The large majority of experiences we have with the large majority of companies across the large majority of touchpoints are, simply put, eminently forgettable (unless they go awry and leave us with a sour taste that lingers on the palette).
Forgettable experiences aren’t inherently bad; they certainly are preferable to creating disappointments. But make no mistake about it: leaving customers yawning with nothing memorable is a vulnerability. When the customer leaves with a yawn, it is as if the company has effectively undermined or devalued the quality of the product or service they worked so hard to deliver.
- Among customers who are very or extremely pleased with a product or brand, the level of loyalty or engagement is some 50% higher for those who indicate they enjoyed the experience as opposed to those who say the experience was a yawner.
- Flip it around: this means that when a firm delivers great products and services, the failure to reinforce the customer with a feeling of having a comparably positive experience translates into deflating the level of loyalty by some one-third.
If the purpose of a great experience is to strengthen the customer relationship to increase the probability of retention, cross-selling, upselling and future recommendations, then we can think about yawns as levying a discount rate of 33% on the firm.
Got Your Attention?
What if customers who rated the quality of your widgets as great were 50% more likely to continue to buy, buy more and buy more expensive widgets from you next year? And what if those who said your widget quality was so-so were 33% less likely to be loyal customers? You would be all over your widgeteers to improve the quality of your product, as you should be.
So why aren’t more companies equally focused on measuring and improving how customers feel about their experiences? The answer is simple: it’s because most companies sell stuff. Whether their stuff is a product or a service, firms are inherently comfortable with the idea of improving the design, manufacturing, delivery and servicing of the stuff they sell. So most firms naturally gravitate to improving their stuff as the path to stronger customer bonds.
The problem with this reflexive focus on the stuff is that the problem often is not with the stuff:
- great stuff + great experiences = 50% stronger relationships than great stuff + yawns
Great stuff is necessary but not sufficient. It’s the yawns that are the problem.
Emotionally neutral, in other words, isn’t neutral in terms of its impact on the customer relationship: emotional neutrality skews towards weaker, more vulnerable customer relationships.
What Makes an Experience Memorable?
The key to forging any enduring memory is an emotional trigger. An emotional connection – perhaps stemming from a mental association to an earlier memory of the customer (the music in the store reminded them of that first concert/love/camping trip/whatever), an arousal of the senses (after the repair the car had that “new car smell” again) or the context of or the story behind the experience (it made them think about dinner at grandmas or feel like a kid again) – is central to turning the mundane into the memorable.
We forget (or, more accurately, can’t recall) much more than we remember. The overwhelming majority of experiences we have are fleeting and quickly vaporize. People, moreover, often remember fragments or glimpses of past experiences, often without the details.
Emotions create connections or “hooks” that people can and will recall. Emotions give meaning to experiences and make them more relevant to our lives. The more meaning we attach to an experience, the more importance we give it, the more likely it is that we will feel emotionally connected in some way and the more likely that we will remember it. Experiences that don’t stir emotions simply have less meaning for us, making them more likely to be forgotten.
The bland is inherently forgettable, like tasteless food and white noise. They leave us with yawns.
The ideal customer experience has one (or more) great forget-me-not-moments that “stick to the ribs” of customers. These moments bring smiles, a sense of warmth, positive emotional feelings that leave an enduring imprint.
A brilliant example of making sure the imprint lasts are the photos taken on roller coasters and other excitement rides at amusement parks. Cameras capture guest reactions at some thrill-point where everyone displays facial and other reactions. Just in case someone might forget that moment of thrill, the photo memorializes the moment (and the park gets to charge guests again to buy a reminder of the experience!)
This is a classic case of exploiting the peak-end rule, which states that people evaluate experiences based primarily on the peak and end points, as opposed to the overall or average of the experience. This essentially means that it’s the peak and the end that people remember. These are the most fertile points for creating forget-me-not-moments.
Passing interactions that customers promptly forget, by contrast, essentially become irrelevant. These transient moments leave no lasting impact and do not affect customer behavior going forward. Research suggests that two-thirds or more of our interactions with companies are passing winds that do not stick with us.
It is the memory of the experience, not the actual experience, moreover, that matters and goes on to affect our future behavior. Since our memory is selective, inexact, subjective and vulnerable to bias, the memory of the experience will not be identical to the actual experience. It is totally in the eyes of the beholder, and the personal memory trumps the actual experience. The photo, in effect, becomes the experience.
Making the Mundane Memorable
More companies build and sell widgets, however, than are in the thrill-ride business. This is the real challenge, making the mundane or required experiences – say, buying groceries or insurance – memorable. This may not be easy, but it is the only way to de-commoditize the widgets.
When it comes to actually designing the customer experience companies need to think beyond simple function and process and consider the emotional element:
- Is this touch likely to leave an emotional imprint on the customer?
- Are you creating or taking advantage of a peak?
- Are you ending experiences on a strong note?
- Are you taking advantage of opportunities to stimulate the customer’s senses?
In short: are you giving your customers the emotional cues, reason and prompts to remember their experiences? This is the stickiness of the glue in customer experiences.
If your customers say you did great and yawn, don’t expect to get much traction.