Managing Moments of Truth

Another Must-Know Insight from Marketing

Time and again I have underscored that organizational change management experts can learn heaps from the marketing department next door. If only we are willing enough to discover the parallels between a marketer and his customer segments one the one hand and an organizational change program manager and his stakeholders on the other hand. No need to reinvent the wheel… here comes another one that you can apply to your organizational change program; provided that you are willing to give it a little twist: the Moments of Truth in Customer Interactions.

What is a Moment of Truth?

The insight was well described in 2006 in the McKinsey Quarterly (*): companies should focus on the interactions that are important to customers — and on the way frontline employees handle those interactions. Clearly, the authors refer to the spark between the customer and frontline staff members — the spark that helps transform wary or skeptical people into strong and committed brand followers. According to the authors:
“That spark and the emotionally driven behavior that creates it explain how great customer service companies earn trust and loyalty during “moments of truth”: those few interactions (for instance, a lost credit card, a canceled flight, a damaged piece of clothing, or investment advice) when customers invest a high amount of emotional energy in the outcome. Superb handling of these moments requires an instinctive frontline response that puts the customer’s emotional needs ahead of the company’s and the employee’s agendas.”
Although the authors of the McKinsey Quarterly make superb linkages to the work of Daniel Goleman (the author of Emotional Intelligence), they forget to mention that they borrow the notion of “moments of truth” from Richard Normann (**), who argues that a service company’s overall performance is the sum of countless interactions between customers and employees that either help to retain a customer or send him to the competition.

Emotions as a Value Driver

The added value of this concept in terms of revenue increase or cost savings lies in improved interactions and more profitable relationships with customers and stakeholders. Building further on Goleman’s insights, you should know that managing moments of truth requires your attention to be split over 4 dimensions:
  1. Get meaning into people’s work: Make sure that your agents can address the ‘why’ of your initiative on the level of their thoughts, feelings, values, beliefs, and emotional needs. Efforts to help employees in this are more successful when the material is presented as simply as possible. Employees are unlikely to react spontaneously — or in an emotionally intelligent way—if they feel the weight of a lengthy and detailed rule book.
  2. Use learning through experience: Improving the capabilities of employees so that they acquire the right emotional skills. People learn emotionally intelligent behavior when they become aware of their own inhibiting mind-sets. No need to mention that this is a learning experience that is based in practice.
  3. Align structures, systems, and processes: Putting structures, reward systems, and processes in place to back up these changes. Employees respond positively only if structures and systems consistently reinforce the message. Again, as a guiding principle, simplifying frontline processes is a key priority, because it reinforces the vital sense of empowerment. Employees often resist change because new initiatives come on top of their existing responsibilities and overwhelm them;
  4. Enlist frontline leaders and mentors: Enlisting frontline leaders to serve as role models and to teach emotionally intelligent behavior. As the McKinsey authors state: children watch their parents; employees watch their leaders and adopt what seems to work and what they perceive to be acceptable to the company.

The Little Twist: It’s about Learning Relationships!

To the domain of organizational change, this insight comes as a blessing, first of all because it draws our attention to stakeholder interactions. Secondly, it draws our attention to the fact that the relationship with a stakeholder – like a customer relationship – is a learning relationship. As such, you should synchronize the stakeholder’s learning phases with your program lifecycle and highlight your program’s moments of truth (i. e., critical success factors).
Participation is the key element here. It determines stakeholder buy-in. Training, user acceptance testing, breakout sessions with key users, department meetings, steering committees, data-cleansing workshops and numerous customer visits are vital moments of truth and should be pacing elements of your program. In this context, moments of truth are contacts between the implementation team and the stakeholders of the program on occasions that are emotionally important for the stakeholder. They provide you with the necessary feedback to keep you on track and will prevent you from project cocooning (***).
But also at the core of the team there should be a learning moment of truth. Competent implementation teams like being competent. They are not interested in moments of truth based on interactions because every sign of skepticism puts most of them at the edge of their comfort zones.

Nail Them Down in SLA’s

In order to make the learning relationship within the organization a lasting one, you could specify the moments of truth into a bi-directional Service Level Agreement (SLA). The SLA describes the level of service that both parties have to provide to each other. It allows formal follow-up of what the program delivers to the organization, but it also avoids stakeholders constantly deviating the original scope that was agreed at the outset.
So here’s the question to think about: instead of copying the most recent and dull template of a Service Level Agreement (SLA), why not starting it from scratch and let moments of truth of your stakeholder(s) be the foundation?
In short: organizational change is about managing differences – so it makes sense to focus on moments when you can make a difference for your stakeholders: emotionally charged moments of truth.
(*) Marc Beaujean, Jonathan Davidson, and Stacey Madge (2006) The ‘moment of truth’ in customer service, The McKinsey Quarterly, 2006, Number 1.
(**) Richard Normann (2001) Service Management: Strategy and Leadership in Service Businesses, John Wiley.
(***) Many teams isolate themselves in their own cocoons, having little contact as possible with what is — for them — outer space. It’s a remarkable phenomenon, let’s discuss that in one of the next articles.