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Does Ryanair deliver poor service or is it a CX success story?


Ryanair has long been criticised for its poor service and is commonly regarded as delivering bad customer experiences. But there’s a train of thought that suggests, contrary to this, Ryanair is in fact a customer experience success story....

6th Oct 2020

Ryanair has long been criticised for its poor service and is commonly regarded as “Bad CX.” But there’s a new thinking suggests the opposite: Ryanair is a CX success story.

Which side do you take? 

The mission of real CX is to deliver brand promise

Customer Experience is a company’s delivery of its brand promise.” - Jeanne Bliss, co-founder of CXPA.

When a brand delivers their brand promise [1] repeatedly and consistently, it drives brand differentiation, commands customer loyalty, and achieves business result.

Figure 2
Figure 1: Emotion Curve of an Ordinary Brand

However, when a brand makes many promises or attempts to satisfy many customer needs [note 2] – resources are diluted - their Emotion Curve [3] becomes flattened. Pleasure peaks are insignificant, the experience is disremembered, and the brand homogenised.

Extraordinary brands chose a different path.

Figure 1
Figure 2: Emotion Curve of an Extraordinary Brand

They select some of the critical needs of customers to be their brand promise. They focus resources on their promise and relax on the remaining needs. The experience is memorable and the brand is differentiated. Extraordinary brands like IBM, Starbucks, IKEA, Louis Vuitton and Dell all have a dynamic Emotion Curve [note 4].

Yet, the price of having peaks is allowing valleys. Some people misunderstand that it is about generating pain. It isn’t. It is creating value for customers. Let me explain this with an important concept: the value exchange.

Real CX creates values, not pain, for customers

Although Ryanair’s repeat customers can understand why Ryanair practices the lean and mean approach – to channel savings in order to offer the lowest airfares (Ryanair’s brand promise) – ‘sufferings’ are still undesirable; but it doesn’t stop its regular customers from flying with Ryanair, as long as the perceived ‘value’ (i.e. cheap airfares) is larger than the endeavor (i.e. all the cost-saving measures).

Likewise, despite Louis Vuitton’s loyal consumers knowing why its products are costly – to create high quality merchandises and an unparalleled level of exclusivity (brand promises of Louis Vuitton) – expensive prices is nevertheless unwanted; but it doesn’t prohibit its advocates from purchasing Louis Vuitton, to the extent that the perceived ‘value’ (i.e. the prestige feeling) exceeds the endeavor (i.e. premium prices).

On that ground, the lean and mean practices of Ryanair and expensive prices of Louis Vuitton are Good Valleys and shouldn’t be eliminated, because they help generate substantial ‘values’ to customers – Branded Peaks – which reflect the brand promises of Ryanair and Louis Vuitton. The existence of Good Valleys is to support Branded Peaks.

Literally, the widely held belief in the CX world “Customer pain points are bad and have to be eliminated” is fallacious and no longer valid.

Not every customer pain point is good

However, not every valley is good. Most valleys are bad or unnecessary and have to be reduced or eliminated. There are basically five types of valleys:

  1. Inspirational Valley: by solving it, you can create innovative solution, product or business model.
  2. Unnecessary Valley: there is little or no value generated for customers; customers suffer for nothing.
  3. Good Valley: by allowing it, your Branded Peak can be further enhanced.
  4. Bad Valley: when the Good Valley falls to a level deemed unacceptable by your target customers, it becomes a Bad Valley.
  5. De-Branded Valley: the attribute (valley) is supposed to be the pleasure peak because it reflects your brand promise.

To conclude, only the Good Valley should be allowed. For the remainder, you should either solve, minimise or eliminate, and spend different level of resource addressing them.

Real CX objectively assesses customer experiences

A Real CX employs an objective approach for the evaluation of customer experience. It has three assessment criteria:

1. Deliver brand promise. Ritz Carlton has “Ladies and Gentlemen Serving Ladies and Gentlemen” (service), ULCCs (ultra-low cost carriers) offers the cheapest airfares (price), while BMW delivers “The Ultimate Driving Machine” (product).

