Small businesses depend on their customers. But selling to your customers is just one small part of their opinion of you. Every time they come into contact with any part of your company or service creates an impression. Yet a single bad impression can lose you that customer.
Your customer experiences your company many times, even when you’re not there. Every time you queue in the supermarket you are having an experience of that supermarket. And every time you ask a shelf stacker where a product is. And every time that you try to find what you want. And when the carrier bag bursts on the way home. And when you use what you have bought. These ‘moments of truth’ are what form your customers’ opinion of you, far more than the glossy brochures and the marble reception.
A large organisation can have millions of these moments every day. So do you. But what is a ‘moment of truth’? Jan Carlzon, who rescued the airline SAS, defines a moment of truth as that moment when an employee has a choice, and depending on that choice the customer will be either delighted or disgusted with the service. Tom Peters once talked of the Federal Express driver being the critical element as they hold thousands of dollars of business in the balance every single time they collect or deliver. Yet these people, the people who hold the future of your company in their hands, aren’t the best paid or best respected in organisations.
Remember the last time something about a supplier upset you? That was a moment of truth and you changed your view of that supplier. So I regard a moment of truth as each experience your customer has of your organisation or what they’ve bought from you: any time they see the truth behind the veneer. So it isn’t just your selling staff that are responsible for acquiring and retaining customers it is customer service, billing, despatch, delivery, operations, the product…. In fact everybody and everything.
111,233 million minutes were spent on business phone calls in 2003. Even at 10 minutes a call, that’s 46 million moments of truth every working day - and four-fifths of customers prefer not to do business again after one bad experience on a call.
So what is a good experience? Well reasons given for bad experiences are
Messages ignored/can’t make contact 33 per cent
Mistakes to do with business 18
Lack of communication 13
Unhelpful people 11
Poor quality communication 11
Maybe we can take a few hints from this.
These impressions are important because customers don’t buy what you sell, they buy satisfaction of a need or a want. It is the details that make the difference to how they feel about this satisfaction. Lexus sells expensive cars, so people buy more than transport when it sells them a car. After all, if you need transport, you can buy a car for £5129 which is a bit cheaper than the £17,000 or so for the most basic Lexus. So the Lexus driver is satisfying something else. That’s why, in establishing the brand, Lexus decided to provide an identical car down to colour and trim when a customer’s went for servicing or repair. So no-one knew that their car was away. Other brands lend you a cheap car with advertising all over it. Lexus understood that they had to address all the aspects of what you had bought, not just the metal they had sold, and maybe that’s one of the reasons that Lexus’ best salesforce are their customers.
There are a million details that your customer sees and those details create their impression of you far more than glossy advertising. Jan Carlzon said "When a customer sees coffee stains on a tray table, they wonder about our engine maintenance" and he was right.
This is especially true when you are selling a product or service with many competitors. It is assumed that an accountant is going to get the tax return right and that a restaurant’s food won’t kill you. So people make decisions on how fast calls are returned or whether they got the right coat back at the end of the meal. Details?
What can you do about it? Think of all the times that your customers and prospects have an experience of you. How would you feel about it? How do you think they do feel about it?
Marketing gets prospects to your door – increasingly a virtual door. The experience that your customers get behind that door forms their opinion of you. Through the web and direct sales, people have a far wider range of experiences these days to measure you against.
When customers make a decision about a moment of truth they judge it against other similar moments they have had with others. So if you are a nursery, your phone technique might be seen relative to a telephone bank or a hotel, not another nursery. This becomes increasingly true as the customer spends longer with you rather than other nurseries, becoming less aware of your competitors.
Find your moments of truth. The moments that make or break a relationship.
John is Director of Thinking at Profit Per Minute Limited. If you’d like to discuss the article, he can be contacted by phone on 01865 771329 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org