Customer experience or CX is important in today’s retail market. But what if experience isn’t what actually counts and makes a difference? What if, what’s really important here is the memory that it creates. Join Oliver Banks in this podcast and explore the brain science and how memories work – so that you can understand how to take advantage to create a brilliant customer experience.
Listen to this episode to discover:
- How the brain creates and stores memories.
- What affects the way that memories are created.
- How you can operationalise “memory making” in stores.
- Plus, how to help your customers forget the bad experiences that they have with you.
Remember when you were a child
Close your eyes (no, really!) and cast your mind back to when you were a child and a time when you were shopping. I can see you peeking by the way 😉
Think about this shopping experience. Where were you? What town or city were you in? And which store are you in? Remember like it is the present. Who is with you? What are you shopping for? Fill in all of the details – colour in that picture. In fact, remember how you are feeling as a child in that moment.
Was if vivid? I’m guessing so.
Did it seem out of place with today’s retail environment (excluding technology advancements of course)? I’m guessing probably not. In fact, you’d still feel the same way if you experienced that shopping trip today.
It’s amazing that we can create and hold onto such rich experiences for decades.
So, what are memories?
Perhaps it goes without saying but memories are stored in our brains. There is actual physical evidence of memories there.
We have neurons or nerve cells in our brains and these are responsible for our thoughts and memories.These neurons activate and deactivate. When combined, the pattern forms a complex signal. There is a huge amount going on in our heads. The average human brain has about 86 billion neurons which combine to form our unique experiences, memories and thoughts.
So, a memory is a series of these neurons activating in a pattern or sequence.
To simplify this, think of music. There are a limited number of notes that you can play. But, when you combine these into different patterns, combinations and orders, you can create a beautiful tune.
In fact, a piano has 88 keys – essentially one billionth of the number of neurons. So think of the complexity and depth of tune that you can play on a piano. Then multiply it by a billion (and even more if you’re doing the maths correctly!).
To summarise, a memory is a sequence of neurons or nerve cells activating.
But, there are then different types of memory.
Short term vs long term memories
Broadly, there are two main types of memory in our head. A short term memory, lasting up to 30 seconds. And a long term memory, lasting from 30 seconds to a lifetime.
To create a memory worth recalling, we’re of course looking at the long term memory only.
Long term memories: explicit vs implicit
If you then break down the long term memories, there are once again two types: explicit and implicit.
An implicit memory is a habit or a skill. Making a cup of coffee or tea, driving a car, opening up a new Word document or brushing your teeth. You may have heard of this as “unconscious competence”.
The other sort, implicit long term memories, are the things that we’re consciously aware of and trying to remember. This is the memory that we want to recall and when it comes to forming a customer experience, it’s here that we want to focus on. But, once again, there are two different types of implicit long term memory.
Implicit long term memories: episodic vs semantic
An episodic memory is a memory for things and events that happened to you. These are your personal memories.
Meanwhile, a semantic memory is for general knowledge. Facts. Figures. Names. Details.
So, knowing which is your local supermarket – that’s a semantic memory. Remembering going there, slipping and twisting your ankle, that’s an episodic memory.
How does our brain create a memory?
Through all of our senses, we have a huge influx of information coming into our heads. This information is funneled to a part of the brain called the hippocampus. This is where the neurons are created and where the patterns are programmed that ultimately form the memory.
The hippocampus reviews and prioritises all of this information in real time. It then decides whether it’s important to create a memory or not.
If it’s a big, one off event, perhaps something extreme like 9/11 or even your country winning the world cup, then your brain identifies this as an important event…. it’s worth remembering. Equally, if it’s a personal event, maybe a wedding or the birth of a child – the hippocampus recognises this and says that it’s a meaningful and important event. One of the triggers is that there is an increased level of emotion.
In these major events, the brain tries to remember as much as it can. That’s why for major events like these, you can recall tiny amounts of detail. And it’s easy to recall them too.
But of course, it’s not just major things that we remember. There are many different “important” events that we recall – the less important they are, the less we record about them.
But, whatever the memories, if we don’t recall them regularly, they do fade and could even disappear forever. This helps our brains not become overloaded – despite the huge number of neurons inside our heads.
So, when we’re thinking of a retail experience, we want to make sure that we’re forming a good experience and that customers are recalling it regularly so that they don’t forget it.
Equally, we want bad experiences to fade quickly.
How can we use the science to create a lasting, positive experience.
Creating memorable experiences with these 10 points
There are 10 considerations or questions for you to help plan how to do this.
- Make it a major moment. How can you position this as a major moment for your customer? Could you celebrate new customers in some way – cementing in that this is the start of a beautiful relationship that they should remember? Or, could you welcome back existing customers like they were an old friend? In fact, how are you going to “remember” customers and how could you use systems like a CRM to support this?
