I enjoy fishing. When I need a new lure, I go to Discount Tackle on First Street in Bradenton, Florida. When I go in, we have a chat and a laugh. However, my great experience is not why I return and drive past six or seven other bait and tackle shops to get to it. Economists say the reason I go back to Discount Tackle is that I remember it was a great experience.
We discussed the importance of memory for a Customer Experience and the influences on how we remember things in our latest podcast. We don’t choose between experiences; we choose between the memories of experiences. That is why helping your customers have a wonderful memory of your experience is essential.
Our memories are imperfect, and our brains favor certain types of information when making memories. Therefore, it’s not necessarily the case that a good experience translates into an equally good memory or vice versa. You can remember things as being better or worse than they are.
Therefore, you must understand how memories work. If you don’t, you may be managing the wrong metrics in your Customer Experience.
How Memory Works
A significant reason Discount Tackle gets my business is the Peak-End Rule. Nobel-Prize Winning Economist and Professor Daniel Kahneman along with Barbara Frederickson theorized that what people remember most about an experience is the moment when they felt the most intense emotion and how they felt at the end.
From a Customer Experience design perspective, you should know where the peak emotion occurs during your customer journey and how the experience ends. Also, you should ensure customers feel at these moments the emotion that delivers value for your organization.
The Peak-End Rule applies specifically to evaluative memory, which is a retrospective evaluation. In other words, you had an experience, and you’re looking back on it. The Peak-End Rule is how you decide whether an experience was good or bad. Research suggests that if you measure people’s reactions to an experience second by second, like with a dial they can turn to indicate how they feel, then throw the peak and end emotion into a model, it is predictive of how people will evaluate the experience.
However, that’s not the only way of evaluating and thinking about an experience. Episodic memory or self-referential memory, is autobiographical. In this type of memory, it’s not whether or not you liked it or if it was good or bad, it’s what you remember about the past experiences.
For example, when I am talking about Discount Tackle, I remember that the store has what I need and could help me find it if I couldn’t find it myself. Also, I recall laughing and joking with the people who work there, other fishermen, like myself, bonding over our shared interest in catching fish on the open sea. These details are from different experiences, but together, they create my memory of the shop.
It is like a fishing net. Episodic memory is a bunch of individual bits of data that are all tied together in a network like a fishing net. It helps if you picture the data points as being the knots in the net and then the network between them is all of the rope strands connecting the knots.
When you remember something, it does not happen in isolation. Instead, that idea is pulled up to the surface, along with everything that’s closely connected to it.
To illustrate what I mean, imagine you have a fishing net on the floor, and you pick up one knot and pull it up two feet. That knot you are holding in your fingertips is the highest point, but the other knots that are connected to it are up in the air, too, dangling below it.
In academia, this concept is called spreading activation. You’re initiating some central idea (the knot in your fingertips), and then there’s this activation that spreads out from that central idea (the knots that are dangling below it connected by the ropes).
The data points in your customers fishing nets vary. To give you some examples, they could be:
- An experience they had with you two weeks ago
- A billboard they saw on the freeway that made them laugh
- An email from the company in their inbox with a good offer
- Your name associated with a philanthropic news story they saw, scrolled past or streamed
Each of those knots is part of your customers’ fishing net. They influence how they think about the company or brand. We use this fishing net metaphor and the spreading activation model for a couple of reasons:
- In our Customer Experience strategy, we need to know how this net is created. Since brands exist in the mind of your customer, what are the things they remember about yours?
- When we are managing our brand, we need to control what’s in the fishing net. You must ensure the emotional parts of an experience are feelings that drive value, e.g., more revenue, increased Net Promoter Score, or whatever is valuable to your organization.
Much of what makes up episodic memory exists in the subconscious, “under the water” of your conscious mind. When you remember something, those bits of information are pulled above the surface.
You might even be conscious of several of these data points as they’re all pulled up out of the subconscious with your initial memory. However, even the stuff you are not aware of is also more active as it is pulled closer to the surface. These subconscious memories have a significant influence on you.
Memories tend to be multisensory, self-referential, and part of your autobiographical history. When you connect brands and Customer Experience, think about what goes into that fishing net, what contributes to your customers’ memories, and what gets remembered about your experience.
You can have this slick branding strategy through integrated marketing communications, package design, and other details, but if your Customer Experience is different, you have blown your entire plan. Customer feelings are powerful and tend to dominate a fishing net of episodic memory. So, if you’re not managing your Customer Experience as part of your branding initiative, what are you doing?
Forming Properly-Branded Experience Memories Requires Consistency
Memories are shaped by that automatic part of our brain that notices things co-occurring and ties them together. It is the result of repetition and reinforcement. When you are building a brand, you want to make a brand promise and repeat it over and over again.
That’s why being consistent over time can be challenging for brand managers who are driven to try something new and like to “shake things up a bit.” That’s not a winning strategy for memories.
Remember elementary school when you needed to memorize your part for the school play? You read it over and over and over again to get it stuck in your brain. That’s the way memory works.
Your job is to write the Customer Experience script and memorize it. Then, put on your play every day with every customer.
It would be wise to figure out what you want your Customer Experiences to mean to people, what you want them to remember about those experiences, and be consistent about that. Ensure that every time people have an encounter with your organization or with your brand that those elements you want remembered are there and repeated consistently—because that’s how you win playing the memory game.
There are some key questions that we always ask our clients at the beginning of any engagement with them:
- What’s the experience that you’re trying to deliver? Define it to have your entire team reading from the same script.
- What emotions are you trying to evoke? These emotions should occur at the peak moment in the experience and the end, and they should drive value for you.
- How will you deliver these emotions consistently? See what you’re doing in the moments of your experience today, learn how it feels to be a customer, and discover how you can improve.
We don’t choose between experiences; we choose between the memories of experiences. This fundamental concept is why it is vital to create a memory that makes your customers feel the way you want. Have them fill their net with good emotions, leaving you to reel them in with a Customer Experience that delivers time after time.
Customer loyalty is a function of customers’ memories. Customer Service excellence is an integral part of how people remember things, but too few organizations take the time to train their customer-facing employees to deliver it. Our Memory-Maker Training fills this gap with instruction in the soft-skills needed to produce a higher level of satisfaction that influences better experience memories as part of an overall Customer Experience strategy. Click here to learn more.
Hear the rest of the conversation on The Massive Importance of Memory on Customer Experience on The Intuitive Customer Podcast. These informative podcasts are designed to expand on the psychological ideas behind understanding customer behavior. To listen in, please click here.
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About Colin Shaw
Colin Shaw is founder & CEO of Beyond Philosophy, one of worlds first organizations devoted to customer experience. Colin is an international author of six best-selling books. Beyond Philosophy has a proven track record. They provide consulting, specialised research & training from Sarasota, Florida and London, England. Follow Colin Shaw on Twitter @ColinShaw_CX