What’s Your Customer’s Memory of Your Business?

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Daniel Kahneman, possibly the most famous living psychologist, has greatly impacted the world with his research on irrational decision making. Daniel and I go way back – 1989 to be exact – when I was writing my undergraduate thesis at Mount Holyoke College. I don’t want to mislead. I’ve never met the Noble-prize winning psychologist. I just worship him from afar.

In the first 3-minutes of his TED video, Kahneman touches on a phenomenon of how the memory a person has of an experience is more important than the actual experience. The example Kahneman shares is of someone listening to a very beautiful symphony. The listener reported to Kahneman that the music was glorious. Sadly, the experience was ruined by a piercing sound at the end of the symphony. Kahneman’s point is that the experience was not ruined. However, the memory of the experience was.

How can this psychological issue impact a business? I have a similarly noise-centered example that illustrates why businesses need to worry about the memories they are making for their customers. A few months ago, like many other Hoosiers who use Anthem insurance, I was forced to choose a different pharmacy. Anthem would no longer pay for the prescriptions I filled at my old pharmacy. It was a small hassle to change pharmacies and move every prescription for my family of five to the rival pharmacy across the street, but the bigger hassle came when I picked up my prescription.

I like the convenience of a drive-through pharmacy. I was pleased to see that the new pharmacy had a drive-through option. What was extremely unpleasant was the screeching noise that sounded right after I rolled up to the pharmacy window – a prelude of sorts to a recorded message for all drive-through pharmacy customers. Eventually a pharmacist would greet me and get my prescription. It took longer here than it did at my old place. The new pharmacy was not able to save my health saving account credit card number and automatically charge my prescription, as my other pharmacy had – another time waster. And I had to sign a prescription acknowledgement, which the next customer could see. This was somewhat troubling and also took time.

In a nutshell, I hated the new pharmacy and counted the days until Anthem and the old pharmacy reached an agreement and I could switch back. I had no idea how much I loved my old pharmacy until I was forced out of the nest! Was it just the screeching noise at the beginning of the recorded message that made the new pharmacy experience so unpleasant? Of course it was much more than that! But my memory of the dreadful new pharmacy is the feeling of my teeth clenching as I soon as I pulled up to the window.

There are some terrific organizations who are blatantly working the memory angle from the other direction. Homewood Suites frequently gives departing guests warm chocolate chip cookies. J Crew salespeople delight customers with a bottle of water to sip as they try on clothes. Creating a pleasant memory for your customer can be quite simple. What Kahneman’s work tells us that it is also very important.

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