My mouth hung open as I watched the postal clerk reach into her purse, grab her personal credit card and pay for my mailing. After an instant calculation weighing my honesty in forgetting my card, a $3 deficit and her desire to offer stellar customer service, she stretched around the edge of the plexiglass shield and slid her card into the machine. The U.S. Postal Service had risen to meet the promise and consistency of its brand — or so I thought.
Three weeks later — wallet and credit card in hand — I snaked through the same line with another set of mailing tubes secretly hoping to get the same customer service champion. This time a different clerk demonstrated a contrasting interpretation of the same brand. This version included unexplained higher prices for the same mailings; deflected responsibility to management; blame directed at the weighing machine. When I recounted that one package had arrived at the correct address, but empty of all contents, she summed it up with, “You should add tape. You can file a complaint,” as she circled the web address on the receipt for me to take a survey about her performance.
I’ll never take that survey. With this service inconsistency, I had already reverted to my previous judgment of the brand — it was lousy. We can always find great employees and wonderful examples of selfless performance. The first clerk was off-the-charts good. The second, achingly bad. Both did their jobs. One put a curse on the brand.
Unfortunately, outstanding performers can do little to enhance the marketing success of an unreliable brand. Inconsistency kills good effort. Fair or not, it only takes a few missed deliveries, unprepared facilitators or exaggerated service benefits for years of good reputation to be tarnished. It’s because of broken brands that we fear our packages will go missing or arrive empty. The fear of branding small print keeps us on guard for lies in advertising and promotions. However rare, a consistent brand is like a good friend or a beloved family member.
Some people take their personal brand very seriously. For them, their promise of performance is a matter of ethics or even morality. These people perform at a superior level in spite of the branding promise made by their organization. Others are influenced by the set of values espoused by their company and the people around them. Clients and customers see and record it all. Nothing gets past the customer when it comes to consistency. Branding integrity instills comfort and trust. The client records it all.
During the COVID crisis, many enterprises posted large-print signs requiring everyone to wear a mask within the premises. And, like many, they hammer another nail in the coffin of their brand by completely ignoring whether or not a customer complies. One time I forgot my mask. I felt shameful and apologized. No one cared. This group did not believe what they communicated — a broken brand.
Marketing thrives with consistency and precision — your gift to the client. When you confuse acquaintances and customers they will stop trusting your brand. Like a seasoned athlete you rise to the top by hammering away at habits and actions. Brands are like winning athletes who keep showing up each Monday; they return on Tuesday; back on Wednesday; they power through Thursday and persist into Friday. The best leaders are fanatical about the brand.
When people stand in your lines — business or life — don’t kill your brand by making them wonder if you’ll keep your promise to deliver the offering you marketed. Make it a habit to select your promises wisely and then deliver on them — without the small print. No long list of exemptions or exclusions. Your brand says what you will do. Now do it.
With a weary sense of déja vu it hit me that my pleasant post office experience had been with a delightful human being rather than a well-branded organization. Overflowing gift bag in hand, I found that kind clerk and, against her wishes, offered my tokens of gratitude for living up to her own personal brand of excellence.
Rick Griggs is a former Intel Corp. training manager and inventor of the rolestorming creativity tool. He runs the 10-month Leadership Mastery Academy. email@example.com or 970-690-7327.