Getting at Customers’ Moments of Truth

The New CSM Guidebook: Part 6: Identifying and Measuring Moments of Truth

September 20, 2012

Most design and development teams do a lousy job of gathering customer requirements because when you ask customers what they want, they usually can only describe the way they do things today with some incremental improvements. By co-designing with your customers, you can understanding your customers’ scenarios and the potential showstoppers to customer success that should be part of your customer experience strategy. Learn how we identify these “Moments of Truth” as a part of Customer Co-Design.


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 (CSM) 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.

These Moments of Truth represent your customers’ highest priorities in the context of their current scenario—their path to achieving a desired goal.

Although Moments of Truth (MoTs) are used in CSM, understanding your customers’ scenarios and the potential showstoppers to customer success should be part of your customer experience strategy outside of any specific methodology. This article is designed not only to provide guidance to CSM facilitators, but to help you and your organization understand the concepts behind identifying and quantifying these customer priorities.

Sample Customer Layer on a Scenario Map

 (Click on image to enlarge.)

© 2012 Patricia Seybold Group Inc.

1. The customer layer in a Customer Scenario Map shows the steps the customer wants to take to reach the desired outcome of the scenario.


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 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, Customer Scenario® mapping is a technique for teaming customers and your company stakeholders in mapping out the way the customers would like to get things done and for discovering how your products or services intersect with and support how customers in a given context would ideally like to get things done.

One of the most powerful components of this process is what we call Customers’ “Moments of Truth.” 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.


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 1987.1 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 “showstoppers.” Each Moment of Truth is likely to be the point at which the customer gets very annoyed and frustrated or abandons the scenario entirely.

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 workarounds; 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!

Customer-identified Moments of Truth identify the priorities, from a customer perspective, upon which to define, design, enhance, and execute your strategies, products, services, policies, and customer-facing processes. Getting it right—eliminating those showstoppers—makes it more likely that customers will be successful in achieving their goals, resulting in great customer relationships and loyalty.


Part of the Customer Layer of a Customer Scenario Map

When mapping a customer scenario, you lay out the steps that the customer wants to take to achieve his or her desired outcome or goal (see Illustration 1). Of all the things that the customer wants, a few I wants—or clusters of I wants–will stand out as the Moments of Truth. These are the showstoppers–places where, if your company doesn’t deliver, the customer will bail on you and go elsewhere. For example, in a car-buying scenario, a few of the Moments of Truth might be: “The Car price isn’t within my budget” and “the Car can’t be delivered by my deadline.” (See Illustration 2.) If these things don’t happen, the customer isn’t going to reach her desired outcome, at least not with your company.

Note that we express the Moments of Truth as negatives—here are the primary reasons the customer isn’t successful.

Limit the Number of Moments of Truth

Customers love to specify Moments of Truth! During the mapping, they have brainstormed all the things they want to happen. Therefore, they can see anything that doesn’t work exactly as planned as a showstopper. However, not everything is a priority. The customers might say that they want the car to come in electric blue. However, if the make and model they want is available within budget and in a reasonable time frame – but not in electric blue, will that really sour the deal? For some people, maybe. But most people will find the alternative acceptable.

You only want about three to five Moments of Truth per scenario, so help customers resist the temptation to make everything a Moment of Truth. There is often good discussion that goes on as the team is framing its Moments of Truth. It’s fascinating to hear customers debate what they consider to be actual showstoppers, versus minor annoyances. So insist on no more than five showstoppers in all.

If you succumb to their tendency to make everything a showstopper, you won’t get clear marching orders on the customers’ priorities and you’ll have a hard time taking meaningful action after the session is over.

Capture MoTs Clearly with Enough Detail

Be as specific as possible when capturing the Moments of Truth. A Moment of Truth like, “things don’t go well” isn’t really valuable to capture. What things? How might they not go well? A good Moment of Truth would be something like “The ordering process is too difficult to understand and complete without assistance” or, to continue with the car buying scenario, “The make and model I want isn’t ...(more)


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