Gathering Customers' Real Requirements

Uncovering Customers' Moments of Truth

July 3, 2003

Gathering customer requirements can be tough. Particularly if customers can't envision the possibilities of how they might reach their outcomes in a dramatically different way. We've found that focusing customers on identifying the moments of truth in their ideal scenarios helps get their creative juices flowing.  Here are two real-world examples of how companies used Moments of Truth to help customers and stakeholders think out-of-the-box.


Capturing customer requirements is a science. The most difficult challenge is to be able to capture the requirements of how things could be done, rather than how they are accomplished today. Customers often have difficulty visualizing possibilities. They can tell you what incremental improvements they’d like, but it’s harder for them to describe a modus operandi that would transform their experience.

That’s where Customer Scenario® Mapping can help. A well-facilitated mapping session with customers can catapult your customers and your key stakeholders--employees, partners, management--into a realistic and achievable vision. By focusing on the customers’ “moments of truth”--the most critical points in each scenario--and making these measurable, you can get the creative juices flowing. Here’s how Moments of Truth helped two companies move closer towards customers’ desired state.


Why do most design and development teams do such a lousy job of gathering customer requirements? It’s hard to get into customers’ shoes (and heads). When you ask customers what they want, they usually can only describe the way they do things today. Whether the product being designed is application software or whether it’s a new PDA or a new service offering, the usual methods for gathering customer requirements--interviews, focus groups, joint application design (JAD) sessions--fall woefully short. We wind up with descriptions, specifications, and even prototypes. Yet these methods typically capture the “today state” of how things are done. It’s difficult to get customers to visualize and to buy into a transformed way of operating, particularly in the initial design phase. It’s also easier to get customers to think into the future incrementally. For example, you’re using release X of product A. What would you like us to fix/improve in version X+1? So we do many iterations before we’re able to deliver a product or a process that is a vast improvement over the original version.

Instead of capturing the today state or a slightly improved version of reality, what if there were a better way to gather customers’ ideal requirements? We believe that there is. We call it Customer Scenario® mapping. We’ve extolled the virtues of this method before. It includes a technique for involving customers and end-users in mapping out the way they’d like to get things done and, as a byproduct, for discovering how your product or service intersects with and could support the customer’s scenario. It takes some doing, but it is possible to get customers to think out of the box--to get them to paint a picture of an ideal way of getting things done, not the way they do things today.

Today, we’d like to take you behind the scenes of two actual Customer Scenario mapping sessions in order to explore one of the most powerful components of this process: what we refer to as Customers’ “Moments of Truth.” We’ve discovered that identifying these moments of truth, making them measurable, and optimizing the design of your offerings around these three or four points in each Customer Scenario helps both the customers and the other stakeholders truly transform, not simply codify, the way they do things. Let’s take a closer look.


We don’t claim to have coined this term. It was Jan Carlzon, CEO of Scandinavian Airlines System (SAS), who first popularized the phrase and then used it as the title of his book on leadership, first published in 1987. Carlzon talks about the myriad 15-second moments of truth when your employees deal with your customers. These are the moments that cement or destroy customer relationships. If you don’t empower your employees to deal with these moments directly, you will frustrate and annoy your prospects and customers.

We also use the term “moments of truth” in connection with customers. However, we apply it a bit differently than Carlzon. We ask customers to identify the two or three steps in a multi-step scenario that are the most critical ones for them. Which steps would make or break their ability to get done what they need to accomplish? We sometimes refer to these moments as “show-stoppers.” Each moment of truth is likely to be the point at which the customer gets very annoyed and frustrated or abandons the scenario entirely.

In Jan Carlzon’s business world of the ‘70s and ‘80s, we relied on front-line employees to touch customers; if we were smart, we empowered those employees with information and with authority to make on the spot decisions--for example, sending a courier back to a guest’s hotel room in the city to pick up the airplane ticket he had left behind so that he could make his flight and get to an important meeting on time.

In today’s technology-enabled world, we rely increasingly on behind the scenes applications, electronic agents, and services to make things happen in a more automated fashion. In many ways, we have more options. We should be able to redesign our processes and systems to better deal with customers’ moments of truth. Today, losing a ticket isn’t the problem it once was. The reservation is in the system, and you probably have an e-ticket anyway. Yet today, if you have an e-ticket on one airline, and that airline’s last flight of the day is cancelled, and you need to quickly get a seat on another airline, the moment of truth reappears. You need to be able to transfer that e-ticket to another airline--something that’s still hard to do today. Customers’ moments of truth tell you a lot about how to redesign your activities in order to shine in those critical moments.


What we’ve discovered is that by focusing customers’ attention on the three to four most critical steps in any scenario, the creative juices start to flow. When you ask your customers to help you brainstorm ways to sail through those moments of truth, most of the breakthrough thinking occurs. Customers suggest work-arounds; stakeholders come up with better options. Together, they usually come to the startling conclusion that the underlying assumptions are flawed and should be rethought. That’s when you get breakthrough collaborative design!

Here are some actual examples. Let’s look at the important role that customers’ moments of truth played in two very different B2B Customer Scenarios:

1. A HIRING SCENARIO. An HR professional wants to provide a shortlist of outstanding candidates to a manager with a job to fill.

2. A TECHNOLOGY DECISION-MAKING SCENARIO. An IT decision-maker wants to improve the performance of the networked applications that his organization is managing, and he needs to decide whether or not to upgrade to the latest version of the software.

In each case, we won’t be walking you through the entire scenario; we’ll give you the context, tell you what moments of truth the customers came up with, and then describe how these moments of truth helped push the envelope in the design.


THE CUSTOMERS. The customers are human resources (HR) professionals from mid- to large-size companies in the U.S. Job titles included HR Directors, Coordinators, and Recruiters.

