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Being nice costs nothing, and pays dividends

Npower seem to have learnt nothing from its recent encounter with one unhappy customer

In another inspiring example of pure business acumen that must make us all wish that we had it in us to be chief executives, Michael O'Leary has made a shock announcement. Ryanair's profits have soared by 152 per cent, he says, since the company decided to stop being rude to its customers. Well, hallelujah and hold the front page: being nice to customers is good for business! Shout it from the rooftops, record it on a loop and play it instead of that infernal trumpet whenever you land a plane, please Mr O. Perhaps it will even catch on.

Ryanair's amazing discovery is the result of a year-long crusade codenamed "Always Getting Better", which was launched with an image of O'Leary hugging a puppy. The policy used to be: we can do anything, we're still making money. Then came two profit warnings... I wish they would reveal details of the meeting in which this sudden policy reversal was mooted. Did a nervous young employee stand in front of a white board and suggest that tricksy websites, threats to charge for toilet use, and calling customers "stupid" for forgetting to print their boarding passes might just be where Ryanair was going wrong? Did the whizz-bang plan of treating folk with respect come, I wonder, after an all-night brain-storming session with pizzas, or during a staff bonding away-day in Whitstable?

Either way, I wish someone would tell Npower, which seems to have learnt nothing from a recent encounter with one unhappy customer. Barry Payling was sick of being chased for money he did not owe, so he took the energy supplier to court demanding £450 for his wasted time. The judge found in his favour when Npower failed to turn up. So, after further harassment from Npower and another unattended court case, he sent bailiffs to its offices to recover £2,503. And what has Npower learned from the episode? "We made a payment to him in good time. If he had notified us that he had not received the payment it would not have been necessary for him to instruct enforcement officers," said a sulky statement. Npower, I think the word you're looking for is "sorry".

It will be interesting to see how Amazon responds to these two tales of how to run a business. Last week, a survey of US customers revealed their feelings about Amazon's bullying behaviour towards publishers, particularly Hachette. Thirty-nine per cent of respondents were aware of the stand-off, and 19 per cent of those were buying fewer books from Amazon as a result. "This is the first time we've measured consumer dissatisfaction with Amazon resulting in significant declines in purchase intent," said Peter Hildick-Smith of the Codex Group, which conducted the survey. I don't know whether this is connected, but the last time I called the Amazon press office, somebody actually answered. Readers: a first!

Customers, keep up the pressure. I feel a revolution coming on.