Customer service, like a brand, is what the customer
perceives and remembers of the service they received.
What a customer perceives is the service they receive is not
necessarily the service they actually receive.
Several published studies reveal that the mood of the customer
has a significant impact on the perception of the service
For example, if a customer has been waiting for a long time in a
check-in queue, the perception of the friendliness of the person
at the check-in desk deteriorates.
Conversely, studies have shown that people waiting a long
time for elevators due to the slow speed of the elevator have a
better perception of the experience of waiting if there is some
distraction such as a mirror in the elevator lobby.
Golfers who have had a bad day on the course are likely to have
a worse perception of the service at the clubhouse than those
who have had a good day.
What a customer remembers about a service is not just dependent
on the usual suspects of first and last impressions. It is
dependent on the "moments of truth", a phrase coined by Jan
Carlson from Scandinavian Airlines.
For an organisation in the service industry, there may be twenty
or thirty moments of truth in its provision of service. A moment
of truth is when an interaction occurs between a customer and
the service provider that can leave a lasting positive or
negative impression on a customer.
Moments of truth in the hospitality industry, for example, will
undoubtedly include, but not be limited to, booking the room,
check-in, check-out, dinner reservations, dinner ordering,
dinner presentation, eating (quality and quantity of food) and
Understanding the moments of truth that are important to an
organisation's customers by segment is the key to understanding
what is good customer service.
Completing customer satisfaction surveys is not a reliable way
of determining moments of truth for two reasons.
Firstly, the design of most satisfaction surveys is usually
poor. They ask a series of questions which request an opinion on
how well the service provider performed. The opinion is prompted
by a question similar to, "The booking was handled with
efficiency and attention to my needs" and the answers range from
totally disagree to totally agree on a five point scale.
Surveys designed this way give a misleading view as they do not
ask a question which seeks to understand the importance of the
particular services prior to the request for an opinion.
A request for a response to a statement such as, "The booking
process was very important to my level of enjoyment during my
stay", prior to, "How well did we perform?", will at least make
it clear whether the service we provided really mattered or not,
independent of whether we provided the service well, or not. In
most cases, only three or four of the "services" provided in a
list of ten questions will actually be important.
The second reason why customer satisfaction surveys are
unreliable is that even if they are designed well, satisfaction
surveys tend to condition the recipients to give a response.
In a study reported in the Harvard Business Review in 1995,
Jones and Sasser noted that customer retention levels of around
forty percent correlated to an average rating of "satisfied" and
did not reach 80% until the average rating reached very
Mercer reported in a separate study that eighty percent of
customers who churned from an internet service provider had
responded that they were satisfied or very satisfied with their
Relying on customer satisfaction surveys to determine what good
customer service is and how well an organisation has performed
is risky at best.
Understanding what good customer service is begins with mapping
a generic customer's experience and determining the moments of
It is insufficient, however, to only have a generic
organisational view of the map. To make use of the map to
improve customer service, the view of each significant target
segment must be understood to ensure that appropriate service is
given at appropriate moments.
Surveys of customers' actual experiences, asking them what has
frustrated them in the past are an acceptable way to gather
information. Using customer satisfaction surveys which only ask,
"How well did we do?", are not.
Customer complaints are a source of extra material but given
that only a small percentage of customers who are dissatisfied
actually fill them out, they cannot be the sole source of
The employees of an organisation are also a good source of
information to determine the moments of truth. Employees see
first hand the body language, the tone and pace of voice and the
circumstances that surveys will never see and that customers
will sometimes not realise is happening.
What segmentation is used is naturally dependent on the nature
of the organisation, its goal and the level of data it can
collect. However, its ability to detect a particular segment and
offer a differentiated service during the day-to-day course of
business is the most important determinant of the nature and
level of segmentation to use.
Determining, at each moment of truth, for each segment, what
impacts on the customer's perception and memory of the service
is the key to providing good service.
For example, in the hospitality industry, research by Liljander
and Mattson revealed three personal factors (and the general
environment) impact on perception of service. The personal
- The level of concern shown for the individual customer
- The level of friendliness shown towards the customer
- The level of civility shown towards the customer
Having someone wait in line at check-in can cause a negative
impression. Showing genuine concern at the length of their wait
and helping to make the next interaction after check-in easy in
a friendly and helpful manner can reduce that negative impact to
By understanding what each target segment requires at the
moments of truth relevant to the segment enables organisations
to develop and execute plans to improve the perception and the
memory of the interactions that are important.
Customers are then more likely to be genuinely satisfied and
About the Author
Kevin Dwyer is the founder of Change Factory. Change Factory
helps organisations who do do not like their business outcomes
to get better outcomes by changing people's behaviour.
Businesses we help have greater clarity of purpose and ability
to achieve their desired business outcomes. To learn more or see
more articles visit
http://www.changefactory.com.au or email firstname.lastname@example.org
©2006 Change Factory.