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A warm, cuddly, humble Ryanair? Notorious chief Michael O’Leary outlines his plan to start making customers happy

Ryanair chief Michael O’Leary has said he is taking the notoriously hostile brand in a new, altogether friendlier direction with a refresh to the website, an overhauled approach to customer experience, and its first ever advertising campaign.

“We’ve changed,” he proclaimed at a press event in London. “We’re changing some of the policies I’ve held dear for many years because that’s what our customers want us to do."

He explained that the past 25 years have been about building the low-fare airline to be the cheapest with a “pile it high sell it cheap” approach that “has worked like a dream”.

“But for the business to evolve it has to change tactic,” he said.

Helping him to do this is newly appointed chief marketing officer, Kenny Jacobs, who revealed that customer service and digital are top of the agenda.

Jacobs compared Ryanair’s new approach to that of Aldi, H&M and Ikea: “They started off absolutely focused on cost, then they focused on choice and then they improved the service. That’s the line our brand will go on.”

Firstly, he will be fixing the things that customers don’t like, including the boarding card fees and baggage fees which have either been reduced or cut completely.

“They were the biggest gripes that customers had and we listened,” he said adding that the second pillar - improving the travel experience - has seen the airline offer a free, small, second carry-on bag and encourage staff to be more relaxed when it comes to letting people on with particularly large bags.

“Passengers were expecting to be interrogated over the size of bags. You had this point of conflict. Now it’s ‘on you go’,” added O’Leary.

A cornerstone of the new 'Always Getting Better' strategy, and the reason for Ryanair flying in over 70 European journalists for the announcement, is the overhauled website.

The site will go live on 10 April and promises to make searching for flights a more intuitive experience.

“The old site makes me want to lose the will to live,” laughed O’Leary. “None of it as a user experience is joined up, it is very difficult to work your way through it and none of it is very intuitive.”

The new Ryanair.com has reduced the number of steps required to book a flight and saves previous searches in tabs at the top of the page. It also has a more comprehensive timetable showing prices and other deals and noted your location in order to offer those that are most relevant.

MyRyanair was a feature introduced to the site eight weeks ago, allowing regular travellers to store information about their travel documents and payment card, and in time will offer a more personalised service. To date, 1.25 million customers have signed up to the service.

“It’s going to transform our customer’s experience,” promised Jacobs.

Also due to be released this year is an app that has made booking on mobile devices considerably more easy. O’Leary claimed that users can make a booking in less than a minute.

Additionally, come May, mobile boarding passes will be introduced.

Communicating these changes will be a multiplatform ad campaign, a surprising move given O’Leary’s previous stance on marketing activity – which was none at all.

A new TV campaign, developed by Dare, will launch in four countries; Republic of Ireland, Italy, Spain and the UK.

As to be expected with a Ryanair advert, the creative takes a cheeky approach, showing a man searching for flights with a voiceover saying: “Here’s Dave, booking the family’s Ryanair flights. Either they’ve calmed proceedings…or he’s on some form of muscle relaxant.”

Commenting on spend O’Leary was vague, saying “many, many millions.”

“Last year we spent €12m, we expect that to treble this year to some €36m,” he said. “This is not a big bang, this is the start of a continuous process, an evolution on the way we do business and interact with our customers.”

Indeed, the brand is currently in the process of hiring a creative, digital, CRM and media agency to build on this initial foray into advertising.

However, that distinct form of O’Leary charm has not completely disappeared.

“Yes we have an image that we might be cavalier about our customers, cavalier about our staff, we might be robust in the way that we deal with people who complain, but this thing works. And imagine how better it is going to work, how many more people we’re going to carry and how much more money we’re going to make if we actually stop being nasty to people about their carry-on bags, free seats or anything else and have a decent website.

“Also the fact I own four per cent of the company. It’s in my interests to change the way the company communicates. I am the one that will lead the charge. And as a shareholder I expect to gain handsomely from it.”

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