Why your memory matters more than your experience

Experiencing Self

Professor Daniel Kahneman  is a Nobel Prize winning psychologist and is notable for his work on the psychology of judgment and decision-makingbehavioural economics and hedonic psychology so I guess he knows what he’s talking about!

Kahneman talks about something I find quite profound. He says ‘there is a big difference between an experience and the memory of an experience’. On the face of it this may sound obvious but as you start to consider this you realize its impact is not considered by many organizations when looking to improve their Customer experience. Let me explain about the theory first and then go into the implications.

We all know we are ‘experiencing’ things all the time. You are having an experience now by reading this blog. Kahneman calls this ‘the experiencing self’. But Kahneman says we also have a ‘remembering self’.

For example, I am writing this on a Saturday morning before I go to watch a soccer game with my daughter and father. Shortly after this game it will just be a memory. As soon as the game ends my brain will start internalising it. Was it as good as the last game? How did they play? What do my daughter and father think? As we drive home we’ll listen to the radio and hear what others say about it, I will read reports on the web. Unbeknown to me all these things will be influencing my memory of the experience. If I were to meet you tomorrow and you ask ‘what was the game like’ all I have is a memory of that game that has now been shaped and influenced by a number of factors. In the time between you asking me and my reply, my brain will analyse many thoughts about this memory including:

  • Did I enjoy it?
  • What did I feel at the end?
  • How does this compare with other games?
  • How are the team performing overall?
  • Is there anything I remember that stands out, positive or negative?
  • How did they perform in comparison to what I think they should have done…

I consider these in the space of a nano second and reply, “yeah, it was good, but the referee was an idiot. He gave the opposition a penalty in the last minute of the game which was fortunately saved by our keeper and the crowd went mad with excitement! It was great to beat them as we lost to them earlier in the year”. I am constantly fascinated by the power of the human brain and amazed at its abilities. We humans are amazing!

Let me give you another example… The other week I was watching a movie in my home town of Sarasota, Florida. I was really enjoying the movie and was very engrossed and if someone had asked me at that point if I was enjoying the movie, I would have answered yes, it was great!

However, towards the end of the movie a group of teenagers came in at the back of the movie theater. Clearly their movie had finished and they decided to gate crash ours. They started talking and generally making a nuisance until someone told them to shut up…. at which point they all left. Unfortunately, it was then too late. This had all occurred during a critical point of the movie and it had ruined my enjoyment of the movie.

The next day one of the Beyond Philosophy team asked me if I enjoyed the movie. “No, a bunch of teenagers came into the theater at the critical point and ruined it”, I replied.

Therefore, during the experience, before the teenagers came in, I would have said my experience was great. That is the ‘experiencing self’. After the movie I would say it was bad because my memory of the teenagers crashing the movie spoilt it. That is the ‘remembering self’.

There is a BIG difference between an experience and the memory of an experience. I don’t see people taking that into account when designing, measuring and improving their Customer Experience.

So what does this mean we should do? The first thing to realise is…

Customers don’t choose between experiences,

They choose between the MEMORY of their experiences

This puts a slightly different reflection on the whole subject of Customer Experience. Perhaps it should be called the memory of Customer Experiences? This implies that it is critical to understand how people’s memories are formed so you can make sure the memory of their experience is better than that of your competition. This is not an Orwellian idea. I am not suggesting mind alteration or some deception but instead just to understand psychology and how you should design an experience with this in mind. We introduced the concept of Experience Psychology in our last book, Customer Experience Future Trends and insights Palgrave Macmillan 2010.

What are the implications on a Customer Experience?

  • To understand a Customer experience, when should you ask for Customer feedback? During the experience or after the memory is formed? Take my movie story as an example. If I was asked what I thought of the movie during the film, I would have given them a 9 out 10. After the event, with the memory of that experience, I would have given a 5.  I see too many companies whose call centres ask for a survey at the very end of their call. I would argue this does not allow people time to form a memory. I would argue this is still part of their experience. How many times have you been very annoyed at something that happened but then ’calmed down’ after and realised you were being unreasonable. After the call you may have given them 2 out of 10 but after two days your memory would give them a 5. Therefore, choosing the optimum time to ask for feedback is key.
  • Are you clear about what part of the experience you are measuring? In my example, if I was asked about the movie itself or my experience of watching the movie the answers would be very different.
  • What are you doing to help create a positive memory of the experience? How can you add to people’s memories with positive reinforcement?

There are many more implications. This is just part of what we call Experience Psychology which is critical to understand when improving your Customer Experience to drive $$$. Experience Psychology forms a large part of our live CEM certification training which we provide for Customer Experience professionals to help them design a great Customer Experience.

It is essential that you realise your Customers have the ‘experiencing self’ and the ‘remembering self’ and they choose between memories of experience.

What implications do you see coming from this for improving a Customer Experience?

Colin Shaw

Colin Shaw is founder & CEO of Beyond Philosophy, one of the world’s first organizations devoted to customer experience. Colin is an international author of four best-selling books. Beyond Philosophy provide consulting, specialised research & training from offices in Atlanta, Georgia and London, England.

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