Ryanair’s chief executive has reluctantly admitted that it should stop “p***ing people off" after the budget airline was voted as having the worst customer service out of Britain’s biggest brands.

Michael O’Leary, known for his outspoken views, initially brushed off the results of the Which? poll, but has now promised to improve the way passengers are treated after shareholders expressed concerns that the company’s poor reputation was hitting sales.

He said he would review hefty charges for ‘extras’ and inflexible rules on luggage, saying: “I am very happy to take the blame or responsibility if we have a macho or abrupt culture. Some of that may well be my own character deformities.”

Customer service is often the deciding factor in whether a customer buys and is critical to the creation of customer loyalty. How can you help your frontline staff to engage with customers and enhance the customer experience?

Make them experts

It’s frustrating when you get the feeling you know more about a business’ products or services than the member of staff you’re speaking to; this complaint featured highly on Which?’s list of common customer complaints and is particularly pertinent in an era when people do a lot of their own research online before buying.

So ensure employees are fully briefed and up-to-date about your business’ offerings, as well as any developments in the pipeline and the market in general. They should be knowledgeable enough to answer customer queries, and also feel confident enough to offer advice.

Give regular updates on sales promotions and give staff the opportunity to ask questions – they may think of scenarios – and opportunities – you haven’t.

According to the Institute of Customer Service, only 25% of staff feel qualified to deal with customer complaints. Offer training and coaching on dealing with difficult customers or handling complaints more effectively. Which leads to the next point…

Put decision-making power in their hands

Trust frontline staff to use their own initiative and take action to resolve complaints on the spot, without having to follow rigid procedures, escalate to a manager or advise the customer they have to go away and contact ‘customer services’.

 It’s worked for the big brands. American Express tried getting rid of scripts for customer service staff and taking them off the clock, while linking incentives to customer feedback rather than targets – the result was that customers increased spending by 8-10%.

Allow staff to think for themselves and turn transactions into real interactions. Businesses that focus on strong emotional engagement have a greater chance of building customer loyalty.

Seek – and act on – their input

Remember that your employees are the link between you and your customers, which puts them in a powerful position to influence customers’ buying decisions as well as to provide you with valuable customer insight.

So engage with your staff and open up lines of communication. Encourage them to give feedback, identify opportunities and make suggestions on ways to improve processes, based on their interactions with customers – often procedures are put in place by managers who are removed from the customer-facing environment.

It’s good for employee motivation to know you seek and value their input, and that they have influence.

Align personal objectives and business goals

Provide incentives for those who demonstrate good customer service; as well as showing respect and appreciation for their performance, this encourages individuals to see customer service as a personal responsibility.

At the same time, aligning employee reward to customer experiences clearly demonstrates, to both staff and customers, the importance of customers and keeps this front of mind.

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