The airline industry, even today, is not exactly praised for being customer service leaders. But one man attempted to change that, and discovered a valuable lesson along the way.
In 1981, Jan Carlzon became the CEO of SAS (Scandinavian Airlines). He inherited one of the most troubled airlines in the industry and had the near impossible task of turning the business around. The industry was in a financial meltdown of failing businesses and poor customer perceptions. Many of his executive partners were looking internally for ways to boost assets, modify the organization, or even develop new technology which would pad the company bank account. At that time, SAS was only worried about SAS.
Carlzon knew that the company needed a new approach. What he noticed was that no one in the industry was worried about the customer, their perceptions, or if they were happy. In a 2006 interview with Inside Scoop he reflected upon the moment by saying, "we used to fly aircraft, and we did it very successfully. Now we have to learn the difficult lesson of how to fly people." From that point forward the entire company shifted their focus from physical assets and attempted discover the true value of their customers.
A new phrase was coined by Carlzon to help relay this message to his employees. Moments of Truth described any interaction an employee had with a customer. No matter how big or small, every interaction was treated as an opportunity. An opportunity to make an impression on a customer, surprise them, make their day, and give them something positive to tell their friends about.
At a 1982 SAS conference, Carlzon debuted his message. "Last year each of our ten million customers came in contact with approximately five SAS employees... These 50 million ‘moments of truth’ are the moments that ultimately determine whether SAS will succeed or fail as a company. They are the moments when we must prove to our customers that SAS is their best alternative."
This is a very basic, yet transformative message that can be applied to any industry. Business owners and professionals often get caught up in having the 'best' assets in the industry with the most resources. Moments of Truth can teach us that while all of those things are very valuable and cannot be ignored, they are worthless if your customer isn't willing to pay for them. You may create the best widget in the world and a customer may be very happy with that. But, customers usually don't come back solely for the product. They come back for the relationship, the service, and the feeling they get when they interact with an employee. Businesses are built by happy customers who tell other people about their happiness and how XYZ Company helped them get that happiness.
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