Jerry Johnson, April 2017
We are moving from a world of customer satisfaction to one of customer experiences. But true customer experience has to be memorable. And that’s not easy.
First, a few words on the demise of customer “satisfaction” and why it has in some ways become less relevant in the modern consumer economy.
A major factor is the democratization of design and technology. Today, everyone from the small entrepreneur to the big corporate conglomerate has access to amazingly sophisticated and advanced technology. That, in turn, has led two things.
First, it has evened the “quality” playing field. Think about it. Whether you are in the grocery store or at the auto dealer or at the bank, the quality of products and services available has improved and oftentimes remarkably similar. “Quality” of a product and service – as traditionally defined – is becoming a commodity.
But the second factor is even more important. In today’s economy when you go to shop or get advice you’re likely not at a grocery store or auto dealer or bank – rather you’re looking at the screen of a laptop, tablet or smartphone. That means that rather than sitting on a shelf or in a showroom or behind a desk, brands are now engaging and interacting with you on a daily basis. Or at least they have the ability to do so.
So the competitive edge or opportunity today lies less in the satisfaction of the product or service itself and more about the experience that you have interacting with that product or service. Hence the move away from customer “satisfaction” – as traditionally defined – to customer experience or CX.
But here’s the challenge. Expected experiences, like quality, have become, well, expected. They are commonplace. And commonplace is not memorable.
The host says “hello!” The sales person asks you what you want. You log on and place an order. You check in or check out. These are expected experiences. And because these experiences are expected, they are forgotten. Expected experiences are not memorable. If everything happens “just as you expected” then you likely won’t remember it.
To have a true customer experience, one that really deepens and strengthens the relationship that your product or service has with your customer, that experience has to be memorable. Because what good is a customer experience if the customer doesn’t remember it or is not even aware of it?
Memory should be the core of any brand’s thinking around CX. Here’s the problem. When you are dealing with people’s memory, things get very, very complicated.
Here are three things about the science of memory and what that means about meaningful and effective CX.
First, people forget. They forget a lot. How many times have you gone upstairs to get something and once at the top landing stopped, and said to yourself “why am I up here again?” The truth is that we forget a lot more than we ever remember. A lot! Why is short-term memory so restricted? Partly because it’s constantly in use. That is why we make lists, write notes, review, practice. Moreover, what we also know from brain science is that as noted earlier we are particularly prone to forget things that are “normal.” We anticipate and expect things to be “normal” and when they are they are not remarkable. So we often forget them.
For brands, that means that effective CX must always find ways to surprise and delight. What do we remember? It is the unanticipated upgrade. The surprising story. The extra care of a staff person. The small but out of ordinary delight that is left on the counter or appears in your inbox. Brands must always be adjusting, recalibrating and retooling their CX in ways that remind and cause people to remember.
Second, we remember … but a lot of the time we remember wrongly. Memory is a very ephemeral thing. We reform, we rethink, we embellish. That’s a nice way of saying that we “make things up.” Most of this is a function of our own view of the world. In the book “Idiot Brain,” author Dean Burnett notes:
“The brain regularly edits memories to make them more flattering, whatever the rationale for doing so, and these edits and tweaks can become self-sustaining. … Rather than a static record of information or events like pages in a book, our memories are regularly tweaked and modified to suit whatever the brain interprets as our needs (however wrong that may be). Surprisingly, memory is quite plastic (meaning flexible, malleable, not rigid) and can be altered, suppressed or misattributed in numerous ways. This is known as a memory bias. And memory bias is often driven by ego.”
This means that brands need to be in the business of constantly creating and recreating memories of the customer experience. It means that memorable CX needs to be constantly fed and nurtured long after the original experience was created. Again, according to Burnett, “long-term memories have to go through three stages in order to be useful: they need to be made (encoded); they need to be effectively stored (in the hippocampus and then the cortex), and they need to be retrieved.” That’s a lot of work for your brain to do with a memory! And CX should be fostering that long and complex journey.
Finally, much of what we don’t remember we don’t really forget because there is nothing for us to remember in the first place. Welcome to the subconscious. We know that most of what drives and motivates daily behavior resides there – in the subconscious that is. We are just as often influenced by the hardly perceptible atmospheric elements than we are the tangible interactions that we have with things around us.
That means that a good CX program needs to focus as much (more?) on the intangible, the ephemeral, the optics, the sensory. Good CX is as much about attitude, culture, and context as it is about surprise and delight.
First, be memorable. Find opportunities to do unexpected things. Find asymmetries that surprise and delight. Second, be continually remindful. If you’re able to generate a truly memorable experience, find a way to reinforce and remind folks of that experience. Third, think beyond memorable experience to find those contextual elements that can prompt someone to say … “I don’t know why, but I just like it!”