Does your company have a slogan or a purpose?

CVSHealthMany companies have slogans that look good on websites, banners, and buttons, but often these slogans have little credibility among customers or employees. They are simply a set of words brainstormed at an ad agency that usually promise more than employees are prepared to deliver, and result in less than customers expected to receive.

CVS Health has a slogan: “Health is everything.” Last Wednesday the company stopped selling cigarettes and tobacco products at its 7,700 retail pharmacies. Although the decision to remove tobacco products from its stores will cost them an estimated $2 billion in annual sales, CVS Health chose to stay true to its commitment to people’s health. It chose to honor its highest priority: health is everything. CVS Health reinforced its credibility with employees and customers alike by staying true to its stated purpose.

I love this example because it illustrates an important point I make during my customer service presentations: Without a clearly defined purpose, there is no exceptional customer service. Most companies ensure that employees possess job knowledge (WHAT to do) and demonstrate job skill (HOW to do it), but then leave job purpose (WHY they are doing it) to chance. Whenever you leave 1/3 of anything to chance, it usually doesn’t end well.

This explains why most companies provide ordinary, routine, and transactional customer service: Their employees are given something to work ON and dutifully execute the mandatory functions of their jobs, oftentimes producing satisfactory results. But extraordinary companies aren’t content to give their employees something to work on. Like CVS, they opt to give employees something to work TOWARD.

Zappos, the online retailer, gives its employees something to work toward by guiding their actions with the purpose: “To provide the best customer service possible.” And the behavior of employees of the Mayo Clinic is shaped by the purpose: “The needs of the patient come first.” These employees not only possess job knowledge and demonstrate job skill, they also reflect job purpose.

I’m confident that the great majority of people who read this post, can clearly articulate WHAT they do at work and, if asked, could demonstrate HOW they do it. I’m less confident that they will have the same clarity around their highest priority at work, the organization’s purpose – WHY they do WHAT they do.

If you’re skeptical, just ask your employees/coworkers. My hunch is that if you ask five employees with the same job role WHAT they do, 80 percent of their responses will agree. However, if you ask these same five employees WHY they do WHAT they do, 80 percent of their responses will differ. This exercise serves as a litmus test to determine whether your company has a catchy slogan or an enduring purpose.

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Posture versus performance

When it comes to serving customers, most companies are concerned more with posture than performance.

Posture is based on what companies say they do, their public image. Performance is based on what companies actually do, their results. Would you rather do business with a company that projects exceptional customer service or one that delivers it?

Consider the example of United Airlines. As a former United 1K (100,000 mile flyer), I’ve had lots of experience with the airline as a customer. Over the years, I endured indifferent customer service on the phone, in the terminal, at the gate, and on airplanes. It wasn’t always indifferent. At times it was friendly—even exceptional. But, from my perspective, there was inconsistency between United’s stated slogan, Fly the Friendly Skies (posture) and its actual customer service quality (performance).

At least United had the good sense to change its slogan in 2004 to It’s Time to Fly. Perhaps the airline had more confidence in its ability to consistently depart on time than to consistently provide friendly customer service…

Even McDonald’s, the model of efficiency and consistency, postures with its Double-Checked For Accuracy program. Having four children, our standing order doesn’t change much and usually involves plain cheeseburgers (i.e., cheeseburgers with nothing on them—no pickles, no onions, no ketchup, no mustard). Routinely, we receive “plain” cheeseburgers that include one or more of the above garnishes. To add insult to injury, the bag is usually secured with a bold sticker ensuring the order has been Double-Checked For Accuracy.

If I were advising McDonald’s, I’d recommend that its employees spend less time attaching stickers to bags suggesting that uninspected orders have been “double-checked for accuracy” (posturing) and direct more of their energy and attention to guests and getting their orders right (performing).

According to this recent article in The New Yorker, a survey of more than 300 big companies revealed that while 80% described themselves as delivering “superior” service (based on their stated priorities), consumers put that figure at just 8% (based on their actual experiences).

This demonstrates the chasm that exists between what most companies say they do and what these companies actually do.

Of course, there are exceptions that recognize the importance of aligning stated priorities and slogans with actual performance. FedEx comes to mind. For many years, its slogan was When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight. And FedEx’s performance consistently supported that claim. Even in today’s global marketplace, FedEx’s updated slogan, The World on Time matches its performance and reaffirms that it is the go-to company for international shipping.

Zappos is another company whose slogan, Powered by Service matches its performance. What Zappos says it does and what it actually does are one in the same. Zappos has a great deal of integrity. There is a consistency to Zappos. Loyal Zappos customers are confident that their expectations will be met or exceeded—every time.

I’ll close with a metaphor attributed to Gandhi that illustrates the difference between posture and performance.

Imagine the scene in some remote village in India. Gandhi is in a small hut with a single table and the village people are lining up in the square to have a moment with him to tap into his wisdom and to make some sense of the challenges they face.

Eventually, a mother and son made their way to his table and the mother pleaded with Gandhi, “Can you please stop my son from eating sugar. It is affecting his health and I am worried.”

Gandhi got up from his chair and thought for a moment. He then said to the mother, “Come back with your boy to see me in two weeks.” The woman agreed and then she and her son left the room.

Two weeks later the woman returned with her son. Gandhi then spoke with the boy and the boy agreed. The mother, confused, asked Gandhi, “Why did you make me and my son wait to hear something you could have said two weeks ago?”

Gandhi then said, “You don’t understand. Two weeks ago, I too was eating sugar.”