THEIR CONTEXT. Their companies have started hiring again. They have jobs to fill. There’s a glut of available talent. They use the Internet to post jobs and to find candidates. They all have internal Applicant-Tracking Systems to manage the end-to-end recruitment process.

THE SCENARIO. Although their job titles differed, what these HR professionals had in common was the Scenario--they were all involved in selecting a small group of highly-qualified prospective employees for a department manager and his team to interview. This scenario should produce a small pool (about six) of qualified candidates from which the department manager could (hopefully) hire one person to fill the open position in his department.

THEIR DESIRED OUTCOME. The HR professionals need to provide a shortlist of six qualified candidates to a hiring manager within three weeks of posting for a job that is to be filled within 60 days.

THEIR CONDITIONS OF SATISFACTION. There were a number of unspoken conditions of satisfaction that we were able to elicit from the customers both before and during the Scenario mapping exercise:

* They needed to meet (or beat) the hiring manager’s three-week deadline to come up with a shortlist of six qualified candidates.

  • They needed to comply with Equal Opportunity Employment rules in order to ensure that they were evaluating candidates equally across all races and genders.
  • They did not want to have to pay relocation costs.
  • They wanted to recommend candidates who would be successful and productive hires for the company--to wit, they would make a valuable contribution and would remain with the firm for five years or more.

THE SUPPLIER. The sponsor of this scenario mapping exercise--the supplier in the scenario--was a provider of recruitment advertising services. Instead of asking customers (these HR professionals) how the job poster should redesign its services, the management team had the good sense (with our help) to ask customers to map out how they’d like to do their jobs.

The Moments of Truth

What were the show-stoppers, or moments of truth, that these customers identified in this scenario?

1. DON’T LIMIT ME TO YOUR SERVICE. I don’t want to post the job description more than once on the Internet; I want that one posting to be distributed to all relevant media, and I want the candidates to be filtered and ranked based on the criteria I specified.

2. I DON’T VALUE QUANTITY. I WANT A FEW PRE-SCREENED CANDIDATES WHO WILL THRIVE IN OUR CULTURE! I don’t want to see hundreds of applicants that I have to filter myself. I want a dozen applicants who are pre-screened according to my criteria, to wit:

* Have certified 10 years experience in the specified field.

* Live within commuting distance (45 miles) of the hiring location.

* Have worked successfully in a company with a culture like ours (Centralized/decentralized decision-making; autocratic vs. entrepreneurial; competitive vs. collegial).

3. I’M MEASURED ON RETENTION! I don’t want the candidate we hire to leave our company (quit or be fired) within five years. I do want them to be a highly-valued member of our team!

How the Moments of Truth Stimulated Breakthrough Design

DON’T LIMIT ME TO YOUR SERVICE. In order to deal with the first moment of truth, the customers and the supplier wrestled with the problem of competitive positioning, one-stop shopping, and owning the customer relationship. The supplier wanted the customers to post their jobs first on their site, guaranteeing that they’d find more quality candidates there than anywhere else on the ‘Net.

Customers said, “No, that won’t work. We only want to post once and we need broad exposure--big job boards, and tiny niche ones. If you want our business, you need to figure out a way to capture our requirements once and to pass them on to your competitors’ services. Otherwise, we’ll bail.”

This moment of truth led to breakthrough thinking: “We have to design a job-posting robot that will work with our site and with our competitors’ sites.” The second “aha!” that occurred to everyone at the same time was that the job candidate searching and filtering process needed to take place across competing services. Would competitors let electronic agents “spider” their sites, compile results, and throw out the duplicates? Probably, if the customer had paid and/or registered for access to the resumes on each job board.

I DON’T VALUE QUANTITY. The second moment of truth presented an even bigger, although, as it turned out, not insurmountable, implementation challenge. The supplier built its reputation on supplying a very large pool of candidates for specific types of jobs. Customers complained that this only created more work for them. Because of the large quantity of candidates, they actually had to hire more screeners to sift through the embarrassment of riches. This cost money and time. In addition, every time they opened a resume in their internal applicant tracking systems, it would be flagged for equal opportunity compliance--this creates a lot of overhead when you’re looking at hundreds of applicants.

The biggest “aha!” was the issue of cultural fit. Customers were very clear about their requirements: “I need candidates who have worked successfully in a company with a culture like ours.” This led to a fascinating discussion about how to classify company cultures, how to correlate companies with similar cultures, and so forth. That customer requirement led to truly breakthrough thinking--it makes explicit a set of important distinctions that, up until now, only high-end recruiters have been able to offer. This single nugget of customer context has the potential to transform the recruitment industry.

I’M MEASURED ON RETENTION! The third moment of truth raised an issue that this supplier had been grappling with for some time. “How do we find out how successful our candidates are in the jobs they find through our site?” Although the supplier had tried to find out how well its hirees were doing by surveying them after they’d taken a new job, they had no real way to track their careers or to understand the criteria that really led to success. It hadn’t occurred to the supplier that its hiring customers might be willing to share the retention rates with them in order to continuously improve the quality of the service the job poster was providing. What resulted from this discussion was a set of conditions of satisfaction around the issue of giving the supplier visibility into the hiring company’s internal applicant tracking without violating confidentiality or privacy.

What Did the Customers and the Supplier Gain from Focusing on These Moments of Truth?

The business model, process, and application redesign based on the Customer Scenario proceeded completely differently than it would have in the past as a result of focusing on customers’ moments of truth. In a future report, we’ll tell you more about the outcomes and the pitfalls along the way. But, hopefully, you’ve been able to get a glimpse of the kinds of issues that surface and the kinds of breakthrough thinking that occur when you let customers design their scenarios and then focus on their moments of truth.

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