Founder & CEO Beyond Philosophy
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5 rules for managing customer memories

20th Jan 2021
Founder & CEO Beyond Philosophy
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Customer Memories are a fascinating subject. In many ways, they are what your Customer Experience is, at least from the customers' perspective, which we also discussed on a recent podcast. They are certainly the most critical element of your customer loyalty. 

However, these are big ideas about memory, and the purpose of my newsletter today is not to wax philosophical about how incredible and impactful memories are. Today, I intend to give you practical advice on how to make and manage customer memories. The five following rules govern this effort:

Five Rules for Making and Managing Customer Memories

  1. Embrace that we don't choose between experiences, but between the memories we have of experiences. 

  2. Emotions create memories. 

  3. Map your customers' "fishing nets."  

  4. Define what you want a customer to remember. 

  5. Discover how your customers retrieve their memories. 

Rule #1: Embrace that we don't choose between experiences, but between the memories we have of experiences. 

I can’t take credit for this rule. This concept is the work of Professor Daniel Kahneman, Nobel-prize winning economist. For me, this concept about the memory of an experience is fundamental. 

I love the subject of memory. Our very being is shaped by what's happened in the past. If we didn't remember what had happened in the past, we wouldn't be doing what we do today. Moreover, there's no point in learning something if you never remember it.

Memory is the basis of learning and helps you make decisions in the future—and the same goes for your choices as a customer. Therefore, you should have a plan for making customer memories the kind that drive value for your organization. 

Rule #2: Emotions create memories.

Emotions affect memory in a couple of ways. First, strong emotions facilitate memories. Second, they are an essential part of memory. There's an old saying that goes, people won't remember what you did for them, but they'll remember how they felt about it." Science supports this concept also. For example, your mind has nodes associated with how you felt about things. 

My son reads avidly and still does today. When he was a boy, we took him on vacation to some beautiful places. We have pictures of him sitting reading a book while going around Venice. The fact that his head was always stuck in a book became a family joke. However, this memory about this behavior of my son also makes me smile. 

Emotions are to memories like an attachment is to an email. What I mean is that you have the memory, but you also have an "email attachment" of emotions that go along with it that makes you smile or makes you sad, depending on the situation.

Moreover, there is the Peak-End Rule to consider. The Peak-End Rule is also the work of Professor Kahneman and it explains that what we remember about an experience is the strongest emotion we felt (Peak) and how the experience concluded (End). The key questions then raised for me are, where is the peak emotion in your Customer Experience? What feeling do you want customers to feel at the peak and the end? Whatever your answers, those emotions need to be one that drives value. So, in other words, you need to get something from it, whether that's gaining growth or improving Net Promoter Score® or customer satisfaction or anything else. 

Rule #3: Map your customers' fishing nets.

One of the big ideas about memory is that a network structure connects memories. For example, if you think about a specific memory as a node, then there are also links connecting that node to other nodes. The network memory model suggests that when you activate one node in memory, you also enable all the attached nodes. 

An analogy we like to use to help illustrate this concept is the idea of the knots of a fishing net. A fishing net has many strands connected together in various knots. Now, imagine you were pulling a fishing net up from the bottom of a shallow pool by one of the knots. When you pick up one knot in the fishing net and pull it up towards the surface, the knots connected to the knot you are holding come up with it; the connected knots are now closer to the surface. That is the idea with memory networks. When you activate one memory, you're not activating one piece of information; you're activating a whole system of things that surround it: other memories, emotions, and thoughts. 

When you activate one memory, you're not activating one piece of information; you're activating a whole system of things that surround it: other memories, emotions, and thoughts. 

Even though you have activated the connected memories, you might not be aware of it. The related memories might be part of the subconscious, so they are affecting you, but not consciously. If you think of the fishing net analogy again, the knots just below the surface of the knot you are holding are part of your subconscious. The knot you hold above the surface is part of your conscious thinking. Some connected knots might also break the pool's surface, but there will be knots connected to them that are just below, and so on. All those connected and subconscious memories can influence how you feel about the memory of which you are aware.

Mapping customers' fishing nets is considering all the influences that are above and below the surface of the experience you provide. By considering all these factors, you can predict how the experience makes them feel and how that will influence their behavior. Moreover, you can create an experience that connects additional positive knots to the knot they are holding about your Customer Experience next time they go fishing.  

Rule #4: Define what you want your customers to remember.

Given that you want your customers to have a positive memory, what parts of your experience do you want your customers to remember the most? To me, the parts of your experience that you want them to remember the most are those that drive the most value for your organization. 

