This Ryanair fiasco is an interesting example of the massive gulf that exists between big business and the rest of us.

If you made an almighty cock up, one that fundamentally compromised your core business activity, be that flying passenger aircraft or manufacturing widgets, would your response be:

  • Cancel the existing orders of 300,000 of your customers with effectively no notice
  • Offer a mealy-mouthed apology
  • Tell your customer service people to mislead customers as to their rights
  • When collared for the above, respond by limiting customers’ redress illegally
  • Offer vouchers as a goodwill gesture, ensuring the gloss is taken off by making them subject to restrictive terms and conditions

Well, that was Ryanair’s response, and I bet the company will still be trading quite happily this time next year.

I’m not suggesting that an appalling response to a major business catastrophe should necessarily result in the failure of the business.

We all make mistakes, after all, and Michael O’Leary (at least until a few years ago) seemed to make treating customers like **** a cornerstone of the company’s offering. They kept coming.

I understand that what the company is offering is what people want, at least the price element is, but does it have to be done like this?

I’ve always had an issue with Ryanair’s apparent equating of customers looking for a bargain with low-life scum.

You won’t find many keener bargain hunters than the British middle class – you should see the cars parked outside Aldi in this town!

Anyway, my point is that I just can’t see small businesses acting in the same way and getting away with it. Certainly not the ones I know, anyway.

If you or I acted like Ryanair, I don’t think we’d survive.

It’s a big business/small business thing.

Big businesses have plenty of 3rd party vested interests – the board, shareholders, banks, the government. Together, they’ll keep things ticking over in all but the most extreme cases. Cast your mind back 10 years.

We don’t have that luxury – if we cock up, the buck probably stops with us, and so if we want to pay the mortgage we need to put it right. In small businesses, individual customers still matter; in big businesses, they don’t.

I’m not whingeing – how we respond to an unhappy customer is one of the very best opportunities to engender loyalty and build relationships.

In the customers’ eyes, it’s all supposed to go right, so you won’t get a round of applause for doing what you’re supposed to have done anyway.

It’s counter-intuitive, but it’s how you deal with it when things go wrong that customers remember, not the 97% of transactions where it all goes swimmingly.

So spend some time reviewing how you respond to problems, especially those that impact customers. Put yourself in the customer’s shoes and think how you would feel. Ignore Ryanair.

Always a worthwhile exercise.

Chris Martin

Chris Martin is a chartered accountant and business advisor and has been helping franchisees create and grow wonderful businesses for over 20 years. He is a published author and has written extensively on franchisee tax issues. He passionately believes that whilst franchising is a deservedly successful business format, franchisees are often let down by their franchisors’ failure to offer support and guidance regarding the financial side of running the business. This leaves franchisees frustrated, overwhelmed and unable to grow their businesses to the extent they should. Chris has developed simple systems, support and guidance to ensure franchisees create businesses that provide them and their families the lives they so richly deserve.

Chris Martin is a chartered accountant and business advisor and has been helping franchisees create and grow wonderful businesses for over 20 years. He is a published author and has written extensively on franchisee tax issues. He passionately believes that whilst franchising is a deservedly successful business format, franchisees are often let down by their franchisors’ failure to offer support and guidance regarding the financial side of running the business. This leaves franchisees frustrated, overwhelmed and unable to grow their businesses to the extent they should. Chris has developed simple systems, support and guidance to ensure franchisees create businesses that provide them and their families the lives they so richly deserve.