Adapted from “Solve for the Customer: Using Customer Science to Build Stronger Relationships and Improve Business Results” by Denis Pombriant, The Bullpen Group
Many people associate a moment of truth with war or battle, a time when people have to stand up for what they believe in and take unappealing and dangerous actions for the common good. Thank goodness those moments are far between, but they aren’t the only moments of truth that individuals or companies have.
Moments of truth happen all the time in business. They are situations in which one side of a relationship has to step up and show care, concern, or empathy for the other side. You could argue that moments of truth drive commerce. After all, what is a purchase decision at heart other than a customer’s conclusion that a vendor can help solve a problem that he can’t solve on his own? It’s the first moment of truth in a relationship.
There are six steps in that relationship; that is, the customer lifecycle: discovery, evaluation, purchase, use/experience, bond, and advocacy. Almost any company with a reasonably incentivized sales team can get through the first three or four parts of the lifecycle. But when they get to bonding, many companies fall down. Their customers get frustrated, some leave, and some spread unflattering words. When bonding fails it’s usually because the vendor failed one or more moments of truth.
If we prepare for moments of truth rather than trying to “be ready for anything,” we have a much better chance of success, because there are a limited number of moments to prepare for. Lets look at these six phases and do some analysis.
Discovery is an almost entirely customer-driven process that identifies a need and then a solution that fulfills that need, but understanding moments of truth can give you greater visibility even at this early stage. Asking what happens before discovery is like asking what happened before the Big Bang – its a mystery.
In the beginning were happy creatures minding our business, not realizing there is something that we need to make our personal or business lives complete. Usually this involves finding a small list of products or vendors that fit the need (at least approximately). Then its off to the evaluation.
Some evaluation has to happen, whether you intend to buy a solution online or through a conventional sales process involving retail stores or professional salespeople. You have to weed out what you don’t want and to settle on what you can afford.
Today customers perform discovery and, depending on the product, do much or most of their evaluation independent of a store environment or the charms of a salesperson. This gives most vendors heartburn. In the recent past vendors controlled information flow: If you wanted to know about a solution you had to talk to the vendor, its representatives, or a store associate.
It took time to set up meetings, go to the meeting, take notes, and have your horizons limited to a couple of choices to make the decision quick and easy — for the vendor. That was fun, wasn’t it? Today, with much of discovery and evaluation happening off a vendor’s radar, its understandable that they might be a little uptight about procedure. No heroic attempts at controlling process are going to change this, but understanding moments of truth might.
Everyone loves purchase. Vendors love it because it brings in revenue and puts another unit into the world. Customers love it because it satisfies a need, to say nothing of the tiny bit of dopamine (a pleasure hormone), released into the brain of a buyer. (Shopping malls are at their essence, like drug stores, in my humble opinion.)
Everyone gets a little high on a purchase, and people need to make another purchase soon after the first to keep the dopamine flowing. For a merchant, a purchase is a milestone. It’s the point at which most vendors begin to earn their keep.
The bliss of purchase is followed by the joy of use and knowing that you now have a solution to that problem that surfaced the last time you were happy. The first-use experience is a tricky time. It often involves a learning curve for the customer. Smart vendors learned long ago to do everything they could to provide customers a positive first experience.
They built customer service centers and hotlines, and many also built websites and other online aids to new customers on board and over the first-use hump as quickly and effortlessly as possible. Most customers quickly wean themselves from vendor support and become happily engaged with their products. They may even brag to others about the great deal they got on a swell purchase.
Happily engaged customers bond with their products and then their vendors. This is important: A bonded customer is more likely to contribute to a positive Net Promoter Score for the vendor, product, or even the brand. If vendors miss this bonding step, it can lead to a big-time failure.
While bonding might be listed as a phase in the life cycle, this can be deceiving because customers don’t bond all at once. Bonding is the accumulation of positive experiences that can come either directly with experience of the product or service, or from the satisfaction of having a problem taken care of promptly for instance. So failure to bond goes back farther in the cascade to the many things that customers expect in their moments of truth that a vendor may have failed to deliver. And, every unbonded customer is unbonded for different reasons.
Failing to bond is a break in a cascade that too often results in the wheels falling off the advocacy wagon.
Happy customers are all alike: They got as far as they did unscathed sometimes by luck but other times through dint of a vendor’s perseverance. So, customers become advocates (to one degree or another). They’re alike because everything that could go wrong in the discovery, evaluation, purchase, use, and bonding phases didn’t or because failures were detected and repaired before they caused lasting damage.
Because it’s a lifecycle, nothing ends when you get to the advocate stage; instead, advocates help recruit the next wave of new customers through word of mouth, or word of social — better yet, they buy more.
If you don’t have a large number of customers that go on to become advocates for your company or brand, you need to go back to each of the lifecycle phases and ask your customers what you can do to secure their advocacy. Don’t ask your staff members unless they talk frequently and consistently to customers: Customer-facing feedback is opinion, not engaged-customer user experience, which is what you want to improve.