Ryanair's shift from 'stack it high and sell it cheap' to personalised, digital experiences

Profile picture for user ddpreez By Derek du Preez September 30, 2015
Ryanair doesn't have the best reputation when it comes to customer experience, thanks to its focus on reducing costs. However, it is trying to change this and is investing heavily in personalised digital experiences.

Ryanair is currently undergoing a digital transformation, where its priorities have shifted from just wanting to be the lowest cost airline in the European market, to wanting to be a budget airline that provides personalised online experiences for its customers.

We have been following Ryanair's new found respect for its passengers and its decision to invest more in digital platforms closely over recent months. And according to its latest financial results, the investments appear to be paying off.

It's been a lesson that sometimes cost isn't the only factor when making buying decisions.

At this week's Adobe Digital Marketing Symposium, Ryanair's head of digital experience Dara Brady took to the stage to provide us with some deeper insights into how the company has had to aggressively pursue digital, as it was effectively starting from scratch.

I think when we look back and take digital specifically within Ryanair, 18 months ago it didn't exist. We have been on a major recruitment drive over the last 18 months. We have gone from a zero starting mark to over 50 in a digital sense.

Back two years ago the business was a little bit soft, we had two profit warnings in the one year, which we hadn't had previously. We got to the point where in our drive for ensuring that we always had the lowest fares, we got a bit rough around the edges. Some of the customer experience elements fell off the radar. One of the biggest stimulants was that we continue to always drive to have the best and lowest fares in the market, but we want to couple that with actually improving the customer experience. Because of the marry of those two things it was really the catalyst for driving that programme.

It's hard to believe that 18 months ago, [Ryanair] was probably one of the most difficult user experiences out there in terms of websites. It was 17 clicks, it was multiple ads all over the site, we didn't have a mobile presence. As a marketing function we were probably a little bit too much stack it high and sell it cheap, it was mass-market and we didn't have a relationship with the customer. I think one of the changes that we have been introducing is putting digital at the forefront of changing that experience, whether it be in the platform, through CRM, leveraging insight in the business to make better decisions in terms of creating relationships. That's been a big catalyst in terms of what digital is doing for us.

A new platform

Dara explained that over the next week or so Ryanair is planning to relaunch its online/digital platform, where his group has been responsible for 'stepping back' and reassessing the whole customer journey. Hist team has been looking at the customer pain points and redesigning the website and the mobile app. He said:

Essentially we are creating a platform that caters for fixing those pain points. Far simpler, far more personalised, far more account based.

For example, if you look at the Ryanair website today it is a website that is completely unresponsive to mobile or tablet usage. Brady admits that it is not a good enough experience, despite the fact that Ryanair has unsurprisingly seen a huge shift from users towards using their mobile devices to book flights. He said that during certain periods the amount of users on mobile can be as high as 40% - and that's without Ryanair having made any effort to encourage users to use that channel. Brady said:

If a consumer wants to use that as a channel, they shouldn't be penalised just because of the device they choose. We should be able to cater for it. Equally one of the big things we have done on mobile is the development of native apps for iOS and Android. Apps play a big part in our strategy going forward, because in terms of growing across the travel journey, having an app allows us to stay connected with the user. The app allows us to be more useful, relevant and contextual across the entire trip journey. One of the big initiatives to help consolidate that is the relaunch of the My Ryanair account, that allows you to have that cross-device experience.

Getting personal

The idea of personalised digital experiences plays a big part in Brady's thinking of transformation of customer experience, where the use of the My Ryanair account will play a big role. For Ryanair, Brady says its about getting to know the customers and passengers better. And being able to serve them better. Because at the moment, regardless of whether you fly with Ryanair once a year or once a day, at the moment all passengers are delivered the same experience. He said:

We have a lot of repeat travellers that we are asking to do the same stuff over and over again. We should be able to just put that information in front of you and take that work out. If you have people that come and buy certain products, we should put those products in front of them. It's about customising the journey to make it more relevant for them. As opposed to going on to the website, you're making a booking and you get to the end of the process and it's as if you didn't book at all.

We've introduced a new My Ryanair account because that allows you to set your preferences, it allows you to manage your companions, it allows you to manage your payment details. All this makes for a far more pleasant travel journey. It's about being more relevant, more contextual and putting the right things in front of people at the right time.”

It's about having relationship at a much deeper level.

New areas of focus

When questioned about whether or not this meant that Ryanair was shifting away from it's 'budget' image, Brady disagreed. He said that despite the investment in digital, it doesn't mean that Ryanair wants a different brand identity. It still wants to stay true to its brand values and stay a value proposition. However, the airline does hope to extend its proposition and branch into providing services that cater to other areas of the travel journey and building travel communities.

Effectively this will mean that Ryanair wants to take on some of its competitors. Brady said:

Our primary business and the core of what we do is to continue to be the number one for providing

the lowest fare flights in Europe. But again, if we look in the context of when we are analysing the customer, when we took a step back, the booking of a flight is only one particular part of the trip. You go through your discovery and research phase, you book the flight, you have to get transport, there is a whole sequence of events that happens – I think we were quoted as saying we want to become the Amazon of travel. No matter it is what you want to do, we can be there to service you for it.

When you analyse the customer journey there is a huge element of that that's in discovery and research, people going to TripAdvisor and people going to Lonely Planet. Yet people go to these sites when we already have them as an audience, they're part of our experience.

One of the things we would like to do is facilitate properly the conversations between customers and customers. So if you want to know what somewhere is like in October, we can facilitate that conversation, create a travel community that you can tap into. That's the angle we want to go with.