Three Critical Moments in Every Customer's Experience

There are three moments in every service experience that matter most.

They have an outsized impact on what your customers will remember. Get them right and you’re on way to establishing a loyal customer relationship. Fail in any of these moments and your service will quickly go from bad to worse.

These touch points are the Moments of Truth for your customer. As you read about each one, think about what your customers experience at each step along the way.

The Welcome

It’s probably not a surprise that first impressions are important, but why? 

One explanation is something called confirmation bias. A strong first impression, whether good or bad, can influence how a customer perceives the rest of their experience. 

Confirmation bias causes people to selectively filter information based on whether or not it fits with their beliefs. A customer might ignore a sub-par experience if they think you're great. On the other hand, the slightest misstep might be amplified in the eyes of a customer who is already angry.

You can read an example of how confirmation bias impacted two hotel stays here.

One challenge is the first impression doesn’t always occur at initial contact.

  • A hotel guest may be arrive exhausted after a long day of travel.
  • A customer calling a contact center may be annoyed by the time they reach a customer service rep because they had to navigate endless voice menu prompts and wait on hold for fifteen minutes.
  • A customer visiting a retail store may be in a sour mood if they had to drive around for ten minutes to find a parking space.

There are only two ways to win in these situations.

The first is to turn the customer around with an outstanding first impression. Good just won’t cut it when the customer is already upset.

The second is to try to influence a better first impression. This involves identifying additional factors that can be controlled. Here are some examples:

  • A hotel could offer an airport shuttle service to make arrivals easier.
  • A contact center could use a friendly person instead of IVR.
  • A retail store could negotiate designated parking spaces with their landlord.

These solutions aren't always possible, but top companies are always pushing to create a better customer experience.


The Peak

This Moment of Truth is the part of the experience that represents the greatest difference from the norm. It might be the very best thing that happened or the very worst. 

As I wrote in an article on the blog, we don’t notice good service. We only notice service that’s different than what we expect. And, it’s the point in the experience that represents the biggest difference that we remember.

It’s easy to win this Moment of Truth when we are presented with a hero opportunity. One of my favorite examples is this story where Morton’s Steakhouse surprised a customer at the Newark airport with a steak after the customer had jokingly tweeted to Morton’s that he was craving one.

But, what about service failures? Unless you overcorrect the problem, the service failure itself will be the peak experience.

Too often, the focus is on returning customers to normal. If you go out to eat with a friend and your steak isn't prepared properly, most restaurants will bring you a new one. Does that really fix things? Your dinner companion either has to eat their meal while you wait for yours or let their food get cold. 

Overcorrecting the problem would be finding a way to ensure you and your friend have a great dining experience, not just fixing the steak.


The Farewell

The last impression may also be the one that lasts the longest.

Think of it as the final chapter in a book. It’s not just the last step in the customer’s journey. It’s the experience that ties everything together and brings the experience to a close.

Consider what customers do after a service experience:

  • Decide whether or not they’re likely to return
  • Tell friends or family members
  • Take a survey
  • Write an online review
  • Share their experience on social media

If the lasting impression was favorable, all of those activities can reinforce the customer’s positive impression. The opposite is also true. An unresolved problem can fester and grow the more the customer thinks about it.


What Can You Do?

There are a few things you can do to identify and win these critical moments of truth.

First, experience your company’s first impression through your customers’ eyes. Are there opportunities to make it better? Easier? More welcoming?

Next, get obsessive about preventing service failures. A service failure will automatically become the peak experience if you can’t quickly resolve it.

Finally, try to end every experience on a good note. This means actively discovering and resolving problems before the experience is done.

Simplistic advice? Perhaps. But, it’s also easier said than done.

Comcast Botches Service Failure Apology

Comcast issued an apology last week for a service failure that went viral.

The apology stressed that the employee’s actions were not consistent with how Comcast does business. They promised an investigation and swift action. The statement declared Comcast’s commitment to always treat customers with the utmost respect.

They got it all wrong.

This service failure wasn’t the employee’s fault. He was doing his job exactly the way Comcast designed it. Heck, he should probably win employee of the month. 


Comcast subscriber Ryan Block called to cancel his service. By Block’s estimate, he was ten minutes into the call and getting nowhere, so he decided to record it

In the recorded portion, you can hear the Comcast employee repeatedly badgering Block about his decision to cancel. It goes on for over eight painful minutes. 

