Industry View: The Heartbreak of OU Syndrome

By  Mike Lawshe, President and CEO, Paragon Solutions

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On a recent trip through DFW Airport, I was confronted with the ultimate example of overpromise and underdeliver—or OU Syndrome, as I like to call it. Considering my son, Colin, goes to Oklahoma State University, I especially like that acronym. (Sorry, Sooners.)

As a very frequent flier, I seek out every way possible to make the airport experience less painful. I belong to every frequent-flier program. I valet park to save time coming and going. I pursue every upgrade and advantage possible, and I know where every Starbucks is thanks to my DFW app.

I recently signed up for the ultimate perk: TSA Pre-check. For those of you unfamiliar with this, it’s the Transportation and Security Administration’s expedited screening program—expedited being the key word.

The promise is that you no longer have to remove your shoes, belts and jackets when going through the security line. You also don’t have to go through the line with everyone else; you can go through the “short line” and bypass the full-body screening machine to go through the old-school X-ray scanner. You can sail through the process with a smile on your face. (At least the people all were smiling in their short line in the brochure.) As a frequent flier, this is all very appealing. It would be like going back in time to when traveling was fun—if it were true.

So Much for the Short Line

As I approached the security area on a recent trip, I knew it was not going to be a good day. There were only two lines, so I would have to go through a regular line. Oh, the humanity!

But wait—there’s more. The short line was the regular line and the long line was for priority access, executive platinum and pre-check. Each was more than 50 people long. You could feel the frustration and the anger in the people in the “expedited” line.

In spite of the fact that it was slower and longer, I saw 10 people go up to the security agent and ask where the pre-check line was. As she pointed to the end of the long line, I saw each person’s shoulders slump as they walked to the end of the line and waited. It struck me as the ultimate example of OU Syndrome.

Of course this is the same government that said we can keep our insurance. What was I thinking? Well, I was thinking that they should simply deliver on a promise made. Silly me!

I love the AT&T “It’s Not Complicated” commercials, in which the guy is sitting at a short table in a classroom with some kindergarten students, asking them if they would like bigger or smaller, more fun or less fun, and other seemingly obvious questions. In the spirit of those commercials, I ask: Is it better to deliver on your promises or not deliver on your promises?

Keeping a Promise

I am talking about your retail stores. What is your brand promise? As I travel the country touring hundreds of stores in dozens of markets, I see a lot of broken promises. I visited a chain not long ago and found that three of its stores had no fresh coffee around 9 a.m. But at another chain, I had a great piece of pizza at 10 p.m. Innocent marketing slogans such as fresh coffee and fresh pizza are in fact part of your brand promise.

So what is your brand promise? What does your brand stand for?

I recently visited a great chain in the Northeast, and it was one of the most brand-conscious companies I have encountered. They really get it. It already was one of the most well-respected brands in the market, but the executives were not content. They challenged me and they challenged themselves to take their brand to the next level.

How could they deliver on their brand promise? The senior executive team of this fairly large chain took two days out of their schedules to take a step back and look at the big picture. They get it.

It’s not complicated. Just ask yourself these questions. Better yet, ask your customers: What is your brand? What does it represent? What is your brand promise? Have you delivered on that promise?

Do you suffer from OU Syndrome? Go Cowboys!

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