Moments of Truth in Hospitality

In the Hospitality industry, there are a minimum of twenty or thirty moments of truth in its provision of service. A moment of truth is when an interaction occurs between a customer and the service provider that can leave a lasting positive or negative impression on a customer.

Moments of truth in a hotel, for example, will undoubtedly include (but not be limited to) booking the room, check-in, check-out, dinner reservations, dinner ordering, dinner presentation, eating (quality and quantity of food) and laundry receipt.

Understanding the moments of truth that are important to an organisation’s customers – by segment – is the key to understanding what is good customer service.

Completing customer satisfaction surveys is not a reliable way of determining moments of truth for two reasons.

Firstly, the design of most satisfaction surveys is usually poor. They ask a series of questions which request an opinion on how well the service provider performed. The opinion is prompted by a question similar to, “The booking was handled with efficiency and attention to my needs” and the answers range from totally disagree to totally agree on a five point scale.

Surveys designed this way give a misleading view, as they do not ask a question which seeks to understand the importance of the particular services prior to the request for an opinion.

A request for a response to a statement such as, “The booking process was very important to my level of enjoyment during my stay”, prior to, “How well did we perform?”, will at least make it clear whether the service we provided really mattered or not, independent of whether we provided the service well, or not. In most cases, only three or four of the “services” provided in a list of ten questions will actually be important.

The second reason why customer satisfaction surveys are unreliable is that even if they are designed well, satisfaction surveys tend to condition the recipients to give a response.

In a study reported in the Harvard Business Review in 1995, Jones and Sasser noted that customer retention levels of around forty percent correlated to an average rating of “satisfied” and did not reach 80% until the average rating reached “very satisfied”.

Mercer reported in a separate study that eighty percent of customers who churned from an internet service provider had responded that they were “satisfied” or “very satisfied” with their service.

Relying on customer satisfaction surveys to determine what good customer service is and how well an organisation has performed is risky at best.

Mapping Moments of Truth

Understanding what good customer service is begins with mapping a generic customer’s experience and determining the moments of truth.

It is insufficient, however, to only have a generic organisational view of the map. To make use of the map to improve customer service, the view of each significant target segment must be understood to ensure that appropriate service is given at appropriate moments.

Surveys of customers’ actual experiences, asking them what has frustrated them in the past, are an acceptable way to gather information. Using customer satisfaction surveys which only ask, “How well did we do?”, are not.

Customer complaints are a source of extra material, but given that only a small percentage of customers who are dissatisfied actually fill them out, they cannot be the sole source of information.

The employees of an organisation are also a good source of information to determine the moments of truth. Employees see first hand the body language, the tone and pace of voice and the circumstances that surveys will never see and that customers will sometimes not realise is happening.

What segmentation is used is naturally dependent on the nature of the organisation, its goal and the level of data it can collect. However, its ability to detect a particular segment and offer a differentiated service during the day-to-day course of business is the most important determinant of the nature and level of segmentation to use.

Determining, at each moment of truth, for each segment, what impacts on the customer’s perception and memory of the service is the key to providing good service.

What impacts on the Moment of Truth?

Research by Liljander and Mattson revealed three personal factors (and the general environment) impact on perception of service. The personal factors are:

  • The level of concern shown for the individual customer
  • The level of friendliness shown towards the customer
  • The level of civility shown towards the customer.

Having someone wait in line at check-in can cause a negative impression. Showing genuine concern at the length of their wait and helping to make the next interaction after check-in easy in a friendly and helpful manner can reduce that negative impact to zero.

By understanding what each target segment requires at the moments of truth relevant to the segment enables organisations to develop and execute plans to improve the perception and the memory of the interactions that are important.

Customers are then more likely to be genuinely satisfied and return.