The story went viral when Block posted the recording online and has since received national media attention.


Failure By Design

Contrary to Comcast’s apology, this situation was failure by design.

Imagine you are a Comcast customer like Block and want to cancel your account. Chances are, you go to the Comcast website to find out how to do it.

The account cancellation instructions are intentionally buried on the website. There's plenty of information about adding services or even troubleshooting a problem. Canceling your account is a different story. Entering “cancel account” into their website search box yields all sorts of results except for how to cancel your account. 

I finally found the directions after doing a Google search. Comcast offers multiple options for contacting them about most issues. However, if you want to cancel, you have to call:

Notice this description.

The instructions make it clear that Comcast wants you to call so they can try to persuade you not to cancel your account:

We want to make sure we’ve done everything we can to give you the best experience, price and package.

That’s exactly what the Comcast employee did on the call with Block. He repeatedly asked Block why he didn’t want the best experience or the fastest internet. He questioned Block for walking away from the best price and the best available channels. 

Early in the recording, the employee made a very telling statement that described how he viewed his role:

My job is to have a conversation with you about keeping your service.

The employee didn’t see his job as canceling accounts or making customers happy. He clearly understood that his job was preventing accounts from being cancelled.

It’s hard to blame the employee for thinking this way if you understood how Comcast has designed this particular job.

Here’s an overview from a former Comcast employee:

  • These customer service reps are called Retention Specialists. As the job title implies, their role is to convince customers not to cancel their accounts.
  • Retention Specialists receive incentive pay based on the amount of business they save by preventing customers from canceling. 
  • If a certain percentage of customers still decide to cancel their service, a Retention Specialist’s bonus will go to zero.


Executive Disconnect

Comcast’s apology was issued by Tom Karinshak, the Senior Vice President of Customer Experience.

Karinshak is the executive responsible for this whole mess.

He's not just responsible for the behavior of his employees who handle account cancellations. He’s responsible for the entire system. This includes the way cancellation information is posted on the Comcast website, the requirement that customers have to call to cancel their service, and the Retention Specialist job description and incentive plan.

From Karinshak’s statement, it’s apparent there’s a severe disconnect from reality. Here’s his official statement, posted on the Comcast website:

We are very embarrassed by the way our employee spoke with Mr. Block and are contacting him to personally apologize. The way in which our representative communicated with him is unacceptable and not consistent with how we train our customer service representatives. We are investigating this situation and will take quick action. While the overwhelming majority of our employees work very hard to do the right thing every day, we are using this very unfortunate experience to reinforce how important it is to always treat our customers with the utmost respect.

Now, let’s look at reality:

  • The entire cancellation process is intentionally difficult.
  • The employee Karinshak is referring to is incentivized to avoid canceling accounts.
  • Comcast routinely provides horrible service.

It’s this last point that should really capture Karinshak’s attention. In the past year, Comcast’s already dismal customer satisfaction ratings have been dropping like a stone.

Here are their latest satisfaction ratings on the American Customer Satisfaction Index:

  • Internet: 57% (second worst, -8.1% from 2013)
  • Cable: 60% (second worst, -4.8% from 2013)
  • Phone: 67% (second worst, -5.6% from 2013)

This isn’t event Comcast’s first viral service failure. Do you remember the video of a Comcast technician who fell asleep on a customer’s couch while on hold with his own company? You can revisit it here

Karinshak shouldn’t blame the employee. He should blame himself.

Why We Need Customer Service Reminders

You can solve a lot of problems just by listening to your customers.

A few years ago, I followed up with Sue Thompson, the Associate Director of Transportation and Parking at Oregon Health and Science University. Her team had just attended my Delivering Next Level Service course, and I wanted to see how things were going. 

Thompson is very diligent about following up with her team after training to support the concepts they learned. However, she told me that her hectic schedule made it difficult to touch base with each employee as often as she’d like to.

This conversation spurred the creation of my Customer Service Tip of the Week email. Each weekly email contains a single customer service tip that’s based on my training class. 


Why We Need Reminders


Most of us had a combination locker in high school.

Back then, you could open the locker in a matter of seconds. You knew the combination so well it was practically burned into your muscle memory.

It would likely be a different story if you stood in front of that locker today. Most of us wouldn’t be able to open our old locker even if the combination was exactly the same.

