The Memory of Your Experience is More Important Than Your Experience





Professor Daniel Kahneman is a Nobel Laureate,  psychologist and expert on judgment and decision-making, behavioural economics and hedonic psychology. I have given my examples, while paraphrasing Colin Shaw. CEO of a global firm called Beyond Philosophy. I’ve also added what this means to Customer Value versus Satisfaction. Read on:

Kahneman says ‘there is a big difference between an experience and the memory of an experience’. Sounds obvious, doesn’t it? But it is not understood by most people such as CXO’s,  HR, Sales and Marketing and Customer Experience executives.

We all know we are ‘experiencing’ things all the time. You are having an experience now by reading this blog. Kahneman calls the experience of experiencing things, like you are experiencing this reading, ‘the experiencing self’. But Kahneman says we also have a ‘remembering self’.

So let’s imagine I experience a telephone call with my bank, and it was not satisfactory. Then I talk about it with my friends, and  I say I am unhappy and dissatisfied.

A few weeks later, my memory of the experience would have been modified based on the fact I am more relaxed, the actual incidence does not rankle as much, and I have taken subconsciously my other interactions with the bank into account and I do not feel that bad. I think:

  • Was the experience really that bad
  • How do I feel now
  • How does this experience compare with other such experiences
  • How is the bank treating me overall
  • Is there anything I remember that stands out, positive or negative?
  • How did they perform in comparison to what I think they should have done or other banks?

My answers are instantaneous, and if I would record them , I would say the bank’s system sucks, they ask me to repeat my account number, but they are no worse than others, and I do get some good work from them. My experience becomes less awful because the memory of the incident is less dissatisfying, and I am willing to continue doing business with the bank. This is why Value surveys are done much after the event and they measure your memory experience perception, whereas satisfaction surveys measure the experience perception instantaneously.

Consider another example. We were having a Sunday lunch with friends and a wonderful conversation, and suddenly a family with small kids, wailing and screaming sat next to us and the kids not only shrieked they ran around and it ruined it for us. Before the family came in, my experiencing self would have said the experience was great. At the end I would say it was terrible, because my memory of the kids ruined the experience.

There is a BIG difference between an experience and the memory of an experience. Most people do not take this into account while designing, measuring and improving their Customer Experience. That is why they do not understand that satisfaction and value are distinct and measure different things. One measures the experience and the other the memory of the experience.


Customers don’t choose between experiences,

They choose between the MEMORY of their experiences

So learn to work with the memory of the experience

What are the implications on a Customer Experience? 

  • To understand a Customer experience, when should you ask for Customer feedback? During the experience or after the memory is formed? Take my restaurant story as an example. If I was asked what I thought of the restaurant before the family with screeching kids came in, I would have given them a 9 out of 10. After the event, with the memory of that experience, I would have given a 5. I see too many companies whose call centres ask for a survey at the very end of their call. I would argue this does not allow people time to form a memory. I would argue this is still part of their experience. How many times have you been very annoyed at something that happened but then ‘calmed down’ after and realised you were being unreasonable. After the call you may have given them 2 out of 10 but after two days your memory would give them a 5. Therefore, choosing the optimum time to ask for feedback is key.

  • Are you clear about what part of the experience you are measuring? In my example, if I was asked about the restaurant itself or my experience of eating there the answers would be very different.

  • What are you doing to help create a positive memory of the experience? How can you add to people’s memories with positive reinforcement?

After a few days. I called my friends and said I really enjoyed myself, because the memory of the experience was that of our conversation and comradeship. I might have answered differently, had the restaurant called me.

There are many more implications. This is just part of what we call Experience Psychology, which is critical to understand when improving your Customer Experience to drive $$$.

It is essential that you realise your Customers have the ‘experiencing self’ and the ‘remembering self’ and they choose between memories of experience.

What implications do you see coming from this for improving a Customer Experience, or your business, or your dealings with your employees?

Contact Customer Value Foundation to learn about measuring Memories of Experiences, and Employee and Customer Value Measurement

Gautam Mahajan

President Customer Value Foundation

Contact Customer Value Foundation for help



Explore posts in the same categories: Business & Management

3 Comments on “The Memory of Your Experience is More Important Than Your Experience”

  1. We are very complex , arn’t we ?
    Therefore measuring our conduct is even more complex.

    Mr KV. Simon
    Regional VP, AHLEI

  2. In other words, perception is reality and that perception gets modified with time!

    Mr Kuruvilla Abraham
    ED & CEO (also Chairman Civic)

  3. Thanks for putting me on your mailing list for such Customer Service oriented articles. I have been going thru all of them and learning from them. I liked this piece particularly because I am able to relate with the contents with my own experiences and memories of the same. Very valid points about feedback being taken after allowing some time for the customer to ‘relish’ & mull over the experience in calm and form a final and more logical memory of the same.

    Mr N. Viswanathan

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: