Using Moments of Truth to Survive in an Economic Downturn


OK. OK.  Everyone is focused on the downturn in the economy.  However, business is still to be had if one truly places himself or herself in the customer’s shoes and looks at the “moments of truth” involved in dealing with specific businesses. The “moment of truth” can be defined as any time a customer comes in contact with your business and uses that interaction to form an opinion about the quality of your firm. Moments of truth could be human or non-human interactions. Examples of non-human interaction include customers getting an estimate they can’t read or understand, or having a product shipped in late or damaged.

This idea was first made famous in the mid 1980’s by Jan Carlzon, CEO of the Scandinavian Airlines System. He used this concept to truly understand how customers view a business and to turn a troubled government-operated airline into an industry leader. Carlzon traveled his own airline and saw what it was like to be a customer.  This experience also gave him a great opportunity to talk to other passengers while sitting next to them on numerous flights. Now that things have slowed down, this is a great time to have conversations with your employees to make sure they recognize the behaviors and situations that lead to (or keep you from getting) referrals.

I recently watched my neighbors go through the purchase of a hardwood floor installation while remodeling their home. What follows were the positive and negative moments of truth for them.

The Positive Moments of Truth

The first salesperson the customer dealt with was not only knowledgeable about products and installation, she was very enthusiastic about their project. She got excited about what the couple was trying to accomplish. They felt like she was working specifically with them rather than treating all customers the same. This is so important; it is what makes customers feel special.
When the installers came to the job they took the necessary time to make sure the floor would look exactly as the couple wanted it. The customer was going for a distressed look, and the first samples were different than what they had expected. The installers took the extra time using different tools to create a look the couple was absolutely ecstatic about.

The Negative Moments of Truth

The customers had given the company a drawing with measurements for an estimate so that it would save the company time by not having to come to the home with no guarantee they would get the job. Later the bill mysteriously increased by $300 for wood vents, even though the vents had been clearly a part of the drawing. The customer was told in an email that the company doesn’t include those in estimates because things could change on the jobsite—and that this is an industry practice. (Not true. The customer found that other estimates from competing companies had them included). This type of treatment makes customers feel like they are not only being mistreated, but also penalized for being accurate.

Also, an email response without even an “I apologize for the confusion” sends the message that “this is how we do things.” The customer then perceives that the company has no concern for their real needs. Solution: The company could have placed a statement like “Please allow $75 per floor vent” to assist the customer in budgeting. Whenever possible, if there is confusion over the price, talk to the customer over the phone or in person. You need to hear their concerns as early as possible in the process.

The installers were to start on a Monday morning. At 8:30 a.m. that day, the supervisor called, explaining that the crew wouldn’t be there until Tuesday. As you can imagine, the customers were most unhappy, since they had both taken Monday off from work. The supervisor said that the installers had been forced to finish the job they were on Friday and that he hadn’t discovered that they weren’t done until he came to work Monday.

Of course, the customer is thinking “Who’s running your jobs, anyway? Don’t you check to see on Friday how the work has gone, or do you just come to work Monday and deal with whatever happens?” The solution here is quite simple:  Let customers know in advance what’s going to happen. A phone call on Friday night or Saturday would have made all the difference in the world.
The finishing crew spattered stain on the woodwork, the vinyl floor, and the patio door. Initially, nobody noticed the mess because the company had never sent anyone out to inspect the job when it was completed. Can you imagine taking over $10,000 from a customer and not inspecting your own work? In the end, the customer would never refer this company.

Again, the solution here is simple. Have someone from the company contact the customers at various points during the job and ask them whether or not the project is going well. The caller should be someone other than the installers. Using a manager to communicate with the customer would be a good choice because hearing from someone on that level would show great interest by the company in the customer’s project. Also, the manager would get to hear directly from the customer. It was that same management approach that led Jan Carlzon to increase passenger traffic and turn around SAS Airways during a downturn. If it worked for him, it can work for you.

Jim Kress works at COCC where he helps businesses understand consumer behavior patterns, improve customer service and increase customer referrals. He can be reached at 541/383-7712 .


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