- Use the senses. How can you appeal to their senses? Create a richer setting with more to help the brain paint a picture.
- Emotions make memories. How can you effectively use emotion through the process? How can you make a customer feel safe but excited as they shop? This will help the brain identify a moment as important so that it creates a memory.
- Make a customer feel something amazing. How can you give a customer a real, genuine sense of pride about their purchase or prospective purchase? Trying to create a feeling will make it more likely that the customer will commit the moment to memory.
- Stop a good experience being lost in short term memory. How can you be more effective at saying goodbye to a customer after they’re leaving the till or checkout. So, the aim here is to convert that short term memory into a longer term memory.
- Remind them to form a stronger memory. How can you remind them afterwards of what was great about their shopping trip? “Instagrammable” elements form stronger memories that get people talking and recalling the experience.
- Use a physical prompt for a memory. Can you give them any mementos to prompt their memory – a photo perhaps, or a surprise. Consider it a bit like a Chinese fortune cookie or a Christmas cracker. Perhaps, the anticipation and reaction to the surprise could be something that you could leverage.
- Continue to remind customers. How can you remind customers of their good experiences? Don’t let that memory fade. Also, tempt it with the prospect of recreating that good experience – make it a “safe” choice, with no danger or risk, for our brain to opt for.
- Be consistent with a wow. How can you be consistently great but still add an element of “wow” as customers return each time?
- Build these into your operating model. How are you going to take all of these points and include them in an operating model so that you can repeat it again and again across your store estate and across your entire team of colleagues?
Essentially, you can make an experience stick by setting up a series of intentional, operational decisions and actions to help forge a memory and then to help a customer to recall it regularly.
In turn, this will result in your experience being remembered and will ultimately create a positive image of your retail brand.
Help bad experiences fade quickly
Let’s face it, your customer experience isn’t going to be 100% perfect all of the time. There will be occasions where a customer experiences something bad about your brand.
So, let yourself dive back into your memory, This time, think of a really bad experience that you’ve had at some point in your life. Look at how vivid that memory is. Again, think about how you felt.
It’s likely that you were experiencing some high levels of fear or anger, or both. Again, research seems to show that the stronger the emotion associated with the memory, the more detail we commit to it.
Obviously, play A is to avoid the bad experience in the first place. But, assuming that it does happen, we want to help the customer forget about it as quickly as possible.
Make the bad moment seem unimportant to the customer’s brain
To quench these bad emotions as quickly as possible, you need to destress and defuse the situation as quickly as possible. The best way of doing this is through a simple apology.
If a genuine apology is made and empathy is used effectively, it will take the “wind out of the sails.” The customer’s hippocampus is more likely to deprioritise it as a less important event.
Alternatively, do the opposite and let the customer get wound up, angry and frustrated – and you’re certainly helping them to create a long lasting memory of your brand.
Help a customer forget about the bad experience
Whilst we can’t make a customer to forget these memories of bad situations and experiences, we can do things to help them forget.
You could change location to discuss in more detail. This will distract the brain with an alternative memory of the setting and the memory will not be as strong.
Look at how you can leave the conversation on a positive note. This will again create a memory with a slightly happier ending than it could have been.
Finally, consider how you could follow up on the bad experience to help refocus on something positive.
And again, it probably goes without saying…. but, consistently delivering a bad experience will cement the memory in the customer’s head.
Ultimately, to help a customer forget a bad experience, you don’t want to leave it to chance. You want to make a series of intentional, methodical, operational decisions and actions. This will help your retail business and operation consistently deal with challenging situations for the longer term result.
Remember, an experience is only an experience if it’s remembered.
A final thought
I hope that you see that you could define a series of intentional and operational actions to help create memories for your customers that record the great experiences from your brand.
But, what if it wasn’t just about customers. What if you also thought about the intentional, operational decisions for your store colleagues. Or your team members. Or even for your suppliers or your shareholders. What would that look like and how would leaving a positive memory create a better company culture and future?
What do think?
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Further listening and reading
If you enjoyed this episode and article, please also check out these other episodes from the Retail Transformation Show.
Episode 57: Building Your Emotional Resilience (part 1) and episode 58: (part 2). In these episiodes, resilience expert, Steph Tranter, shared more about how we can get control of our brain and our emotions and become more emotionally resilient. The advice is all focused on helping you destress and be the best you can be.
In addition, here is a selection of other reading and research that you may want to check out:
- How memories are formed – by the University of Queensland.
- How memory works – by Harvard University
- What happens in your brain when you make a memory – by doctor of neuroscience, Dean Burnett, for the Guardian.
- Why are bad memories so vivid – by Medical News Today and reviewed by Dr Timothy Legg
- How to make someone forget something instantly – by Better Health
- How human memory works – by How Stuff Works
- Emotion and memory – by Wikipedia and a selection of the references there.