That’s because we store most information on a use it or lose it basis. Frequent use and repetition makes that knowledge easily accessible. Infrequent use causes the information to slip farther and farther back in our memories.

Customer service reminders can help keep fundamental concepts top of mind.


How to Use the Weekly Tips

Sue Thompson has all of her employees subscribe to the free weekly tips. This supplements the frequent one-on-one and team check-ins that she and her leadership team do with the department.

I wanted to find out how other people use the tips, so I reached out to a few other subscribers. Here are a few examples:

Gina, a Customer Care Director, uses the tips to generate discussion topics for her daily team huddle meetings. She often forwards the tips to her team when sharing reminders about a particular topic.

Mark Berlin, Guest Services Director at the USS Midway Museum, connects the tips to specific customer service challenges. This reminds employees about ways they can use them to resolve problems.

Lupe Zepeda, Customer Service Manager at CSA Travel Protection, uses the tips for ideas that can improve customer satisfaction. For example, her team stocked up on branded note cards after reading this tip on the power of handwritten notes. 

Jeremy Watkin, Director of Customer Service at, forwards tips to his team when they address a specific issue or concept he wants to reinforce. 

Watkin told me he finds the reminders are personally helpful too:

With tips such as this, I find that even if I’ve heard them a thousand times, they help tune my mind and remind me of the behaviors necessary to deliver awesome service to our customers at


How to Subscribe

You can sign-up by entering your email address in the box below or by clicking here.

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Five Intriguing Summer Reads to Feed Your Brain

Summer is a time for reading the kind of books you can get lost in.

They must be intriguing without being heavy. Your brain doesn’t want to work too hard while you laze on the beach in the park.

A good mystery novel (Michael Connelly is my favorite) or a trashy romance novel often fits the bill. Sometimes, though, we still want to learn. It gives us a guilt-free excuse to read even when we’re not taking some time off.

Here are five intriguing books that will satisfy your brain’s intellectual curiosity.

They all contain valuable lessons that can be applied to business, particularly customer service, but they rely on good stories to tell their tale.


Your Brain at Work

This book offers a fascinating look at how we can improve our success by having a better understanding of how our brains work. It follows a typical workday for Emily and Paul, who are both overwhelmed with constant emails, meetings, and distractions. The author, David Rock, rewinds the scenes that unfold throughout their day to show us how small changes can lead to big improvements.

The Invisible Gorilla 

This book starts out with a high speed pursuit of a murder suspect. When the police finally catch up, they nab the wrong guy. Sounds like a classic mystery novel? The book is really about how we often miss what should be obvious. If you've ever wondered how a customer service rep could miss an opportunity right in front of them, this book will explain how. The book gets its name from a popular experiment that you can see on video

Predictably Irrational

You may have heard about Facebook’s now infamous experiment where they showed how user’s updates were influenced by their friends. You’d like to believe that you wouldn’t be so easily manipulated, but Dan Ariely’s fascinating book reveals how we’re not nearly as rational as we think we are.


If your a fan of Breaking Bad, you'll appreciate the chapter called "Why Do Drug Dealers Still Live With Their Moms?” This book uncovers the hidden truth behind a variety of topics by effortlessly blending hard data with captivating storytelling. Even more important than the stores themselves, Freakonomics causes us to challenge our assumptions.

In-N-Out Burger

Did you know that In-N-Out and McDonald’s share a lot of history? They were both founded in 1948, started in Southern California, and brought us many innovations that are common in the fast food industry today. From there, the two companies’ paths diverged as McDonald’s became a global titan and In-N-Out established a cult-like following. This exceptionally well-researched story gives readers a behind-the-scenes glimpse of In-N-Out Burger’s rich history.

What's on your summer reading list?

How Clio Took Service to the Next Level

In late 2013, Clio was growing at a rapid pace. They were one of the first companies to offer cloud-based legal practice management software, but it was only a matter of time before competition increased.

Catherine Hillier, Clio’s Director of Customer Support, said:

"We are always racing to be the best. While there are a limited number of ways products can differentiate themselves through features, there’s an unlimited number of opportunities to differentiate ourselves through exceptional support, so we have put an emphasis on Customer Support to make us stand apart from the competition."

Their support team was good already, but they wanted to be great. 

The big question was how to do it. This is a daunting challenging for many companies who are trying to elevate their service. The steps to improvement aren’t always obvious when you are already working at a high level.

