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Customer Behavior

Not Experiences, But Memories of Experience Influence Decision-Making

As you’re reading this, you’re having an in-the-moment experience.

You may be sitting in a comfortable chair or in a plastic seat on the bus, eating a sandwich, perhaps sipping some coffee, or listening to music. All these factors influence your current experience, which may be positive, indifferent or negative. Whatever happens in the next few minutes, can influence and turn this experience into a memory that will also determine whether you’ll decide to return at a later moment in time.

Since the mid-2000s, experience, or more specifically customer experience, is one of the most important topics and a top priority for businesses. Improving the customer experience is a strategic objective that cannot be ignored, whether you already deliver an exceptional customer experience or, like many businesses, struggle to connect the dots. According to the latest Customer Experience Impact Report, 86 percent of consumers will pay more for a better customer experience. They are more likely to remain loyal.

To deliver an excellent customer experience that outperforms that of the competition, it is critical to understand what influences people’s experiences:

Research shows that due to the wiring of our brains, it’s the last segment of an experience that matters most. The ending and the outcome carry the greatest weight in people’s future decision-making.

This effect can be observed in any culinary environment. Even if starter and main course were mediocre, if the dessert was amazing, people will be more likely to rate the overall experience and the restaurant favorable.

No wonder Celebrity Chef Gordon Ramsay advises hapless restaurant owners to

Gordon Ramsay“Finish with a Strong Dessert – It is often an afterthought or left to the last minute. Since it’s the last dish your guests will taste, make sure it’s memorable!”


The Experiencing Self vs The Remembering Self

Daniel Kahneman, Nobel Prize winning psychologist and most notable for his work on the psychology of judgment and decision-making, behavioral economics and hedonic psychology, explored the difference between memory and experience in his TED talk”The riddle of experience vs. memory” .

When trying to improve the customer experience, it is important to differentiate between the two concepts of the “experiencing self” and the “remembering self” as they perceive happiness and satisfaction very differently. While the “experiencing self” takes the actual events into account as they happen, the “remembering self” draws upon the powerful, memorable and most significant (high or low) moments that happened.

Whenever people are about to make a decision, the remembering self recalls preferences and remembers a story about the last experience with a product or service. This isn’t necessarily an objective story of the overall experience, but rather a memory of the peak emotional moments and the ending (The Peak-End Rule).

Kahneman describes that decisions people make are not determined by the experiencing self, but rather by the memories of experience by the remembering self. We don’t make purchase decisions based on product experience—but on memories of experience!

For example, people can have a wonderful time at your establishment, but leave angry and disappointed if e.g. they have to wait too long for the waiter to bring the check. They won’t remember how great the dinner was, because their memory of that last experience was bad. That one single frustrating experience will influence their decision if they have to choose a restaurant in the future.

Experience vs memory


The Impact of Negative Experiences

“Almost everyone remembers negative things more strongly and in more detail”, says Clifford Nass, a professor of communication at Stanford University. People remember negative events more than positive ones because the brain handles positive and negative information differently (NY Times):

Negative emotions and experiences involve more thinking and are processed more thoroughly than positive ones. People also tend to use stronger words to describe unpleasant events than happy moments.

The silver lining: In his journal article “Bad Is Stronger Than Good”, Roy F. Baumeister, a professor of social psychology at Florida State University, says that “Many good events can overcome the psychological effects of a bad one.” In fact, he states that a ratio of five goods for every one bad can turn a bad memory of experience into a positive.

To create positive memories of experience, your priority, therefore, needs to be reducing the low moments in your customer journey that cause shopping frustration. Surveying 2,000 shoppers, Rackspace compiled a list of the top 5 online shopping frustrations you should avoid:

  1. Too many irrelevant pop up adverts
  2. Too many options that take too long to narrow down
  3. Search tools and filters make it difficult to find things
  4. The service isn’t as good as it is in stores
  5. It’s not personalized enough for them


How Kahneman’s Findings Affect Your Business

Kahneman’s findings about the impact of the memory of experience on decision-making have profound implications for any business that is eager to improve the customer experience and build loyalty. You have to keep in mind that the remembering self is the decision-maker. This means, you have to…

  • deliver consistent positive experiences across all touchpoints. The customer experience is a collection of all interactions a consumer has with your company – either by visiting your website, calling your contact center, or checking out your Instagram profile etc. You have to give the remembering self an experience that is worth remembering.
  • help visitors understand and purchase what they actually want and need and not what you want to sell. If customers leave your store dissatisfied or not confident with their purchase, then there’s less chance they’ll come back again in the future. You also risk the negative effects of buyer’s remorse and dissatisfaction with the overall experience as well as your store.
  • get ready to surprise. Wow them with something they wouldn’t have expected, such as a personal, special discount or taking advantage of technologies to create valuable and richer experiences.
  • be available and be helpful. People who shop online (on their mobile phones) are increasingly confronted with the negative effects of choice overload. Provide them with readily available advice and support that lets them make decisions quickly. Help them remember your site as non-frustrating, hassle-free environment where shopping and/or deciding is made easy.


By taking into account how humans are wired, integrating positive peak moments, reducing low moments, and designing customer decision journeys with the ending in mind, you’ll increase your chances of creating memorable experiences.

…want a cake?

Chocolate cake gif


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Bill is a freelance content writer who specializes in internet marketing and eCommerce. He holds a bachelor's in marketing and psychology from Penn State and is a HubSpot Certified Inbound Marketer. Follow him on social media.