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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.”

Order Delight Your Customers: 7 Simple Ways to Raise Your Customer Service from Ordinary to Extraordinary by Steve Curtin or purchase from select retailers, including Barnes & Noble.
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