This Company Thought The Customer Was Wrong

Contributor: Simon Barton
Posted: 05/23/2016
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At Enterprise Mobility Exchange EU, we heard from Alan Coates, Head of Planning, Ryanair. Having been in the position for nine months, Coates has been directly involved in the company's digital transformation process. In his keynote, he presents a case study, discussing how the airline carried out its digital initiatives by forming a 'tech-start up' within its wider organisational structure.

Ryanair has thrived on controversy throughout its history. From threatening to charge its passengers for using the toilet, to the company's CEO opposing the business cliche "the customer's always right" - and instead living by the mantra, "they are wrong and need to be told so," the airline's relationship with its customer is unique and often frowned upon.

While Ryanair clearly has its critics, its low-cost, no thrills approach has won it many suitors. In 2015, the amount of passengers flying on Ryanair rose by 11%, and its annual profits jumped by two-thirds. "We can't be beaten on price, we feel the other airlines are not our competition," says Coates.

In 2013, however, Ryanair's critics were at their most vocal. A weakened reputation saw the company issue three profit warnings, amid fears that they were being left behind by more customer-friendly, yet affordable airlines. "We saw ourselves as Robin Hood, but our customers saw us the Sheriff of Nottingham." We had to rethink our strategy," says Coates.

This led the company to implement its 'always getting better' strategy. With digital central to the initiative, Ryanair has started to reshape its product with mobile-first in mind. Coates states: "We had to make a cleaner and simpler experience across mobile and our site. Embracing digital was important for this."

This represented a shift for Ryanair. Since its inception, Ryanair had focused on the betterment of its core product - keeping ticket prices as low as possible for customers. "We didn't focus on mobile, so we got left behind," says Coates. The first problem was that Ryanair's mobile application cost 3 euros - the majority of other airlines do not charge for their app - and that if the customer did download it, they were met with bugs and slow response times. "We had to re-imagine the application and make it more user-friendly."

"We [Ryanair] created a new entity called 'Ryanair Labs' in 2014 - we embraced agile and kept it lean. Ryanair's culture is about getting it done, it does not have to be perfect." One of the most important achievements since then has been moving from a hybrid application to a native application. "We [Ryanair] have also embraced customer data. Our CTO says if you're not using the data, delete it." The journey, however, has been a long one. "It's taken us [Ryanair] until now to get where we want to be - the feedback's now much more positive." The numbers back Coates' positive assessment. The application's now been downloaded 5.9 million times on iOS and 4.2 million times on Android.

Coates points to the importance of hiring the best people and embracing technology as important parts of their digital transformation. He also states: "It has to be mobile and customer first. Try, fail and move on, there is no culture of blame at Ryanair."

There are, however, challenges that remain. He states: "we are trying to use our application to make us more relevant to your [the customer's] journey. There's no point in spamming you with irrelevant info, but by having a presence on your mobile device we can give your relevant information."

There are also plans to make Wi-Fi available onboard. However, these plans are being stifled because the drag caused by the satellite needed to provide Wi-Fi is substantial - and more drag equals higher fuel costs. Coates also points to wearable technology and digital wallets as future endeavours. To finish his presentation, Coates discusses Ryanair's new policy of giving their pilots iPads, which have all their manuals and checklists preloaded onto them. It's a move towards a paperless cockpit and further evidence of the mobile-first strategy Ryanair is embracing.

Enterprise Mobility Exchange EU ends on Wednesday May 25. Please check back for more relevant content and to find out about the event's most important takeaways.


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Simon Barton
Contributor: Simon Barton