Russell Parsons: Loyalty requires an impeccable experience year after year

There’s no quick fix for loyalty – Ryanair might have shifted its focus in 2014 from operational efficiency to customer experience, but the old brand associations are still deeply embedded.

ryanair-plane-2014

History is a powerful thing for brands. For those reaching for distinction, heritage and provenance can create stand-out in commoditised markets. For many, however, the past is not a friend. Ryanair is one of those that is hampered by its history. The carrier’s move in 2014 to be a warmer, friendlier proposition – as opposed to the operationally supreme but unloved upstart it had been – has shifted brand perception but it hasn’t wiped all memories of its past.

Despite having a hassle-free experience, perception trumped reality earlier this week when I booked a Ryanair flight. With every click I expected to be stung by additional charges and left frustrated by the whole sorry experience. On the same day, the airline announced plans to bolster its MyRyanair loyalty programme, automatically adding everyone who makes a booking into a scheme that promises “tailored services” and “improved offers”.

The brand is steering clear of points-based systems, which are no longer in vogue in in the world of customer rewards and incentives, as it is assumed they simply drive discount-hunting behaviour. Instead Ryanair is focusing on personalised products in an effort to grow membership. It’s all part of the very forward-thinking Ryanair Labs initiative – the tech hot house from which the airline is now continually rolling out customer innovations.

It sounds nice, yet I remain unmoved. For me, Ryanair still retains associations from the long period when the brand happily stuck two fingers up to the establishment and the idea of customer experience. Loyalty cannot be driven by schemes alone, it’s driven by affection and a faith that brands bank over many years. A study by consultancy Rare found likeability (86%) and trust (83%) were the major drivers of loyalty.

Loyalty is delivered by the experience people have of the brand, wherever they experience it. It’s delivered by price and product. Ryanair is right in eschewing points-based schemes – they are not the answer to it’s still deeply embedded perception problems. The route to loyalty for Ryanair and all brands that seek it is to be bloody good at what you do, consistently, over many years. Only then will I engage with a brand with something other than a steely resolve to get through the experience unscathed and as quick as possible.

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