The man who said customer care didn’t matter has had a change of heart. That is, if you count a typically dismissive response to a customer survey and a sop to shareholders’ concerns as a change of heart.

‘Anyone who works with the general public will have noted how “stupid”, “disorganised” and “lacking in common sense” people can be’

Michael O’Leary, the boss of Ryanair, has for a decade reveled in his reputation as the abrasive and opinionated Mr Nasty of the airline business, who not only beats the big boys − he does it by contradicting the management gurus and industry experts who say good customer care is essential for success and profitability.

Not only does he say customer care is not necessary for repeat business, he has been often rude about customers, calling them idiots if they can’t cope with the online booking system; or telling larger passengers to lose weight or fly with someone else.

The industry experts say in a competitive market you not only need to meet customer requirements, you need to exceed them. Mr O’Leary thinks that’s rubbish. He claims his customers want cheap no frills flights and that’s what he gives them. He’s not interested in customer feedback; he’s not particularly bothered about complaints; and certainly doesn’t see why he should make it easier for people to complain (it just adds costs, after all).

‘Well they would say that’

He isn’t trying to make flying an enjoyable experience, just cheap and punctual. He isn’t particularly bothered that his company came bottom in a Which? customer service survey of a 100 companies. His response: “Most of our passengers have never heard of Which?, never mind read their report.” But following concerns expressed at the annual shareholders’ meeting he did concede that staff “should not unnecessarily piss off customers”.

‘We should recognise that in the public sector we too sometimes anger our customers’

Anyone who works with the general public will have noted how “stupid”, “disorganised” and “lacking in common sense” people can be. In the public sector we may think this, but unlike Michael O’Leary we can never say it. We need someone like O’Leary prepared to challenge business orthodoxy and remind us that customers have a hierarchy of wants − in this case cheap and punctual come before convenience, comfort and free drinks. Our job in the public sector is to find out what our customers put first; what’s most important to them?

I know many senior public sector managers who, like Mr O’Leary, have dismissed unfavourable customer surveys with a, “Well they would say that wouldn’t they?” We should recognise that in the public sector we too sometimes anger our customers. The GP who tells you you’re over weight, the receptionist who says there are no appointments left for this week even though it’s still early Monday morning, the letter that says your operation has been cancelled,  the consultant who informs you that the life extending drugs are not available on the NHS and the social worker who takes away your child are all likely to make you angry.

Again Mr O’Leary is right we should not go out of our way or “unnecessarily” annoy our customers. Most of all we need a Michael O’Leary and a Ryanair’s “take it or leave it” approach to remind us how the public sector was at its worst and why cheapest is not always best.