Memories of Customer Experiences Trump the Actual Experiences

memories and numbers

Bruce Temkin of the Temkin Group presented a keynote at the Clarabridge annual user conference in Miami discussing a wide range of customer experience management issues. A key point he made was “What we experience does not equal what we remember. And our loyalty is based on what we remember. In fact, customer experience does not drive loyalty. Customer memories of their experiences drive loyalty.”

As a result, we need to “focus our energies, our efforts, on those things that will drive the memories.” As an example, Bruce highlighted movie directors and producers, who might spend $75 million of a $150 million budget on a 2-minute scene. “The left brain says that we should spend $1M a minute on the film, but producers know that a powerful scene drives memories. We will remember great scenes, and we will piece together the story around it.”

Temkin quoted Daniel Kahneman’s research into perceptions of colonoscopies. Here’s a summary from Wikipedia:

Kahneman and Redelmeier assessed patients’ appraisals of uncomfortable colonoscopy or lithotripsy procedures and correlated the remembered experience with real-time findings. They found that patients consistently evaluated the discomfort of the experience based on the intensity of pain at the worst (peak) and final (end) moments. This occurred regardless of length or variation in intensity of pain within the procedure. A second study by Kahneman, Redelmeier, and Joel Katz, corroborated and expanded upon the discoveries made in the 1996 study. Colonoscopy patients were randomly divided into two groups. One underwent a colonoscopy procedure wherein the scope was left in for three extra minutes, but not moved, creating a sensation that was uncomfortable, but not painful. The other group underwent a typical colonoscopy procedure. Kahneman et al. found that, when asked to retrospectively evaluate their experiences, patients who underwent the longer procedure rated their experience as less unpleasant than patients who underwent the typical procedure. Moreover, the patients in the prolonged discomfort group were far more likely to return for subsequent procedures because a less painful end led them to evaluate the procedure more positively than those who faced a shorter procedure.

As Bruce said, people aren’t mathematically evaluating their experiences, but summarizing them using the “peak-end rule”. Their impressions are an average of the peak experience and the end experience.

In Bruce’s own consulting, “We’ve added a couple other things. People remember emotional spikes – they remember rapid changes in their emotion. Time doesn’t matter, but sitting in a queue on call for hours – while they are not going to remember the actual time spent – they will have lower and lower emotional peaks. We use this all the time to help companies understand where and how to design customer experiences.”

One example Bruce shared was of a hospital. “The dismissal process is horrible: you don’t know when you are going. We said let’s design a very simple discharge process that people understand in advance and is repeatable. This ‘better end’ had a great effect on ratings of the hospital experience.”

Another common complaint of hospital patients is the level of noise at night. Bruce’s client was evaluating investing tens of millions of dollars in new, ultraquiet flooring. “Instead, let’s figure out the memory of noise. Let’s go after that and see if they will remember it differently.” Bruce’s team created a new process that included apologizing for the noise in advance: “We had them say it is likely to be noisy, but we explained why it is noisy: that doctors are working on patients.” Additionally, the client investigated the peaks – the activities that created the largest noise, and then cut those back. “And that has produced an amazing rating of the experience and perspective on the noise.”

Bruce’s parting advice was, “Design for memories!”

Jeffrey Henning, PRC, is president of Researchscape International, which provides “Do It For You” custom surveys at Do It Yourself prices.  He is a Director at Large on the Marketing Research Association’s Board of Directors. You can follow him on Twitter @jhenning.

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