The absolute essence of being customer-centric on the Web is a relentless focus on saving customers time and money. In the Internet world, being customer-centric is not a like-to-do. It is a must-do. On the Web, only the customer-centric will survive. Why?
Because on the Web the customer is in control. Offline marketing treats customers as if they are sitting in the back seat. They are entertained; advertised and marketed at. The Web puts the customer's hands on the steering wheel and their feet on the pedals.
On the Web, the customer is no longer king-the customer is dictator! The customer is impatient, the customer won't wait. The customer wants it now, in their language, on their terms-at a good price.
Apologies for returning to Ryanair, but I think in the Ryanair story lies some of the most important and essential truths of the web customer. A large number of people have got in touch with me to stress with absolute conviction and certainty that Ryanair is NOT a customer-centric company.
Ryanair is one of the most customer-centric companies to emerge in the last 20 years. It is customer-centric because it gives us what we really want: cheap flights. It can offer such cheap flights because it relentlessly focuses on costs. It seeks to turn the entire flying process into a smooth factory line.
Ryanair designs a system that works incredibly well for the 'optimal' flight and customer. If you are not the optimal customer you are made to pay both financially and emotionally.
The optimal customer has only hand luggage. They book online. They arrive on time. They walk out on the tarmac and walk up stairs to search for an unassigned seat. They get off the flight quickly. They get a cheap flight.
This system works well on many, many fronts. You need less experienced and skilled staff. There is less luggage handling. The plane fills up faster because back and front stairs are used and seats are not assigned. There is a faster turnaround of planes.
If you are a minute late, if you have lots of baggage, if you are in any way an exception, you are made to pay. If it's raining outside you get wet. If it's cold outside you get cold. If there is any sort of hitch, you've got a problem.
Every time you add to an environment, you add complexity and cost. This is true of running a website or an airline. More features and more complexity means more cost and more time lost. When we design for the exception, you inhibit the rule. Fewer features and less complexity means more money and time saved.
If you want to make A as simple as possible, you must either stop doing B, or hide B and thus make it more complex. You can't make A and B as simple as possible together.
Most websites could do with taking the Ryanair approach. What really matters to your customers? Not what some fancy focus group or half baked marketing research say matters. (They will never admit they fly Ryanair.) What really, really matters to your customers?
About the Author
Gerry McGovern, a content management author and consultant
, has spoken, written and consulted extensively on writing for the web and web content management issues since 1994.