We hear so much about the customer experience these days that it's getting hard to define. Forrester defines it as "how customers perceive their interactions with your company." I like this definition because it's simple and, more to the point, puts the customer — not the brand — front and center. 

But some brands don’t understand how to go beyond what they are already doing to continually improve customer experience. They should be focusing on those defining interactions that can make or break a customer's loyalty. Customers invest large amounts of emotional energy into these interactions, often termed "moments of truth." 

Managing Principal at Beagle Research Group, Denis Pombriant defines a moment of truth as “a promise that can relate to the brand, an individual product or doing business with your company. It's a time when the vendor has to 'show up' or 'come through' for the customer or risk disappointment.” 

We've all been there: you call your bank to cancel your credit cards after losing your wallet, you email the support center for service on a large consumer electronics purchase, or you call an airline to get reservations or tickets changed. The outcome of these types of interactions are what ultimately decides whether brands win a customer for life or risks alienating a customer forever.

So how do we get these interactions right?

Here are three simple, yet critical suggestions for brands as they engage customers at the moments of truth — which in turn impact the customer experience.

Plan for Moments of Truth

Every organization — whether telecom, retailer or financial services institution — has moments of truth that recur almost daily. Similar to the interactions mentioned above, these moments of truth have to be carefully thought out to account for all possible variations in order to be exceptional from a customer's perspective. These paths should be carefully mapped with all alternatives considered. 

For a retailer this is probably a bit easier than it would be for a retail bank. A consumer attempting to return a shirt to a store only has a few outcomes, whereas purchasing a mortgage may have many more variables involved. That being said, the brands that create a detailed plan that include moments of truth, the possible actions or requests by the consumer, and the appropriate responses from the brand will be able to deliver the best customer experience interaction at that time.

Use Data and Analytics When You Engage

Brands must combine customer data with analytical techniques to be ready with that exceptional reaction at a moment of truth. For instance, if I call a contact center, desperate for immediate service due to a moment of truth occurrence, the best result would be a conversation with one contact agent who has detailed information about me, my history with the brand and possible next moves, in order to help me efficiently and effectively manner. 

This can only be accomplished with sound data management and analytic techniques behind the scenes supporting that contact agent. The brand that can't answer my questions, address my concerns or service my request without numerous holds, transfers and follow ups risks losing me as a customer forever.

Optimize, Don't Alienate

When I think about the best brand messaging I have seen as a consumer, I think of something that happened to me just last week. The tires on my vehicle had worn thin and I received a well-timed offer from an online tire retailer with a heavy discount. This retailer knew my purchase history as well as the current mileage of my vehicle. It was good to know that they not only understood what this data meant, but that they acted on it, helping me when my moment of truth occurred. 

As a result, my loyalty to that retailer has increased — so much so that they are now the only provider I consider when making a tire purchase (and yes, I have purchased a lot of tires recently). How did they do this? Well many brands use analytically based optimization to deliver an appropriate message at the right time while simultaneously ensuring they are not over-contacting their customers or contacting them at inappropriate times.

So when your moment of truth occurs, stop and think of the brands that are present, top of mind for you in a positive way, and can service you appropriately. If they can't meet your needs or give you the impression that they don't care — this is probably the case. 

Brands will win or lose on customer experience — not price, product, promotion or place — and many are starting to lay the path to success today.

Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License Title image by  Drew Coffman