Moments of Truth

Listening to a talk by John Spence, I was reminded of the concept of a ‘Moment of Truth’.

In the early eighties, Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) was on the verge of losing $20 million. Then along comes Jan Carlzon (the newly appointed CEO), who turns the organization on its head. And within a year, the airline is making $54 million.

Jan Carlzon defined a Moment of Truth as:

Any time a customer comes into contact with a business, however remote, they have an opportunity to form an impression.

How did he do it?

Back then, SAS had around ten million customers. Each customer came into contact with approximately five SAS employees, and each contact lasted an average of 15 seconds a time. Thus, Curzon says, SAS was "created" in the minds of its customers 50 million times a year, 15 seconds at a time. And those 50 million "moments of truth" were the moments that ultimately determined whether the company would succeed or fail. The moments when SAS had to prove to its customers that it was their best alternative.

(AP Photo/Johan Nilsson, SCANPIX)


Carlzon reoriented SAS to become a customer-driven company, recognizing that the airline's only true assets were satisfied customers. He placed responsibility for ideas, decisions, and actions with the people who actually are the company during those 15 seconds – the frontline employees. Thus removing the need for frontline people to have to go up the organizational chain of command for a decision. Because otherwise, those 15 "golden seconds" will elapse without a response, and the company will have lost an opportunity to earn a loyal customer.

SAS became a customer-driven company with responsibility for customer service delegated to what was the "order-obeying" bottom level of the organization pyramid – frontline staff. While Carlzon devoted himself and his leadership team to creating an environment where employees could accept and execute their responsibility with confidence and skill. 


I can't comment on Scandinavian airlines. But in my experience, most airlines fail miserably at creating remarkable Moments of Truth.

How about your business?

Have you considered the Moments of Truth along your customer journey? And how they play into your marketing strategy... or, better yet, your competitive advantage.

Spence suggests identifying 3-5 big things your customers demand, or they're not going to be your customer.

He uses a restaurant example, suggesting there are roughly 170 odd touch points from reservation to walking out of the door: was the reservation process painless, was parking easy to find and well lit at night, was the music too loud, was the waiter friendly, did the food arrive quickly, etc.

So lots of touch points, but he hones in on 4 CORE Moments of Truth:

  • Great service
  • Fantastic food
  • Reasonable prices for the quality of service and food
  • Cleanliness

Now, if the first three are fantastic, but you go to the bathroom, and it's filthy… you probably start wondering about the cleanliness of the kitchen and may never come back again.

As a starting point, you might want to use his restaurant example as inspiration to identify your CORE Moments of Truth – the handful of things that will determine whether or not customers remain loyal to your business.

Here's how you identify your Moments of Truth...

The Customer Journey

To understand your moments of truth, it’s essential to understand the customer journey. This is the path that customers take when interacting with your company, from the moment they become aware of you through the final purchase and even post-purchase support. There are potentially hundreds of touchpoints throughout this journey, but there is only a handful that really matters—these are your CORE moments of truth.

Identifying Your CORE Moments of Truth

To identify these key customer touchpoints, start by mapping out each step in the customer journey—from initial contact all the way through post-purchase service and support. Once you have identified each step, consider which steps are most impactful for customers or could be potential deal breakers if done incorrectly. These can include anything from having a quick response time on customer inquiries to providing free shipping on orders over a certain amount. Whatever it is, these are the steps that you must do exceptionally well or risk losing customers forever.

Delivering an Exceptional Experience

Once you know what your CORE Moments of Truth are, it’s time to focus on delivering an exceptional experience for your customers at each one. And this is where Curzon turned SAS on it’s head. Instead of simply putting processes in place to ensure consistent results and investing in customer service training so that employees understand how crucial it is to get each interaction right every single time. He took it a step further; he turned management into coaches and empowered frontline staff to make decisions.

My Own Experience

Keeping with Airlines. I’ve had countless WOW moments with Virgin Atlantic. Their employees are empowered to solve problems on the spot and make my customer journey memorable. Sure, they muck it up occasionally. But their frontline employees have the freedom to solve customer problems.

But I noticed something...

Internal collaboration.

While there are external Moments Of Truth, there are also Internal Moments Of Truth. The Virgin Atlantic team collaborated and delivered Moments of Truth to one other… watch out for this when you experience a moment of truth. Take a moment to observe what's happening behind the scenes, the company culture, and the interaction between team members.

Can you say the same about everyone that works for you?

The bottom line is that understanding what matters most to customers will help you create exceptional experiences at every stage in their journey with your business. Identifying and focusing on those few key elements—your CORE Moments of Truth—will set you up for success and give you an edge over competitors who don’t prioritize quality interactions with their customers.

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