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Ryanair, "It's your fault"

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If you've ever travelled Ryanair in the UK or Europe, you'll understand why their unofficial motto is, "It's your fault".

It seems that having created a market for budget travellers, with no service, let alone no frills, CEO Micheal O'Leary, has been forced by market pressures to ease up on the no frills, and start to offer at least some elements of what could be termed the core offering of an airline. This may or may not mean the cessation of sales of lottery tickets on flights.

Huge numbers of travellers have travelled with Ryanair since its inception, and while complaining about it, have travelled in numbers large enough to keep it relatively sucessful (until now). 

Things are afoot at Ryanair, but O'Leary does have form in the customer service #fail area. As the Guardian reports, "Barely a year ago, he notoriously dismissed the half million people on Facebook who backed a customer's complaint over a boarding pass reissue charge of several hundred euros by calling it 'her fuck-up. Now, though, he says: 'We do need to improve.'"

That said, O'Leary and Ryanair may struggle to move into an alternative market. The brand has a certain reputation. Although there will be an initial willingness from consumers to accept at face value, O'Leary's assurances that they will be able to provide a service to counter EasyJet (which is still not the pinnacle of customer service), turning around a culture that has been established for nearly 20 years, will be a much more complex activity than simply telling people about it.

Much of the research in the field of organisational change, suggests that a change in culture has to come both from the leadership and from a willingness amongst the staff to understand the need for change and, then accept the change. One way to do this, is to replace the leadership group, and in particular the CEO. I can't imagine that is part of O'Leary's plans.

If the CEO has publicly said over the past twenty years, that the customer is the problem, and that good service is not a right, then his staff from the top to the bottom will have absorbed this message. To ask them to suddenly go against all that they have "believed in" over their time with the company, is to ask them to accept that they are bad decision-makers. It is an "attack" on their ego, and their ability to make autonomous choices.

But, simply replacing the CEO won't be enough to convince staff to challenge their beliefs. They also need to be convinced, before the change happens, that there are problems. In the Ryanair example, it would be hard for the staff to fully appreciate that there was a problem, simply because they will have "invested" a significant amount of their identity in doing what they are currently doing. 

It is a complex path, that requires less "bovver-boy" and more respect for those experiencing the emotional roller coaster of change. However, once the staff believe in the need for change, once they feel that they own it (and it is not a management decision imposed from upon high), the process becomes eaiser. The path from horrific service to passable service will be a long one if the staff are not convinced of the need for change.

Change has to be demonstrated through practical changes, through respect for the values and beliefs of those going through the change, and through symbolic change.

Ultimately, all the staff have to first be assured that the dramatic change is not too dramatic as to challenge their egos and identity (built up over many years), and secondly, they will have to "buy-in" to the process.    

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