The speakers at the North West Business Exhibition are always a really interesting part of the event for me. Listening to business founders, directors and innovators who have been there, done that, worn (and probably sold thousands of) the t-shirt, can not only be entertaining, but also really inspiring and motivational.
It was with some curiosity that I attended the morning keynotes session on day two of the exhibition by Kell Ryan – co-founder of low cost airline Ryanair. A well practiced public speaker - Mr Ryan went on to tell the rags to riches story of Ryanair; how a focus on no frills and cost cutting had taken them from local Irish airline to ‘pioneers’ in the aviation industry – before going on to take questions from the audience.
Having read all about the Ryanair vs. bloggers debacle from earlier in the year and bearing in mind the social media message I-COM were promoting at the event, I couldn’t let the opportunity of asking the Ryanair co-founder what his thoughts on the matter were pass me by.
Unfortunately, the response I received was not one that particularly satisfied me – as Mr Ryan said he had not heard of the story and therefore couldn’t comment on it.
In Mr Ryan’s defence, he is no longer directly involved with the running of the airline and claimed not to know anything of the story. But still, one might have thought he would have heard about a tale that sparked a public relations furore such as this… However, such is life.
So it was to my great surprise that about 15 minutes later, who did I see hovering at the periphery of our stand studying our large screen tweet deck but the man himself – Kell Ryan accompanied by his wife.
Despite my best sales pitch about how social media not only allows you to keep track of what people are saying about your brand; but can also help to diffuse customer service issues through real time response and importantly in the case of Ryanair, promote positive messages about the brand’s lesser known selling points, Mr Ryan and his wife did not seem interested in the idea, as it would involve employing someone to monitor it and manage posts. Obviously a scandalous idea to the masters of cost cutting.
Further to this, when I commented that people use social media as a means of venting their frustrations about a company and that there were bound to be hundreds upon thousands of negative comments about Ryanair floating around on social media sites, the response was quite astonishing – “they (Ryanair) don’t care”.
Having worked in numerous marketing disciplines, I have seen the importance of effective PR first hand and how reputation management can be utilised for the longterm success and growth of a brand. Ryanair may be performing well in the current economic climate, but the fact is that when we come out the other side of the recession, many customers will return to favour service over price when choosing an airline. And let’s face it, Ryanair is not exactly synonymous with great customer service.
In my opinion, the view that 58 million customers flew with
the airline last year and therefore it doesn’t matter about negative feedback
or customer experiences (as stated by Mrs. Kell Ryan), is frankly very short
sighted. Brand values and the reputation a business holds in the eyes of its
customers and potential customers have been proven to directly influence
purchases and consumer spending patterns. What if another budget airline is currently working to build reputation as a great customer service provider at the same low cost? Would Ryanair's customers stick around then?
The point about social media is that in comparison to traditional PR, that can carry a monthly retainer anywhere between £2K and probably up to £20K per month for the likes of a company the size of Ryanair, it is extremely cost effective. And for a company that relies so heavily on its users being internet savvy, with customers who don’t check in online prior to flying being financially penalised, one would have thought that social media marketing would also be a great way of directly communicating with their target market – the online community.
Leaving to catch a flight (I didn’t ask if it was Ryanair or not), Mr. Ryan told me that if the company were to “do blogging” – they would come to me. So I guess I did my job for the day….