Some Assembly Required: Memorable Customer Experiences


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The Customer Experience Company recently had a memorable visit to IKEA (virtually that is), via an internal email discussion inspired by this cartoon:

Ikea 1

I’m sure the situation depicted recalls the feelings of dread experienced by many of us when confronted with a flatpack, a flimsy allen key and an expectant significant other. Popularly known as ‘the IKEA test – the final frontier of any relationship’, hundreds of internet memes and cartoons like the one above are testament to this now iconic 21st century customer experience.

Yet despite the infamy of these ordeals, the masses (myself included) continue to torture themselves with long, painful trips to IKEA, followed by long, painful days spent wrestling with hinges and balsa and instructions that at times seem to require a PhD in semiotics. Our email discussion centred around some of the reasons why customers keep returning for more self-flagellation DIY fun, even while the bruises linger on fingers and egos.

What is remembered

CEC’er Jeremy Wee suggested that IKEA’s success is based on how memorable its customer experience is, and more strategically, which specific parts of that experience are memorable. This was the subject of a series of articles posted on Customer Think by author Sampson Lee, some years old now, but no less relevant today, on the ‘branded experience‘ which IKEA exemplifies. The articles infer the idea of ‘pleasure peaks’; deliberately ‘enhanced’ moments in a customer’s journey which are specifically chosen according to their alignment with brand values.

Jeremy neatly summarised this cornerstone of the IKEA experience:

“If IKEA did everything right at EVERY part of the customer journey, there would be no ‘pleasure peaks’. In fact, everything would be close to run-of-the-mill since the resources would be spread thinly across everything…A good customer experience is not effective unless the customer can remember and associate you to it.”

That is to say, every look we take at our Expedit bookcases, which fits with such perfect Scandinavian sensibility into our homes, is reinforcing and enhancing the IKEA brand values of affordable, well-designed products, whilst the memory of labyrinthine display rooms, stupefied staff and even more stupefied customers fades into obscurity…until our next visit.

What is not remembered

Our willingness to forget the less savoury aspects of the IKEA experience is actually rooted in the trials experienced once we have made it home with our bookcases and daybeds and dining tables. A recent article in The Age examined the behavioural economics behind this phenomenon, calling it ‘the IKEA effect’, which posits that people attach more value to something which they build themselves, than something built by somebody else (sometimes excessively so – The Block anyone?).

The Ikea Experience

In the Harvard University study quoted in that article, this was found to be true even when the hapless test participant’s work was greatly inferior to the same or similar product made professionally. Unsurprisingly though, the effect dissipates quickly when we are faced with incomplete or failed attempts – the wonky legs and skewed drawers of a badly assembled Hemnes bedside table do not exactly inspire feelings of pride and satisfaction.

Lasting impressions

Chris Severn, Director and Founder at CEC, concluded our discussion with this nifty piece of wisdom:

“A ‘good’ experience does not have to be a ‘premium’ one. A good experience is one that has been created to meet customer needs, at a price point and to a segment that all works. IKEA is not premium, far from it, but it is a good experience in that it’s deliberately engineered and consistently applied, to a group of customers that value the proposition.”

The key here lies in the consistency of the application which Chris mentions. The fact that we can talk about an ‘IKEA’ experience – at length – and know that the context will be almost universally understood, again, is a testament to this consistency. We have all come to expect the same highs and lows of our IKEA store visits, and flat-pack assemblages, the memory of which extends long before we enter the store and well after we have left, giant unwielding blue bags in-hand.

The IKEA brand is the sum of all these memories and experiences. Each deliberately engineered interaction reinforces our ‘idea’ of the brand, consistently applied like a design salve that builds up a shiny patina of lingering fondness for all things IKEA. All thanks to those cunning ‘pleasure peaks’, the truly memorable moments stand out above the rest, epitomising the brand’s value proposition, and leave us hazy on the inconvenient details. A commenter on Lee’s ‘Branded Experience’ article put this more scientifically:

The value equation is BV (brand value) = TA (tangible performance attributes) + IA (intangible emotion based attributes, also called Brand Equity) – P (price).

BV = TA + BE – P.

A truly memorable customer experience – that is the stuff ‘brands’ are made from.

Now, pass me that allen key.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Mimi Hayton
Mimi Hayton is an experienced design consultant at the Customer Experience Company in Sydney, Australia. ( Mimi has a focus on fusing structured design thinking with business consulting skills to create a cross-disciplinary design approach. Her key skills lie in applying the design process to complex problems and articulating the solution through visual or written communications.


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