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

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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?