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Maximizing Moments of Truth

Focus on impression-forming moments for customer loyalty and increased profits


ps no greater story of the positive impact of customer service focus than the remarkable true account of Jan Carlzon and the business turnaround that he led as the president of Scandinavian Airlines.
In 1979 and 1980, Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) was in financial turmoil, having accumulated a loss of nearly $30 million. When Carlzon was appointed CEO in 1981, the future of the company looked bleak at best. Against all odds, Carlzon was able to return the business to profitability within a year – in fact, SAS’ successful turnaround culminated with Air Transport World’s “Airline of the Year” award in 1984.The first big moment of truth is a customers first impression of your company. The dealership should be clean, safe and inviting  inside and out.

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How did Carlzon do it? And, more to the point, what does this have to do with customer service? Everything.

Unlike the conventional “we need more sales” approach, Carlzon’s brilliant, yet simple plan was to refocus the organization on its most important asset – existing customers.

Carlzon made a business case that SAS already had 10 million passengers per year and, if the company did a more effective job in managing those existing relationships, it could turn the airline around and prosper. Doing the math, he reasoned that the average passenger came into contact with five SAS employees during a single transaction with the company. He called these encounters “moments of truth.”


Moments of Truth Defined
According to Carlzon, “a moment of truth is an episode in which the customer comes into contact with any aspect of the company, however remote, and thereby has an opportunity to form an impression.”

Carlzon recognized that each customer contact is a unique, unrepeatable opportunity for a company to differentiate itself from the competition. In the case of SAS, he made it his job and top priority to proactive­ly manage those 50 million unique customer contact experiences.

No doubt you’ve heard the phrase “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” That being the case, the first moment of truth takes place as soon as the customer walks in the front door of your store. This initial encounter between the customer and your frontline employees sets the table for the rest of the experience and forms a lasting impression of the entire company in the mind of the customer. If the custo­mer perceives it as lousy or unwelcoming, you are failing a key mom­ent of truth and leaving the door open to compet­itors who would happily invite your customers in and take away your business.


Very often, it all comes down to providing genuine hospitality. Simple gestures like making eye contact, smiling and speaking in a positive, enthusiastic manner will normally produce a feeling of customer satisfaction. Customers who feel valued and appreciated from the very start will have the greatest tendency to return for future business.

It is vital to remember that service and sales go hand-in-hand. In every service opportunity there is a sales opportunity, and in every sales opportunity there is a service opportunity.

All too often in tire and auto service businesses, marketing efforts are focused on increasing store traffic and producing new customers. At the helm of Scandinavian Airlines, Carlzon did not set out specifically to generate new business, although that was an anticipated (and welcomed) by­product of the positive word-of-mouth created by his moments of truth campaign.


The same is true in tire/auto service: the better the job employees do in providing superior customer care, the better the job those customers do at promoting the business to others and providing new sales opportunities.

In today’s competitive marketplace, service is the most important thing a company has to sell. It differentiates companies when they have the same product – often as in the case of tire dealerships. Every decision should be made with customer focus in mind and viewed as another opportunity to make a favorable impression.

The benefits of providing exceptional customer service are clear. Unfortunately, failure to satisfy a customer on any moment of truth interaction can quickly ruin the custo­mer’s memory of high quality service; even the most delicious meal isn’t very good when service is poor, because poor service leaves a bad taste in your mouth.


Your shop’s appearance can be sparkly beautiful and your product displays perfect, but when service is substandard, the customer experience will be perceived as mediocre at best.

Managing your moments of truth and providing exceptional customer service is not a one-time event; you have to be consistent. It is only as good as your last encounter. Like a Broadway show, it is a live production, and it goes on stage every day at the same time.

Big Three Moments of Truth
The Drive By – How’s your business’ curbside appeal? Does the overall appearance of the store and exterior landscape look inviting, welcoming, clean, safe, etc.? Remember, the majority of tire/auto service customers are women, and many women will not approach the facility if it doesn’t appear clean, safe, inviting, etc.


The Phone – As I wrote in one of my recent Tire Review blog posts, “Top 3 Reasons Why Phone Skills Training is Most Important in Sales” (, phone interactions are the single most important point-of-sale area when it comes to developing new business. Proper attention must be given to both outgoing, and especially incoming, customer calls. To maximize customer engagement, employees need to sound professional, positive, caring and courteous, and effectively humanize a business by personalizing their interactions.

In the Store – This is truly where the rubber meets the road. Everything in the store should communicate “winning team” and make customers feel they are in a world-class, professional environment. All employee-customer encounters must impress with the same positive attributes as phone interactions, with special focus on body language skills.


To secure customer loyalty and referrals that boost sales and profitability, remember your moments of truth and give every customer contact point the special attention it deserves!


Steve Ferrante, CEO of Sale Away LLC, is the producer and host of the Pinnacle Performance sales and customer service training program for the tire/auto service industry. He can be reached at 866-721-6086 ext. 701 or [email protected]

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