About Me

John Fahy is the Professor of Marketing in the University of Limerick and Adjunct Professor of Marketing at the University of Adelaide. He is an award winning author and speaker on marketing issues around the world.

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Look Out Aer Lingus

Last week saw Aer Lingus finally resolve its three week old dispute with the trade union Impact which had centred on cabin crew rosters. As ever in these kinds of disputes, one very important stakeholder namely the customer appears to have been forgotten. The effects of such inside-out thinking will become all the more obvious during 2011.

Throughout the dispute, Aer Lingus cancelled an average of around 20 flights per day. As a result some 22,000 passengers had their flight cancelled. That is, 22,000 personal and business customers who couldn’t make their commitments because of the Aer Lingus dispute. For a service company, this demonstrates a shocking lack of understanding of the nature of service quality. There are five key elements to service quality namely reliability, tangibles, assurance, responsiveness and empathy. The most critical of these is reliability because it is its absence that causes dissatisfied customers (its presence merely meets customer expectations). And generating dissatisfied customers at a rate of approximately 1,000 per day does not make any business sense. If you are lucky they complain and stick with you, but most simply say nothing and just take their business elsewhere. Of all the things that Aer Lingus could have done, cancelling flights should have been its last option.

But this is not the first time that one could raise serious questions about Aer Lingus’ marketing strategy. The fact that their nemesis Micheal O’Leary proudly touted many times in the media that he was standing four square behind the company on this one should have caused the management in Aer Lingus to seriously reflect on whether their course of action was wise. With their passenger numbers down by 17% year on year for January – the big winner was Ryanair as Aer Lingus customers – now no longer able to trust their airline to deliver, switched their business elsewhere. But O’Leary has had Aer Lingus playing by his rules for years and very few companies win by playing the other guy’s game. Add to that the fact that the dispute will have had a negative effect on the Aer Lingus cabin crew, the prospects for improvements in service quality (that might differentiate them from Ryanair) are not very good either. Inside out thinking might give you some efficiencies but real strategy starts with the customer!


What Marketing Is Not

The Irish Mail on Sunday stands accused of two counts of passing off in the latest saga to hit the rapidly ailing newspaper industry. The first was its attempt to lure readers of the Sunday Tribune (which went into receivership last Wednesday) into buying its paper by adding a cover sheet which included the Sunday Tribune’s masthead and looked, for all the world, like the original. Just as flagrant was its pathetic attempt to justify this stunt as simply being a ‘marketing exercise’. It goes without saying that nowhere in the definition of marketing does it say that you should attempt to try to trick customers into buying your product by pretending to be something that you are not. That is what con artists do!

What is interesting though is what this tells us about consumer behaviour. For a con like this to work, you must catch the consumer off guard. And increasingly, what we are learning is that most of the time when consumers are shopping, they are actually off guard. Much of our consumption behaviour is automatic – we pick up the same products from the supermarket shopping aisles, go to the same petrol stations and even though we look at the menu we will regularly order the same lunch in a café. This is precisely what the Mail on Sunday was seeking to capitalize on – the tendency of Sunday newspaper buyers to pick up the same paper that they do every week. In a world of extensive consumer choices we avoid information and processing overload by taking shortcuts. And occasionally, these shortcuts can lead to a bad customer experience.

So the consumer needs to realise that they are not always as rational as they like to claim that they are. Much of what we do is automatic and driven by our subconscious motives. Smart companies understand this and constantly work to build an emotional connection between the consumer and their brands. Others just try to fool some of the people some of the time and then call it marketing!