Most of your company’s customer experience is forgettable. Here’s why.

Great companies don’t just shape customers’ experiences, they shape customers’ memories.

No matter how hard you try to improve your company’s customer experience, the reality is that your customers won’t remember much of it.

That’s because our brains aren’t wired like a video camera, recording every second of every experience.  Rather, what we remember are a series of snapshots.

And those snapshots aren’t taken at random.  The camera shutter opens to capture the peaks and valleys in the experience – the really high points and the really low points.  Most everything else, all the parts of the experience that are just “meh,” fade into the background and disappear from our memory.

So, our recollections are less “streaming video” and more “still photograph.”  But what does this have to do with the customer experience?  Well, creating a great customer experience is a lot about shaping memories.

In order for a business to derive strategic and economic advantage from its customer experience, people need to remember it positively.  When a friend or colleague asks you – “what do you think of [Company X]?” – your response is grounded in your recollection of the experience, which is different from the experience itself.

That’s because your assessment of the experience, the basis for repurchase and referral behavior, won’t be derived from some meticulous calculation of the ratio between pleasantness and unpleasantness.  Rather, you’ll be making that judgement just based on the snapshots that your memory has taken from the encounter.

This is why companies that excel at customer experience recognize that they’re in the business of shaping memories, not just experiences.

They capitalize on cognitive science to influence what people will remember, strategically creating “peaks” in the experience that will outnumber and outweigh the “valleys.”

Their success in this regard is why customers recall the experience so positively, even if every portion of it wasn’t “delightful.”  (Take, for example, a visit to Disney World:  Disney’s customers spend a lot of time waiting in line at the park, but when they return home from their vacation, it’s not the lines they remember — it’s the attractions.)

There are a variety of strategies that great companies use to positively influence customer memories, but they all essentially involve creating more and higher peaks, as well as fewer and less deep valleys.

Great companies also recognize that it’s alright if there are parts of the customer experience that are just average (as long as they don’t involve interactions which are vital to customers).  What’s more important is to make certain there are at least some parts of the experience that will generate those positive, memorable “peak” snapshots.

And, conversely, one must address aspects of the experience that may be leaving customers with memorable (but negative) “valley” snapshots.  (Note that those valleys don’t necessarily need to be turned into peaks, but they at least need to be moved closer to “sea level.”)

As you work to differentiate your company in the marketplace, keep an eye out for those peaks and valleys.  They’re the features of your customer experience landscape that will shape people’s perceptions and, ultimately, their brand loyalty.  And that’s something worth remembering.


Jon Picoult is founder of Watermark Consulting, a customer experience advisory firm that helps companies impress customers and inspire employees, creating raving fans that drive business growth.  Author of “FROM IMPRESSED TO OBSESSED: 12 Principles for Turning Customers and Employees into Lifelong Fans,” Picoult is an acclaimed public speaker, as well as an advisor to some of world’s foremost brands.  Follow Jon on Twitter or Instagram, or subscribe to his monthly eNewsletter.


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