Why 'On Time'​ Can Make or Break Your Brand

“Running late. Be there soon.”

We’ve all gotten some variation of this text message at one point or another. And it’s not just individuals running late; when was the last time a doctor’s appointment actually started on time? Tardiness – once a black mark on your grade-school report card – has become the norm in civil society and standard business practice.

You may have heard that we got an extra “leap” second on New Years. That probably wasn’t enough to make us all punctual again, but in the spirit of 2017 new beginnings, let’s make it our resolution to not be late.

But why, you ask? When we’re on the waiting end, we can’t be very annoyed, because let’s be honest: We all do it too. It’s not even our fault; it’s life as we know it. And besides, what’s a few minutes between friends and colleagues or businesses and clients?

In fact, there’s a lot at stake when it comes to business. E-commerce sites live and die by the “3-second rule,” which is based on research that shows online shoppers will bounce from your website if it doesn’t load within that time frame. A three-second threshold may seem extreme, but in this on-demand, instant-gratification world we now live in, you keep customers waiting at your own peril.

And it’s not just about sales conversions online. I would go even further and say that for any professional service business, being on time is essential to your brand. Every email that isn’t returned promptly, and each additional minute someone has to wait on the phone, can devalue your brand. Personally, I follow the “3-minute rule”: I show up on calls 3 minutes ahead of time. I’ve grown to enjoy hold music.

A writer for the BBC not long ago observed that being on time is “a dying art” except in pockets of punctuality around the world, such as Switzerland (home of those master timekeepers) and Japan (where one bullet train’s average delay is 36 seconds). But after a stint in Switzerland, where he felt peer-pressured into being on time, the author found himself agreeing with the British author Evelyn Waugh, who said, as only Evelyn Waugh could, “Punctuality is the virtue of the bored.”

Oh, Evelyn. Imagine how he would feel now, with the Internet, smart phones, and VR to keep him from ever being bored – or on time.

In the time Before Mobile Phones (B.M.P.) – and here I risk sounding like a grumpy old man – people would, generally speaking, show up at the appointed place, at the appointed time. There was simply no way to get in touch with the person you were meeting to change course or push an appointment back once that person was en route. (Unless you happened to know the number of the pay phone right on that corner where you were supposed to meet, and your friend was inclined to pick up ringing pay phones. Honestly, that’s the stuff of a 1950s spy movie.)

Even if you grew up B.M.P., it can be hard to remember what it was like not being connected 24/7, not being able to change plans on a dime. Seriously, how did people manage to get anything done back in the old days?

The convenience of technology, of course, can be a double-edged sword. Mobile phones mean you don’t have to be chained to your desk – just to your phone.

Which brings me back to sitting at a coffee shop at the appointed time, waiting for the person I’m meeting, who’s running late and will be here soon.

There are people who set their clocks and watches 5 minutes fast to try to trick themselves into keeping on schedule. Do what you must, but the point is, if late is the new norm, then it’s worth making “on time” the new standout. What if being punctual becomes an important part of our brand and image, a reflection of how we value other people’s time and, in fact, our own too? It would be refreshing.

Maybe we can start a (really efficient, really timely) revolution. We can be the change.

Gotta go – I have an appointment to keep.