Why do we remember some experiences and not others? What makes some experiences memorable, sometimes months or even years later, while we can barely recall other events that happened yesterday?
Most people do not have much difficulty remembering their wedding day, the day they graduated, or even something about their first day at school. That's because there is a strong link between emotionally charged moments or events and what we remember. This is the same for our customers; they will remember events that they have high emotional investment over other transactions. And these memories will have the biggest impact their behaviours down the line. These events are often referred to as moments of truth, and when organisations manage these moments well, they create the lasting memory that helps build trust and loyalty.
Let me share an experience I had with my medical insurance provider over a year ago.
After a short illness last summer my doctor recommended some tests to rule out any underlying issues. I had medical insurance in place and went ahead with the tests on my doctor's advice. The good news is that I got the all clear, but what followed from my insurance provider created a level of pain I could have done without. Apparently I had "failed to follow the procedure clearly laid out in the T&Cs." You can guess what happened next. It was like bureaucracy on steroids as they laid out the "procedures to follow" and threatened not to pay bills until I followed all rules specified in their small print. They did not demonstrate any concern for my well-being and I was left with a feeling that my illness was utterly inconvenient for them. I did eventually sort this out 4 weeks and endless phone calls and emails later, but this was a defining moment that was not managed well and as a result has impacted my whole experience with this organisation.
What was missing here was the insight from this representative to recognise that this was an emotionally charged moment for me and the skill (or power) to respond appropriately. I strongly suspect that the lady I interacted with was a product of the organisation's culture - rigid rules and little flexibility on how they interact with customers. As a consequence she failed to recognise my need, to empathise or make the transaction easy. How different this interaction could have been if taking care of how I felt was front and centre rather than process or T&Cs?
Many organisations fall into this trap and miss opportunities to deepen relationships or build trust. I have heard many stories from friends on how their bank treated them when they lost a credit card, or what it was like to deal with an airline when they missed a flight.
So what do organisations need to think about?
Begin by understanding what really matters to your customers.
Organisations are often mentally and functionally organised in silos and front-line teams are often orientated to manage by functional transactions rather than experiences as part of a wider journey. Organisations that actively seek to understand their customers' journeys have greater insight into events or moments that really matter to them and know where they have an opportunity to create an emotional bond. When an organisation understands the journey their customers are on, they can prioritise critical events and make sure they are remembered for the right reasons.
Use insights to develop a customer-driven culture and build capability on the front line
Make front-line teams aware of the emotionally charged events and give them the bandwidth and skills to manage differently. Scripts or rigid processes help manage transactions not emotions. People can be coached to be more emotionally attuned with customers and managers can create a culture where their teams are empowered to respond authentically and spontaneously. This may be taking some extra time to listen or ask more questions, encouraging people to check-in on customers or call-back or even giving them a budget so they can send cards or small gifts spontaneously. (Pret a Manger does this particularly well). In short, they are allowing people to take initiative and do whatever it takes to help the customer when it matters most.
Measure what matters to your customers.
As Peter Drucker said "what gets measured gets improved", so measure how critical experiences make customers feel and track changes in sentiment and behaviours like usage, likelihood to recommend and purchasing, after a critical interaction. This is a far better indicator of what's working from a customer's perspective than internally driven performance metrics.
Strong feelings linger. Memories trigger behaviours. Organisations that create positive experiences around emotionally charged events are better placed to build loyal advocates and grow their businesses.
In the works of the late Dr Maya Angelou (US author and activist):
"I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."
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