Different brands chose – to satisfy different customers’ needs – different brand promises. We respect our customers and their choices of brand. We shouldn’t discriminate any brand promises, just as we don’t discriminate any customer needs or brand choices. All brand promises should be treated equally.  

2. Create values for customers. For instance, the lowest airfares of Ryanair and the prestige feeling of Louis Vuitton. These values are created through Value Exchange.

Some CX experts say they just want peaks and no valleys. Are they so lacking in common and business senses to comprehend the fact that “There’s no such thing as a free lunch”? There ain’t no peaks without valleys.

3. Achieve business results. For instance, first-time purchase (acquisition), repeat purchase (retention) and referral (positive word-of-mouth).

Different brands have non-identical business drivers. For example, the No. 1 repeat purchase driver of IKEA is ‘Product pricing’ [note 5] while for Louis Vuitton it is the ‘Exclusive feel of wearing/owning LV products’ [note 6]. ‘Service’ isn’t always a business driver.

Therefore, excluding ‘pricing’ and ‘product’ from CX can be a big mistake. A brand could miss out on two important business drivers by doing so. ‘Price’ and ‘product’ shouldn’t be left out.

The double standard of conventional CX on brand promises

Many CX professionals are now wearing biased ‘service’ lenses to assess customer experiences. This gives rise to double standards on:

  • Brand promises.
  • Valleys.
  • Peaks.

Brand promise doesn’t reckon without ‘service’. Brands with promises that account for ‘service’ are generally being honoured, e.g. Ritz Carlton, Southwest Airlines and Lexus. In contrast, brands are mostly disregarded if their promises are irrelevant to ‘service’.

For instance, certain CX experts openly, and disrespectfully, express that brands compete purely on ‘price’ are “commodities”, “just utilities” and “won’t survive for long.” Here, brand promises are treated unequally.

The double standard of conventional CX on valleys

Figure 3
Figure 3: Emotion Curve of the Starbucks In-Store Experience

Based on 715 responses from the North America consumers through the global Starbucks research [note 7], we generate their Emotion Curve in figure 3. ‘Price’ is the most severe pain point out of the total 26 sub-processes and attributes.

Figure 4
Figure 4: Emotion Curve of the Louis Vuitton In-Store Experience


With reference to 2,318 respondents – the customers of Louis Vuitton who had purchased at least once – from a global research [note 8], ‘price’ is the valley out of 27 attributes and sub-processes of the shopping experience displayed in figure 4.

Why are most CX professionals crying out to address any pain points related to ‘service’, but turning a deaf ear to deal with the ‘price’ valleys like Starbucks’ and Louis Vuitton’s?

Valley doesn’t matter without ‘service’. This is the reason why the ‘service’ related pain points of IKEA and Ryanair have long been criticised, and the ‘price’ valleys of premium brand like Starbucks and luxurious brand such as Louis Vuitton are rarely a concern.

Since the ‘non-service’ valleys are always out of sight: There are no other valleys; they are all ‘service’ valleys.

The double standard of conventional CX on peaks

Sukiyabashi Jiro generates numerous valleys: accept no walk-ins, reservations have to be made months in advance, located in the basement of an office building, with a modest wooden counter and only 10 tables in the entire establishment, no choice for menu, very limited time for meal, steep prices and bad service. Jiro focuses all their resources to make the world’s best sushi (product) for their diners.

Ryanair adds a price tag on almost everything, e.g. excess baggage, credit card usage and a small bottle of water. They eliminate seatback pockets, blankets and airsickness bags, provide very tight leg-room and serve no free in-flight meals. They adopt mean policies like no-refund and limited airport transportation. Whatever your thoughts about the quality of their service, you can't deny that Ryanair channels all these savings to offer the cheapest airfares (price) for their passengers.

Jiro and Ryanair have delivered their brand promises, created significant values for customers via Value Exchange, and achieved the business results that might make all of their competitors envious [note 9]. Their Branded Peaks – the world’s best sushi and cheapest airfares – are strikingly apparent. Why aren’t they good CX?