There are two essential aspects of practicality about managing these customer memories. First, you should choose what parts you want customers to remember. Second, you should develop strategies around ensuring that you reinforce those parts in customers' minds. Whether that means drawing attention to it, tying the moment to strong positive emotion, and reminding customers of that moment, you should help customers form a positive memory about it. So, in other words, figure out what you want them to remember and develop a strategy around getting them to remember it.

Finding these "valuable" parts means undertaking some research. We use research called the Emotional Signature® which helps define what drives value from an emotional and Customer Experience moment standpoint. This research enables you to focus on what is most important to create a positive memory of your Customer Experience.

We did the Emotional Signature research with an insurance company in Georgia. We discovered that one of the most critical points of an insurance company experience occurs in the claims moment, particularly if you're in the healthcare industry. However, we dove a little deeper on this part, since "claims" is a bit broad. We discovered that the main ingredient for the emotion customers felt was that the insurance employee the customer interacted with had empathy for the customer’s situation. To clarify, having compassion doesn't mean the insurance company gives the customer everything they want. It means the employee can put themselves in the customers' shoes and understand what the claimant feels.

So how would the insurance company ensure that their customer-facing employee has that crucial empathy? There are several ways. First, the insurance company needed to ensure they recruited people who are naturally good at making customers feel understood. Second, the insurance company should train people on how to handle customer interactions so that customers think the employee is empathetic to their situation. Finally, they need to measure in the core quality standards to ensure customers feel that the employees were empathetic to the customers’ situation. 

The point of this example is that defining what you want your customers to remember is not an amorphous theory; it's about getting into the details. Once you identify the significant moments, you get into the practical aspects of doing it.  

Rule #5: Discover how customers retrieve their memories.

Managing memories has two parts. The first part is getting that information into long-term memory where it can be stored. However, that does you no good if people don't pull it back into consciousness at the right time. Therefore, the second part of it is to get that memory, the knot in the fishing net, to rise back to the surface. 

Years ago, at Stanford, researchers did a study about recalling information at the proper time. The research team had students write down everything they ate for a couple of weeks. Midway, the research team brought the participants in as two groups for a different study. The participants would evaluate a slogan about getting people to eat more fruits and vegetables in the dining hall. Researchers showed one group "Live the healthy way, eat five fruits and veggies a day," among others, and the other group, "Each and every dining-hall tray needs five fruits and veggies a day," among others. The students who heard the second slogan said it was corny. 

However, when the research team read the food journals after sharing the slogans, they noticed that the second group with the "corny" slogan changed their eating habits and ate more fruits and vegetables. The first group? Not so much. 

Why did the second slogan work? It worked because it had a memory cue: the dining hall tray. At Stanford, the first thing students grab in the dining hall is the tray; it triggered their memory to bring forth the advice," eat five fruits and veggies a day. The other slogans didn't include a memory cue. There was no reason for people to remember the message at the point where it mattered.

This study reveals an essential concept of advertising. You can have a brilliant, entertaining ad that's concise and emotional for a product, but if people don't remember it when they are making a buying decision, it failed. So, what's your plan for retrieval? 

Furthermore, customers' alter memories all the time. Our memories are not perfect replicants of what happened. They're changed continuously, adjusted, and refined. In the process, the memory can become more extreme than it was. So, in other words, good memories get better and bad memories get worse over time.

Good memories get better and bad memories get worse over time.

There is a significant danger that moments in your customer journey could be making a lousy memory worse. When we pull that knot up on the fishing net, we are examining it, and then we "re-save" it. This re-save can be good or bad. So, if you see a photo of a happy moment of a vacation that you forgot about and then re-save, your memory improved, became more positive. However, on the flip side, if you repeat a terrible memory repeatedly, you can make it worse. For example, when a customer has to repeat their account of poor service over and over, you are reinforcing that lousy memory and making it worse.

It is crucial today to keep the customers that you've got, let alone attracting new customers. Emotion management and positive memories are the way to do it. People do not return to you based on the experience you provide. They return to you because of the experience they remember you provide. 

Training customers on how to empathize and create an excellent emotional experience is vital. Our Memory Maker Training teaches employees to understand and identify how a customer is feeling coming into the experience and how to get them to feel something else leaving that experience. The emotions evoked and managed will then build a customer's memory of it (which is why we call it Memory-Maker training). 

The memories you create with your Customer Experience are essential to your customer loyalty. It requires an understanding of how memories form and what you can do to ensure that memories form the way you want. Since emotions create memories associated with other memories, managing your customers' emotions is essential during your experience. Now, you can design your Customer Experience to help customers remember what you want them to, and retrieve them at the right time. 

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