Finding Moments of Truth

If companies are to avoid moments of churn, they need to develop moments of truth.
Customer Experience

One of the first things I had to deal with when writing my last book, Solve for the Customer, was whether "customer experience" was a noun or a verb. This wasn't an English major problem it was more philosophical than that. If customer experience were a noun it would be more or less timeless, no matter what, you could always have a uniform customer experience.

On the other hand, a verb implied the present tense and the very real idea that a customer could have different experiences under the same conditions. They say you can't enter the same river twice, mostly because the water is never identical and for me customer experience was that river.

My gut said that vendors do their best to engineer a consistent experience (the noun) but that customers experience and engage (both verbs) as if they are always entering a river for the first time. You might say "So what?" to all this but it defines the challenge that vendors face in trying to be relevant and engaging. It drives how they can both garner new business and inspire customer loyalty and avoid churn.

You might look at this as an immovable object meets an irresistible force situation. What happens next? But more importantly, how can we skirt this conundrum and get to a place where a vendor is always able to engage a customer as the customer wishes? That's a tall order if your concept of the customer experience (noun) is static, which is often the case.

In my research too often vendors assume they know what the customer experience ought to be and engineer it accordingly. Sometimes their cognition is right but other times a customer might present something unplanned for and the experience falls apart. You know what happens then. The customer is unhappy and in today's subscription culture, it only takes moderate dissatisfaction for a customer to churn and go to a competitor.

I concluded that if we're going to avoid those moments of churn, we'd need to develop what I call moments of truth. Very simply, a moment of truth is any time a customer has a legitimate expectation of the vendor. It could be help with a bill, information in the sales process, or intuitive ease of use in a product, service, or automated system. But, importantly a moment of truth also has to be something in the vendor's wheelhouse. For instance, I might want world peace and economic stability but most of my vendors aren't in those businesses so these things don't qualify as moments of truth though they're obviously important to me.

The idea goes further. Moments of truth are what customers experience (the verb again), they constitute the river analogy since customers will often present to their vendors with different needs. Now, if you're a vendor, you're probably thinking you know what your moments are and that you do a wonderful job of understanding them and being there for customers. I'd say you know some of your moments of truth but if you haven't asked your customers directly, there's a good chance you're missing some.

Community data gathering and analytics can help you discover your moments of truth but even better is the low-tech idea of asking real people open-ended questions. How does it feel when you need us? Or what do you like most about the use experience of our product? When you ask questions like that you'll tap into your customers' emotional sides, avoiding the rational person that thinks they know what you're looking for. That's when you have the best chance of identifying your moments of truth.

Finally, moments of truth are not independent, they cluster and feed one into another like a waterfall. But if you miss one a customer might not be able to proceed to the next. So it's important that you model your moments of truth cascades and I don't know how to do that better than by using journey maps.

Modeling or mapping customer journeys has multiple advantages. A model can show you concretely where things slow down or even fall apart all together. They can also help you see if you've left something out. Once you've got a good model of your customer experiences it's a trivial exercise to develop metrics for them and then to identify ways to improve.

In my experience vendors that take this approach discover they have more moments of truth than they at first think. But they also see that the moments all fit together and that rather than having a handful of seemingly random and unrelated events, they have a small number of customer journeys that they can manage from beginning to end with an eye to improvement. The most successful vendors in this group sell some form of subscription. They've gotten used to gathering customer data and analyzing for signals that can mean the difference between success and failure. Those are lessons from which any business can benefit.