Unexpected customer answers reveal "moments of truth"

There are certain stock phrases used so often in customer service situations that they've almost lost all meaning. They've become perfunctory and the responses they illicit from customers almost seem scripted. "How are you today?" asks the customer service rep. The answer, of course, is "I'm fine."

But what happens when the customer goes off script and says something unexpected? You can earn an "A" for service if you are recognize these moments of truth and are ready for a little improv. On the other hand, you might get a "C" or even an "F" if you don't seize the moment.

Here are some examples:

Did you find everything OK?
Expected Answer: "Yes"
Moment of Truth: "No". My wife, Sally, got this one at the bookstore last night. She was looking for some note cards but didn't find anything she liked. She bought a few other items and the associate at the cash register asked her "Did you find everything OK?" Sally said "No", but the associate missed the opportunity to make some suggestions. She simply ignored the response and continued the transaction.

How is your stay at our hotel so far?
Expected answer: "Good"
Moment of truth:"It's OK." There's a subtle difference here, but a savvy hotel associate will catch it and take action. I once gave this answer to a hotel associate while sharing an elevator. Instead of following up with "How can I make your stay better?" it got uncomfortably quiet until we got to her floor and she quickly exited the elevator.

How are you today?
Expected answer: "I'm fine"
Moment of truth: "I'm terrible". I must admit I dropped the ball on this one when I was a teenager working in a retail clothing store. I really didn't know what to say until the customer, seeing my surprised look, followed up with, "Well, you asked!" Yes, I did ask, but I also realized I hadn't cared what the answer was. From that point forward, I was ready for those moments of truth and knew to respond with, "I'm sorry to hear that -- what can I do to make your day better?"

What are your moments of truth?