I first came across this idea in the book Moments of Truth by Jan Carlzon, which I consider one of the most important books written on customer service. By the way, Carlzon’s definition of a Moment of Truth in business is, “Any time a customer comes into contact with any aspect of your business, however remote, they have an opportunity to form an impression.” That’s every contact and interaction with the company. Carlzon used the example of a coffee-stained tray table. How does that affect the customer’s opinion of the rest of the plane? What if the landing gear is as poorly maintained as the tray tables?
Okay, maybe that seems a little farfetched. Or, does it?
I was reminded of the tray table anecdote on a recent flight to Mexico. My flight attendant told me that earlier in the week, the same flight had been delayed more than two hours. Why? Because the captain had forgotten to bring his immigration documentation and had to retrieve it from his hotel. I joked with her and said, “I hope he hasn’t forgotten how to fly the plane!” We both laughed because that example, like the landing gear, is a little farfetched.
Here’s an example that’s not so farfetched. Say you’re going to the grocery store and you notice a produce truck behind the store. What really catches your eye is how dirty the truck is. You might wonder if the produce on the inside is dirty, too. You might have second thoughts about buying your fruits and vegetables at that store.
Or what would happen if you went to a restaurant and you noticed dirt and grime under the server’s fingernails? Might you wonder – or worry – about him touching your food?
I think you get the idea. There are plenty of silent signals we send to our customers, both positive and negative. I’m not as worried about the positive ones, although it’s important to know what they are so you can repeat them with more intention. What I’m really worried about are the negative signals, as they are often overlooked. The problem is the potential erosion of confidence created by these negative signals. That can turn into lost business.
The tray table isn’t always stained. The produce truck isn’t always dirty. The server doesn’t usually have dirt under his nails. That’s why this isn’t an easy fix. There’s no one-time solution because these negative signals, while they hopefully don’t happen consistently, do occasionally happen. The way to avoid them is to become aware of them. If you catch a potential negative signal, fix it quickly and make note to share the experience with your team. Make a list and update it as you notice new ones. That’s a good start. Once you and everyone on your team are aware of them, you are already on your way to eliminating them. Awareness is the first step. Vigilance is the next.