The importance of reviving and revising moments of truth in business

Moments of Truth is one of my go-to strategic tools when advising clients on customer-centricity,” writes Mike Tisdall of Insight Creative, “Or more grimly, when trying to analyse and attempting to reverse a company’s fading fortunes.”

What surprises me almost every time, though, is that most business managers haven’t heard of it. 

So, first, a brief history

The concept is most associated with Jan Carlzon, a former CEO of SAS (Scandinavian Air Services). He became leader of the airline at a time of deep recession and identified that the only differentiator he could call on to succeed was an impeccable customer experience. He calculated that in a single flight of a few hours, a traveller would only experience a few short minutes that would affect their emotional response to the whole experience. These were the moments in the customer journey that made or broke brand perceptions. From memory, they were check-in, boarding, meal service, disembarking and luggage retrieval. Each of these contact points was a defining moment – a ‘moment of truth’ – because it is in the moment and at the point of this ‘snapshot’ that a traveller decides whether to use the service again. Carlzon did all he could to develop staff management of these moments, with astonishing success for his airline, which eventually became one of the most admired in the industry.

The concept has, of course, been used across many industries since. 

How do you apply the thinking?

It’s such a sound and powerful concept that it has as much value today as ever. As most marketers know, no matter what marketing fads and new technologies come along to seduce and distract us (and gobble increasing shares of our marketing budget), the fundamentals of human nature and core marketing principles are still critically relevant.

The process involves detailed analysis of your customer journey, and insightful mapping of those points along the journey that are your company’s Moments of Truth. Of course, different businesses and business models may well have a longer list of moments, and many businesses may have more than one customer journey to trace and map. But the principle remains.

Thirty years on, what are the new opportunities?

Well, the principle hasn’t stood still. Twenty years after Carlzon, in 2005, Proctor & Gamble Chair, President and CEO, A. G. Lafley, opined that that there were three different types of Moments of Truth: 1. Pre-sale, when the customer is looking at and researching the product; 2. When the customer actually purchases the product and uses it; and 3. Post-sale, when customers provide feedback to the company, and their friends, colleagues and family members etc. And in the era of social media, we all know how influential that can be.

And in the digital age?

Enter Amit Sharma. Sharma started working with Walmart in 2006, designing the next generation multi-channel supply chain network, then joined Apple in 2010 where he drove all aspects of the shipping and delivery experience. Eventually, he left Apple to start his own company, Narvar, which focuses on The After Experiencethe period of time from when the customer buys a product online to when he receives it. That can be as short as two hours with Amazon’s new expedited delivery program, or several days, or even longer. It is that gap which is where this new Moment of Truth lives.

From here, I’ll let Forbes writer, Shep Hyken, take up Sharma’s story (edited for brevity):

In the online world, retailers drop the ball after customers click “buy.” Customers don’t know when they’re going to receive their package. They might be able to track it on the FedEx page, but there’s no branded moment or cohesive experience. This creates a gap in the experience.

Once the customer hits the “Buy” button on a website, the company may send an ‘order received’ or ‘order shipped’ notification but most companies now turn the order over to a carrier like FedEx or UPS. Not only is there the lack of a branded experience, there’s no control over the outcome.

If the shipment shows up late, whose fault is it? It may the shipper’s fault, but who does the customer call? Not the shipping company. The retailer usually steps up and apologises, and then works to right what went wrong, even though it was totally out of their control.

That gap is Sharma’s concern. The company loses control over the process. But, more importantly, there is nothing to control the customer’s emotions during that time. What can you do to reinforce that the customer made the right decision to buy the product and do business with you? How can you boost customer confidence and avoid buyer’s remorse?

This is an opportunity to add value with a branded moment.

For example, a customer buys shaving cream through an online retailer. In addition to the notice that the product has shipped, the company can now provide suggestions on how to best use the product. Maybe it’s the middle of winter and the company sends a link to a video on how to protect your skin against dry and windy weather.

Or perhaps the customer just bought a workbench from a specialist online hardware retailer. Shortly after the purchase, the customer would welcome a video on how to put the workbench together, the space needed, the tools required, etc.

Both of these are examples of a branded experience that happens while the customer waits for the merchandise to show up. Innovative companies such as Nordstrom, Sephora and REI, who really understand customer journeys, are now capitalising on this new Moment of Truth.

Carlzon’s original principle of finding and perfecting the Moments of Truth in the customer journey is as sound and useful today as it ever was. And extending the concept to today’s more holistic full user journey is the intelligent new iteration.

For me, it’s a concept that I still use today as much as I ever have. And reading how Sharma has extended the theory to the online shopping age, I have now sharpened one of the better implements in my toolkit.

Mike Tisdall is the strategic planner and founding director at Insight Creative

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