Moments of Truth – How to Master What Actually Matters to Customers

In 1981, Jan Carlzon saved Scandinavian Airlines by focusing on “Moments of Truth.” Six years later, he wrote a book titled Moments of Truth – New Strategies for Today’s Consumer-Driven Economy Carlzon described those moments as all interactions between a customer and an employee that lasted 15 seconds or more.

While all customer-facing interactions are important, the research of organizational psychologists like Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky highlights what customers value and remember most. Those studies led to a concept in the customer experience field referred to as “Moments-that-Matter (MTM) or Moments-that-Matter-Most (MTMM)” Much of the research on MTM can be found in behavioral economic principles, which I’ll outline across a series of newsletter posts.

Let’s start at the beginning with Arrival moments. It turns out your parents were right. It’s essential to make a good first impression! In my book, The Airbnb Way, I noted:

Internal research conducted at AT&T retail stores has shown that within the first 10 seconds of arriving in their stores, customers are deciding whether they will stay or leave. If the customer isn’t greeted in that short time, there is a skyrocketing likelihood they will pivot and go. Similarly, Princeton researchers found that decisions about attractiveness, likeability, trustworthiness, competence, and aggression are made within one-tenth of a second. First impressions do matter, and customers expect to be greeted promptly.


From a customer’s perspective, their arrival (on our website, phone, chat, social media, or in-store) resolves many important questions. Specifically, they are determining:

Do I belong here?

Do they care that I am here?

Am I safe?

Are they competent?


While it’s possible to recover from a bad impression, it takes much work, and unfortunately, it erodes the foundation of trust. As my friend Mark Sanborn, author of The Fred Factor, likes to say,

“What starts badly usually gets worse.”

So here are four tips for OWNING ARRIVAL MOMENTS and customer perceptions of BELONGING:

1). Practice The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company’s first step of service by extending “a warm and sincere greeting. Use the guest’s name.”

2) Imagine you are a customer arriving through a specific channel (for example, an in-person visit). Take a moment to think about what you might want, need, and think as you drive up, look for parking, use signage for wayfinding, open the door, etc. What are you seeing, feeling, hearing, smelling, and doing?

3) Remove elements of the arrival experience that interfere with belonging (e.g., clutter) and add elements that enhance it (e.g., place flowers in the waiting area).

4) Set a goal to have every customer feel they belong, every time, and coach one another to make that goal a reality.

To learn more about our team, please visit To speak to me about arrival moments and your CX journey, please go to

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Joseph A. Michelli, Ph.D. is a professional speaker and chief experience officer at The Michelli Experience. A New York Times #1 bestselling author, Dr. Michelli and his team consult with some of the world’s best customer experience companies.

Follow on Twitter: @josephmichelli

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