Companies can sometimes benefit from a fresh perspective, so Clio teamed up with Toister Performance Solutions to create their next level customer service plan.

Our plan focused on the three fundamental steps:

  1. Define great service.
  2. Measure progress.
  3. Align the team.
Clio's support team enjoying a team dinner.

Clio's support team enjoying a team dinner.

Define Great Service

Hillier and her team had created a customer service vision before our project started, so they were off to a great start.

A customer service vision is a definition of outstanding customer service that’s shared by the team. It acts as a compass that gives employees clear direction when trying to find the best way to serve their customers.

A good vision has three qualities:

  1. The definition is simple and easily understood
  2. It describes the type of service we want to achieve for our customers
  3. It reflects both who we are now and who we aspire to be in the future

Clio’s customer service vision fit these three qualities nicely:

Our mission is to WOW our customers with outstanding service that results in loyalty and evangelism.

They went further to define four specific principles to guide employees:

Cater to each user as a VIP

Listen actively without interrupting/assuming

Investigate issues and provide solutions/workarounds

Optimize each interaction by being efficient

The next level opportunity was to find ways to remind the team about the vision more often. We worked on a few steps to accomplish this:

  • The customer service vision was incorporated into new hire training
  • Current employees received training to help them better understand the vision
  • The vision was added as a discussion topic for all team meetings


Measure Progress

Clio had an 85% customer satisfaction rating at the start of the project. This number was well ahead of the 79% average for the software industry, but they wanted to elevate service even higher.

We focused on two areas to improve Clio’s ability to measure customer satisfaction.

First, we identified ways to leverage their Zendesk customer service software to capture more voice of customer feedback. Zendesk has a nifty feature that allows companies to automatically send customers surveys when a support ticket is completed. Clio enabled this feature for customers contacting them via email. They also created a few rules within Zendesk to avoid inundating customers with duplicate surveys.

The result was Clio increased their survey responses by over 600% in just two months.

The second focus area was using the survey data to create actionable insight. One of the steps Clio implemented was a customer follow-up program. Anytime a customer gave an unsatisfactory rating on a survey, someone from Clio’s support team would make a follow-up contact to try to resolve the problem.

In one situation, a Clio customer was frustrated that the software didn’t contain a particular feature. A Support Specialist researched the issue and responded to the customer with a detailed explanation about why the feature hadn’t been implemented. The customer responded positively and pledged to continue using Clio because he felt the company was really listening to his survey feedback.


Align the Team

The third step in the process was conducting an assessment of how various processes such as hiring, training, and performance management are aligned with the customer service vision.

The assessment revealed that Clio was already doing a lot of things well, such as hiring great employees and creating customer-focused policies and procedures. It also identified a few opportunities for continued growth.

One example was introducing the customer service vision in new hire training. This helped new hires quickly understand Clio’s specific brand of service and how they could help deliver it.

Hillier has been careful to gradually implement new initiatives identified by the assessment so her busy team wouldn’t be overwhelmed. This approach has also created opportunities for ongoing dialogue about service.

She is now developing a quality monitoring process to give employees ongoing performance feedback. Rather than rushing something through, Hillier solicited employee input on the process and is testing it on a limited basis before a planned roll-out later this month.



Hillier wanted to give her support team some additional skills by putting them through the Delivering Next Level Service training program.

The team works multiple shifts in multiple locations, so we decided to facilitate the training via webinar. Most people think of webinars as a monotonous voice droning on over a PowerPoint presentation, but these sessions were interactive. 

According to Hillier, the reception was very positive:

"The support team was surprised at how engaging the training was and how much fun it was on their end."

The webinars were delivered in six modules that were one-hour each. The sessions were held every two weeks to give participants an opportunity to apply new skills before working on something new. Employees were split into two groups to maintain operational coverage.



Clio was truly able to elevate their service to the next level by the end of the project. 

Their customer satisfaction rating increased from 85 to 93 percent. Meanwhile, they were collecting more voice of customer data than ever before and had succeeded in engaging the support team with the customer service vision. 

Hillier summed up her thoughts on the project:

"What puts a smile on my face? When I walk by support staff talking and they are referencing “What Jeff said” or how they were implementing what they learned. This process has allowed us to clearly define what Great Customer Service is to us and how to live it every day."