The CX benefits of understanding the 'two selves'

Tim Wade
Co-Founder
CX Lab
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In the much-cited book Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman he talks about how the brain works to create two selves, the experiencing self and the remembering self.

The experience self is one that lives in the present whilst the remembering self is “the one that keeps score, that maintains the story of our life”. Based on our memory of an experience and our life it is a different entity to the experiencing self.

In the book the demonstration of these two selves is cleverly done through the monitoring of colonoscopy surgery. Two subjects have very different experiences; each patient is asked to report their pain every 60 seconds.

The diagram below shows the recording of this pain. With a longer surgery and more overall pain it would be easy to assume that Patient B had a far worse experience than Patient A.

When asked how each patient remembered the experience it was in fact patient A who remembered the experience far worse than patient B. The reason is that Patient A had the peak pain at the end of the experience whereas the ending for Patient B is less painful. The ‘remembering self’ was influenced by the peak end more than the overall length and amount of pain

Two selves

This leads to many questions about the application into customer experience but for brevity I would like to cover just one:

  • Is there benefit in measuring both the ‘experiencing self’ and the ‘remembering self’?

Most traditional customer research focuses on the ‘remembering self’. The ‘remembering self’ is vital to understand as it is a big part of the decision maker when it comes to choosing to repeat an experience.

The experience self is much less measured in the commercial space but is equally important in understanding our behaviour. The experience self has a significant impact on things like the amount we spend e.g. what we purchase in a supermarket, what we order in a restaurant, how we react when calling a utility company, how much we spend browsing online are all influenced by the experience self.

The challenge is that it is not easy to measure the experiencing self – but that does not mean it shouldn’t be done. If your objectives are to improve the customer experience to increased spend and loyalty you should gain the best possible insight into both selves.

The other challenge is the biases that come from traditional research and how it fails, in many instances, to capture the unconscious behaviour and decision-making of customers. If, as customers, we are unaware of the decisions we make, how can a simple survey alone hope to capture what really matters to us?  

Using the latest biometric tracking and ethnography to measure the experience self and specialist research techniques to understand the remembered experience it is possible to measure both selves and identify real insights into where the experience can be improved.

In our recent work with one leading supermarket brand we used this combination of biometric measurement and ethnography to understand the experience in-store. We discovered the moments that cause arousal/stress and identified areas that can be improved. The research identified where improvements could be made - things like where items are located in store, how they are merchandised and how the customer experience at the checkout can be redesigned to decrease stress. None of these things were evident when we asked customers about their experience. We also found that overall the new concept store increased dwell time by 10% but actually decreased spend by 10%.

By understanding both the ‘experience self’ and the ‘remembering self’ you have the opportunity to improve the experience, influence customers and increase your commercial performance.

Read more about how we gain insight into the two selves in our research toolkit  

About Tim Wade

Tim Wade

Co-Founder at CX Lab and inspiring speaker on customer experience, marketing and business growth.

Co-founded CX Lab to bring a new approach to customer experience, one based on science and evidence rather than hype and rhetoric. Having spent many years client side and as a consultant the opportunity to bring rigour to the field of customer of experience is powerful. We do things that work, that have been built on real insight and tested to understand the impact - this is how things should be

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