Peak doesn’t count without ‘service’. It explains why brands like Zappos and Virgin Atlantic are being praised as the best CX practices – as their peaks are about ‘service’ – yet Jiro and Ryanair would be labeled as bad CX because their respective peaks, ‘product’ and ‘pricing’, have nothing to do with ‘service’.

As the ‘non-service’ peaks are not being recognised: There are no other peaks; they are all ‘service’ peaks.

Bad service can be good CX / good service can be bad CX

In respect of customer experience evaluation, these double standards are exactly the opposite of the objective approach of Real CX.

When conventional CX can discern nothing but ‘service’ in brand promises, peaks and valleys, 'service' becomes the most predominant – if not the only – criteria in judging the effectiveness of customer experience. Consequently, good CX has to "serve customers well" and it must be bad CX if poor service is rendered; it’s mistaken.

Don't get it wrong: being successful in CX isn't the privilege of the members of SERVICE club. Even for a non 'service'-focused brand which has only valleys but no peaks of ‘service’, like Ryanair, as long as it delivers its promise, creates customer value and achieves business result, the brand is performing effective customer experience management. In other words, bad service and good CX are not mutually exclusive. “Bad Service” can be a CX success story.

On the contrary, it is ineffective customer experience management if a brand "serves customers well" but fails to keep its promise and obtain business result. Good service isn't a necessary and sufficient condition for good CX. Even Good Service” can be bad CX.


  1. For purposes of consistency and simplicity, in this article, the term ‘brand promise’ also covers brand value, brand purpose, value proposition and jobs-to-be-done. They all fulfill a similar cause: Create values for customers.
  2. For ease of understanding, in this article, the term ‘customer needs’ is consolidated into three major categories: 1) ‘Service’ – such as service manner, professionalism, personalized service, self-service, relationship, convenience, speed, fun and caring; 2) ‘Product’ – like product quality, varieties, features, user-friendliness and product image; and 3) ‘Pricing’.
  3. An Emotion Curve is mapped by linking all the satisfaction levels of the sub-processes (touch-point experiences) and attributes that are encountered or perceived by customers and affect their emotions in a natural time sequence during a touch-point experience (total customer experience). I created the Emotion Curve in 2006. See Sampson Lee, One Cup of Coffee, 20 Experiences: Take a Tip From Starbucks (, 4 June 2006).
  4. Global Starbucks In-store Customer Experience Research, Global CEM and CustomerThink (U.S.), September-October 2007; Global IKEA In-store Customer Experience Research, Global CEM, CustomerThink (U.S.) and TOTE-M (Netherlands), December 2008-February 2009; Global Louis Vuitton In-store Customer Experience Research, Global CEM and CustomerThink (U.S.), October 2008: Mainland China B2B Purchase Experience (IT Solution) Research, Global CEM and CustomerCentric Selling (U.S.), July-August 2007.
  5. Global IKEA In-store Customer Experience Research, Global CEM, CustomerThink (U.S.) and TOTE-M (Netherlands), December 2008-February 2009.
  6. Global Louis Vuitton In-store Customer Experience Research, Global CEM and CustomerThink (U.S.), October 2008.
  7. Global Starbucks In-store Customer Experience Research, Global CEM and CustomerThink (U.S.), September-October 2007.
  8. Global Louis Vuitton In-store Customer Experience Research, Global CEM and CustomerThink (U.S.), October 2008.
  9. Ryanair has been one of the world’s most profitable airlines for years. In 2016, Ryanair was both the largest European airline by scheduled passengers carried, and the busiest international airline by passenger numbers. (Wikipedia, 4 March 2018). Sukiyabashi Jiro has earned and kept three Michelin stars for years. See Oldest Michelin Three Star Chef – Guinness World Records, retrieved 8 March 2018, from The place is so famous that former U.S. President Barack Obama asked to dine there during his visit to Japan in 2014. See David Jackson, Obama: ‘That’s some good sushi right there.’ (USA Today, 23 April 2014).

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