Insights | By Howard Tiersky

Disproportionate "Moments of Truth" in Your Customer Journey

Just as a detailed blueprint is essential for constructing a beautiful building, defining a clear and differentiated vision of your customer journey is a critical step in delivering a great customer experience.  

Your customer journey is the story of the series of interactions your customer has with your various touch points in their ongoing relationship with your brand. They may see your ad, then browse your site, sign up for your social channel, see a post that leads them to your retail store where they interact with your salesperson and buy your product. When they get home, they may call your support center for help, access the product manual from their mobile phone, and re-order supplies for your product via Alexa voice commands. An effective customer journey provides an effective, enjoyable and consistent customer experience through the entire process.

We work with many brands to define these types of future-state customer journeys. The process involves determining the highest value future-state story, then comparing to the "real world" current-state journey so that we can define the work that needs to be done to shift the journey to the future state. This process can sometimes be quite daunting because when the future state vision is ambitious, the gaps are very significant. There is a need to prioritize improvements so that the customer journey can be shifted toward the future state over time but in phases. So how do you prioritize? I suggest you start with the moments of truth.
 
What are the moments of truth? Your complete customer journey is probably composed of a large number of interactions. Each time your customer uses your product, checks your site, views your social post, or does anything else to connect with your brand, this is part of the customer journey. 

Multiple research studies we have conducted for various clients confirm that not all moments have the same importance to the relationship. 

So which are the most important? Well, let's start with asking, what is the actual purpose of the customer journey? For the brand, the purpose is to build customer engagement and loyalty. So while you'd optimally like each and every interaction in the customer journey to be perfect, using the filter of "moments of truth, " you can identify those that have a disproportionate impact on the customer's long-term mindset about your brand. Then, you can invest in those moments more urgently and disproportionately. Moments of truth are those interactions where the customer has heightened receptivity to a re-evaluation of the relationship, for better or for worse, and when you get those right, it goes a long way toward "making up" for any other moments in your journey that are not yet totally optimized.

So how do you know which are the moments of truth?

There are three key characteristics to look for that indicate that a moment in the customer journey may be a key "moment of truth."
 
Major Turning Points in the Relationship
 
When you first walk into the BMW dealership after looking at magazine ads for years, or when you first arrive at the Caribbean resort that you spent months researching and hours traveling to, these are moments where a customer's eyes are wide open to evaluate the relationship and determine whether the brand is a good fit. Apple realized years ago that the moment of "unboxing" a new toy such as an iPhone was a key moment of truth and so put an extensive focus on the packaging experience. Will Rogers said, "You never get a second chance to make a good first impression." And in the case of brand experiences, one of the reasons why these moments are important emotionally is that they often reflect a certain risk the customer has taken — a leap of faith that they have done the right thing in ordering that iPhone or booking that resort. So not only is your brand on the line to deliver on expectations, but the customer is actually evaluating themselves to determine if they made the right choice. If you over-deliver on expectations, consumers can pat themselves on the back for having done a great job in making the decision, or alternatively, beat themselves up for having been "duped." This aspect of self-judgment creates an emotional connection that elevates these moments in the journey to "moments of truth."

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A Crisis
 
When your customer is in crisis, the way you respond is a heightened moment that has a disproportionate impact on the long-term relationship. In a study, my team ran on insurance customers, for example, the moments that were the most remembered and had the most significant impact on the long-term relationship were during moments of crisis. In the case of insurance, this is very often a "claims" situation-- when your car is totaled, or your house is flooded. We spoke with consumers who were, for example, loyal Allstate customers because of a claim experience their parents had 30 years earlier. 
 
Not surprisingly, some of the crises that have the greatest impact on the relationship are those that the customer perceives are caused by your brand. Cancelled flights, data loss from crashed hardware, or salmonella in your sandwich have the potential to be disastrous moments of truth for your relationship with your customer. But ironically these "screw ups" also have the potential to become some of the most positive moments in the customer journey if handled artfully. This usually involves a sincere apology and a significant gesture of compensation. Insiders term this the "Service Recovery Paradox," and it’s why Ritz Carlton empowers their hotel workers to use their own judgment and spend up to $2000 to solve a customer problem without manager approval. This makes a lot of sense because the average Ritz-Carlton customer will spend $250,000 with the Ritz over their lifetime.

Unexpected Delight
 
The last major category of 'moments of truth' are opportunities to create unexpected delight. It means delivering something of value that is totally unexpected. Ideally, these gestures of value also reflect some insight into the customer's needs. One often-cited example is stores that have special nursing lounges that meet the needs of new mothers. In a similar vein, at some Babies R Us stores, employees will bring a chair to pregnant mothers who are standing in line to pay, recognizing that this can be tougher for them than other customers. A recent personal experience I had of this was when I was flying out of Newark on United Airlines and sat down to have dinner at one of the nicer full-service restaurants in the airport. The restaurant had an iPad at every seat and encouraged you to scan your boarding pass so that they could keep you updated regarding your flight departure time. A nice feature. I scanned my boarding pass, and in addition to the flight notices, I received a message from United Airlines letting me know that they would be picking up the check for my dinner to thank me for my loyal patronage! Triggered by this digital interaction, the waiter brought over a printed card to this same effect. Although I was dining in the United Airlines terminal, this restaurant was a steakhouse, not a United Airlines restaurant, and such recognition and willingness to buy my dinner was an unexpected and appreciated surprise. While I also love getting upgrades from United, frankly, I have come to expect these, and so the usual upgrades don’t necessarily rise to the level of unexpected delight that this small gesture did. 

In summary, as you review all the innovations and improvements you want to apply to your customer journey, identifying which interactions are significant moments of truth can be a helpful criteria to prioritizing where you will get the biggest impact for your investment. What are the most significant moments of truth in your business and how can they be enhanced? Or how have you already enhanced them and what has been the result? We'd love to hear your stories.