The phrase ‘moment of truth’ (MOT) was first introduced by Richard Normann and popularized by Jan Carlzon in his 1987 book of that name. CEO of Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) at the time, Carlzon was responsible for helping the airline become more customer-driven. He used the term to mean those moments in which there is an opportunity for an organization to make a difference when interacting with a customer.

Since that time, there has been an un-ending push to find more (and better) ways to connect with, and track, these customer interactions. In fact, the explosive growth of CRM has created a multi-billion dollar IT and consulting services business focused on just this issue. But these technology-based solutions often cause organizations to lose sight of the core issues which drive the customer relationship.

While adept at helping companies market to and track interactions with their customers, these solutions do nothing to help companies to understand (and improve) customer impressions of these interactions. This is where moments of truth, touchpoints and customer experience intersect. If a “moment of truth” is the opportunity for an organization to make an impression on a customer or other stakeholder, touchpoints are the static, human and interactive interactions that actually create these impressions. Working together, touchpoints create positive or negative impressions at any given moment of truth. The result? Customer experience – as perceived by the customer, which is the only perspective that counts.

When touchpoints (and relationships) go bad

For a telecommunications company, the installation of a business line is a moment of truth. The touchpoints associated with that (service technicians, email or print confirmations, call center or web-based appointment setting, etc.) will deliver a customer experience that in an ideal state is consistent, positive and drives positive impressions of the brand.

Of course, it only takes one negative touchpoint (for example, an apparently tipsy and belligerent service technician being an unforgettable negative touchpoint in one customer’s mind, or the cable installation man caught in the wife’s underwear drawer another) to create the experiences that drive negative lasting attitudes towards a brand.

At the same time, the elimination of the onerous “service contract” for cellular phones by Virgin Mobile, or Progressive Insurance introducing “Immediate Response” claims service – assessing damage and paying claims at the accident scene – are game changers, taking traditionally painful moments of truth and redefining them with touchpoints optimized to focus on customer’s needs – driving new standards of customer experience and expectations in their industries, resetting the “competitive bar” at the same time.