it may not come as a surprise that this information didn’t come from Ryanair, but simply from watching the news. Two weeks on, I’ve still received no communication from Ryanair to let me know I’ll be able to claim reimbursement.
However, in the meantime, I did receive my favourite email from Ryanair. An apology ‘signed’ by Michael O’Leary which included an £80 voucher for each passenger booked on the cancelled flight – with a heap of terms and conditions of when and how it could be used. The email itself went like this:
Today, we announced we are slowing our rate of growth this winter from 9% to approx. 4% by flying 25 fewer aircraft during the 5-month period from November to March 2018 inclusive. This means that we can;
- Immediately fix the rostering failure we suffered
- Allocate all the annual leave that is due to our pilots
- Create lots of spare aircraft and crews to back up our schedules
From today there will be no more roster related flight cancellations in Ryanair.
We apologise sincerely that your flight booking has been affected by these changes, and you have been emailed today with the offer of changing your flight or receiving a full refund if we are unable to re-accommodate your needs.
We want to do more than just apologise for your disruption so please accept this £80 Travel Voucher for you and others in your booking. This can be used during October, to book a flight on any Ryanair service for travel between October 1st to March 20th 2018. Just insert the voucher code when making your booking on the Ryanair website.
We hope you will use this voucher offer, which we send to you with our deepest apologies for the disruption we caused you.
We look forward to welcoming you on-board another Ryanair flight soon.
Let’s take this back to my English Lit degree and analyse the language here.
- Immediately fix the rostering failure we suffered – this is my favourite line of the whole email. ‘We suffered’. Another PR fail – accepting no blame. Companies that hold their hands up after a crisis and accept full responsibility garner far more respect than a company that plays the victim when it was clearly their fault.
- From today there will be no more roster related flight cancellations in Ryanair – they had already said this the previous week, and then cancelled thousands more flights. Note how this only refers to ‘roster related’ cancellations, giving them room to blame something else if they do cancel more flights. A very carefully crafted sentence.
- We want to do more than just apologise – they’re now pulling out their trump card. They know their audience. Ryanair customers like super cheap flights so here’s a voucher that will most definitely get them a flight for next to nothing. Of course, Ryanair being Ryanair, you can’t simply have this voucher. There’s all sorts of rules on when you can use it, dates you’re not allowed to fly on using it, and so on and so forth. They were so close with this one. My advice to a company in crisis is to give the customer something without a hundred clauses and conditions.
- We look forward to welcoming you on-board another Ryanair flight soon – simple but effective, and something I would encourage any of my clients to do. Assume this customer will buy from you again. However, this needs to be teamed with the relevant amends to make sure that happens – something Ryanair haven’t yet achieved.
So, what is the right thing to do when communicating after a crisis? Here are my top tips:
- Use plain English when communicating information – your customers will have already lost faith in you, so don’t try and explain things in roundabout over-complicated ways. Get straight to the point and make it easy for your customers to understand what’s going on.
- Communicate all the relevant information you have – anticipate the questions which your customers may ask following a crisis. If you can address them immediately, do. If not, still make reference to the fact you will answer them. Having FAQs somewhere easily accessible for customers will not only make them feel like you care about the situation and are doing something to remedy it, but will also help reduce the amount of calls and emails you receive in the wake of an incident.
- Take full blame – unless the situation was genuinely nothing to do with your company (which is highly unlikely), take full responsibility for whatever has happened. Yes, it will be difficult, but in the long run it will gain your company more respect. Looking like you’re trying to shift blame elsewhere is never a good move.
- Keep a low profile – if you’ve looked on Ryanair’s website or social media recently, you may have noticed they’ve been making a big deal about how many new pilots they’ve hired and how much money they’ve made this year. When customers aren’t happy, they don’t want to hear about how successful you are and how much cash you’re making. Companies may think this reinstalls faith, but it simply alienates most people. You should by no means put a halt to any of your usual marketing activity, but be careful with your messaging. Make it customer-centric, rather than about the company – a good general rule of thumb, anyway.
Will Ryanair survive this crisis? I’m honestly not sure. Their reputation will, purely because they didn’t have a good reputation to recover in the first place. Financially? Time will tell. Despite shoddy customer service and poor communication, will I fly with them again? Well, I do have that £80 voucher to spend…
If your business ‘suffers’ a rostering failure or anything else for that matter, we’re on hand to advise and help you recover your reputation – which I’m sure is already better than Ryanair’s. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to get started.