The Pit of Mediocrity

April 4, 2012

“I am a liar,” one of my clients said to me recently. He voices his own ads on the radio. He frequently talks about what customers can expect when they do business with him. He had received a few less-than-stellar reviews of his service team.

“If I am there on the radio saying one thing and we are doing another … well, I am a liar,” he told me. What a frightening, enlightening, step-on-a-rake moment of clarity.

Dependability & Consistency

As consumers, we have grown so accustomed to being underwhelmed and mistrustful of advertising that we are not even surprised anymore. In fact, we assume it is the norm when a company is long on talk and short on action.

My client is no longer one of those companies. We have launched a program to measure and reward improvement in the company’s service. Our reasoning is that the easiest way to generate share-worthy service is to disappoint a customer.

You must raise the bar with systems, policies and procedures that spell out each interaction with a customer. Your team members have to know what is expected of them every time.

A Big Mac should taste the same whether you eat it in your hometown or Walton-on-Thames, England. We sleep better at night knowing that certain things are always consistent—even fast food.

Can you say the same about your company’s products and services? Are you saying one thing with your advertising and delivering another?

It is okay if this is the case. It is an opportunity.

There are two important factors to consider. Dependability allows your customers to count on your company to deliver what you say you will when you say you will. Consistency means doing this every time. It is the dependability of your dependability.

Making the Fix

We all make mistakes. My rock-solid dependable e-mail marketing company had a server failure recently and my e-mail did not go out at 5 a.m. like usual.

The company apologized. It fixed the problem quickly and followed up to let me know it had been fixed. Then it followed up again to say it had forwarded my thank you note around the office and it had made everyone’s day.

An old friend once said, “Tim, eventually everybody is going to stub a toe. It is how you fix it that matters.”

My e-mail marketing company fixed it. My client is fixing what needs to be fixed.

It is not too late for you to fix it—if you know what needs fixing. At this point, you are only in real trouble if you do not know what you need to fix.

The Bottom of the Pit

This is the thing about extremes: they are easily identifiable because, for better or worse, they get attention. Even when a company makes a mistake, it usually gets at least one chance to make good. That chance, if taken advantage of, tends to get as much coverage as the offense.

It is the companies in between the extremes that are in the worst position. Imagine an inverted bell curve. At both extremes, you get discussed. Everyone else, wallowing in the pit of average, gets ignored.

There, at the saggy, soggy bottom of the bell curve, sits a black hole from which it is hard to escape. There is no reason to escape if you do not think there is a problem.

It is easy to reassure yourself that you are average. Your service is fine, you do a pretty good job, and when you make a mistake, you always try to fix it. Fish do not know they are in water.

Being average is a dangerous wasteland. It is a narcotic malaise that deadens the souls of employees, companies and customers, and it is true for most of the companies with which we do business.

Truth in Advertising

Advertising only accelerates the inevitable. Good advertising will make a good business more successful more quickly and efficiently. Good advertising also will make a bad business go out of business more quickly.

If you are in between, languishing in the pit of mediocrity, you will try advertising and it likely will not work very well (if at all, depending on a few factors)—at least, not nearly as well as it could.

Every time I go to St. Louis I see a billboard for a convenience store that drives me crazy. It is meant to look like either a Twitter or Facebook status update. It reads “Fastlane: For Fuel, Food & Fun!!”

It bothers me because it is false advertising. I have been to the convenience store a few times to investigate. It is not fun at all. It has gas and beer and Funyuns and Combos, but not fun. I am not arguing that it should change the billboard to match the experience, however.

But imagine if the store changed the experience to match the billboard. Have you ever walked out of a convenience store thinking, “Oh man, that was awesome!” I see an opportunity.

Perhaps the convenience store owners could spend six months visiting amusement parks, carnivals, Las Vegas and a few other places that sell fun for a living. They could take notes and figure out ways to provide a fun experience at a convenience store, such as a free whoopee cushion with every full tank of gas or a dunk tank filled with Red Bull.

Suddenly, it is a convenience store that everyone is telling their friends about. People would line up to not only fill up their tanks, but also to come inside for high-margin snacks and joy buzzers.

Suddenly my kids would beg to stop at FastLane on the way to Grandmom’s and Granddad’s house. My wife would tell her mom friends. And some goober on the Web would blog about its relentless capacity for fun.

Oh, people will come, Ray. People will most definitely come. They will come because it is a convenience store, and our experience at convenience stores across America is drowning in mediocrity.

Making a Difference

Advertising messages fail for two reasons:

1. Companies do not speak to consumers about things consumers care about in a language consumers understand.
2. Companies do not live up to the promises they make in their advertising.

FastLane passes number one with flying colors. We all need fuel, food and fun. They fail miserably at number two.

The easy road is to change the ad. The company on the road less traveled changes the company, and that will make all the difference.

Photo 4645058 © Jennbang |
Photo 10945954 © Angelico Jurado |
Photo 11479540 © Nelson Alonso |
Photo 13444369 © Cammeraydave |