Ryanair and the human importance of customer service


Earlier this year, my family and I moved home. We didn’t move far. Just one side of Clapham Common to the other (and still in Battersea, of course).

At our old house, where we had lived for nearly 20 years, I had become used to the habit of reading the newspaper over a brew and toast before heading off for work. This was a small piece of English life that I had sorely missed in the overseas posting that my agency had told me would advance my advertising career.

After our move (in Battersea not from the other side of the world) I found, to my horror, that the nearest newsagent didn’t do home deliveries. He told me: “It’s too much trouble managing the delivery persons” (that’s PC-speak for paper boys).

Well, back at our previous house, if the paper wasn’t delivered early in the morning, my whole routine broke down. The time taken to walk the short distance to the newsagent and back would start my day on completely the wrong footing.

Before you accuse me of laziness, I made a rule to myself that I would walk to the shop and buy my own newspapers on Saturdays and Sundays. This also allowed me a cheery face-to-face greeting and some friendly banter with the newsagent and/or his wife.

This couple are called Sachin and Shilpa (well they are not actually – their names have been changed to protect their privacy).

As human beings, I admire Sachin and Shilpa a much as anyone I have met.

For the whole time I have known them, which is since 1991, they have missed only one day serving their customers in their shop. This was for a family funeral.

And when I say ‘one day’ I mean ONE DAY, including Saturdays and Sundays, in nearly 20 years.

And when I say one ‘day’, I mean a DAY that starts at 5am and ends at 8pm.

A long day. Day after day. Year after year.

Sometimes, my newspaper of choice would be late from the wholesaler.On these occasions, I would receive an alternative newspaper with a little note of apology explaining the situation and saying that I could, of course, swap the paper for my preferred option later in the day. They would put it to one side just in case.

On other occasions, when I bought a Birthday Card, they would ask who the card was for and, if it was for one of my children, they would give them a chocolate bar or whatever they knew was their favourite confection.

When we went on holiday, in post- as well as pre-internet days, they knew I hated missing out certain pieces of news (including, as it happens, the Business pages).

For however long the time away, they would keep my newspaper in a pile in their already jam-packed shop. And when I returned, there they would be, all neatly sorted by day – beginning with the first date first, at the top of the pile.

So now I have moved house, I have to walk to the closest newsagent and buy my newspaper from there. Or, as my small moment of morning pleasure is denied me, I pick it up somewhere else later in the day. Sadly mid-week, Sachin and Shilpa’s shop has become just too far a walk.

But, at week-ends, what do I do?

I drive past a number of other newsagents to buy my paper from Sachin and Shilpa’s shop, as I have for nearly 20 years. They say ‘Good Morning’ and ‘How Are You?’ and ‘Thank You’ and, if they are not busy serving their other customers, we have a little chat.

I treasure their friendship.

My friendship with, and certainly my admiration for, this wonderful couple stems from the fact that day-in, day-out, for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, they have looked after their customers like me.

You may have noticed the word ‘Ryanair’ in the headline of this post but that, until now, that I have not used this word at all.

And I am not going to use it again. Once is quite enough.

If you have been a customer of this airline, you will know why.

If you have not been a customer of this airline, look after yourself.

About Hugh Salmon

Business leader. Adman. Writer.
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