How the memory of an experience affects our remembered satisfaction? Marketers are obsessed with measuring customer satisfaction. Companies are eager to track how much their customers are satisfied, and market research companies offer expensive services to track this important KPI. However, the measurement of customer satisfaction may be biased by external factors. In this article, we focus on how memory distortions can affect the remembered satisfaction of an experience.

  • Is there a difference between satisfaction during consumption and satisfaction after consumption?
  • How the distance from an experience affects satisfaction?
  • What factors can bias the memory of an experience, and its satisfaction?

 

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The “rosy view”

A well-known phenomenon of consumption experience is the “rosy view” of the past. For this theory, consumers start with high expected satisfaction about a consumption experience. During the consumption experience, they are also affected by all the little hassles and annoying things that always happen during any experience. After the experience, people will forget about the secondary and potentially negative elements of an experience, and they will focus just on the main and most positive factors of an experience.

This can be explained also with an example. Imagine that you are planning to go on vacation with your friends. You are all excited about all the activities you are planning to do. Then you go on vacation. Things are good and you are having a good time, but there are some miscommunications with the trip planner, the temperatures are much higher than expected and there is a lot of crowding. Then you go back home and think about your trip. The things you did with your friends were awesome, and the things you saw were very nice, all the secondary aspects are forgotten.

The rosy view is important because it theorizes that consumers will forget about the negative elements of a complex experience and it states that customer satisfaction post-experience is higher than customer satisfaction during the experience.

 

The psychological distance effects

The distance from the experience is also important. If we measure an experience that happened 1 day ago vs. 2 months ago, the psychological distance and the mental construal of consumers will have a role (as we discussed for future experiences). For the Construal Level Theory, we tend to remember the concrete aspects of recent experiences, but we focus on the abstract, general, and core aspects for distant experiences. Therefore, the small and lateral aspects of a consumption experience will become less important over time, while the central and abstract aspects will be more important over time. For example, the quality of service and cleanness of a museum will affect the satisfaction of the visitor that has just finished visiting the museum, but if we measure satisfaction after one month, the visitor is more influenced by the aesthetic and core elements of the museum experience.

 

Fading of affect and lower extremity

The construal level is not the only factor in place when we think about past experiences. Another factor is the fading of affective reactions. For this theory, we tend to have strong affective reactions to situations that happened recently, but we are more cold-blooded when we think about situations that happened a long time ago. Receiving a bad grade in school was terrible when you were in middle school, but if you think about it now, you may have a less extreme evaluation. Fading of affect is important when it comes to customer satisfaction. While satisfaction immediately post-experiences may be very extreme (in a positive or negative sense), satisfaction ratings after some time may become less extreme, more central, and less polarized.

 

WOM influence on satisfaction

An interesting phenomenon of time and satisfaction is that consumers distort the memory of their consumption experiences every time they tell their consumption story. When consumers share consumption stories, they re-enact the experience in a coherent and reasonable story. This story-telling practice can rewrite in our mind the memory of the experience. After telling the story, you will be more likely to think about your experience in terms of the story you just told, and less in terms of how the story originally was. Since consumers tend to exaggerate to make more interesting the stories they tell, on average, after sharing the experience with others, consumers tend to remember their experience as more extreme. Consequently, sharing consumption stories with others will make the memory of satisfaction more extreme.

 

How should marketers measure satisfaction to have unbiased values?

We propose some solutions that marketers can use:

  • Measure satisfaction during, immediately after, and much after a consumption experience. Having all three measures will give you a sense of how satisfaction changes over time. You may discover that past measures were based just on the immediate affective reaction of consumers, but later they have a less enthusiastic memory of your product. On the other side, you may discover that negative values were present just immediately after the experience, but subsequently, satisfaction is very high.
  • The core of your offering will last longer. Research suggests that the core offering of your product (i.e., the most important thing your product is supposed to offer/solve), has a long-term effect on customer satisfaction. Both construal theory and rosy view suggest that peripheral elements have a role just for satisfaction measured close to the experience. If you want your consumer to be satisfied for a long time, you need to be excellent in the core attributes of your product.
  • When you ask people to share information about the product, be aware that this will make the memory of their experience more extreme. Consumers with a positive experience will remember an exceptionally good experience, consumers with a negative experience will remember a horrible experience.

 

Take home message

Customer satisfaction changes over time, and usually, it becomes more positive. The core offering has an increasing influence on satisfaction over time, while during the experience or immediately after, secondary elements have a strong but temporary influence. Measuring satisfaction in different time distances can give you a picture of how satisfaction can stabilize over time.

 

Monthly Consumer Discoveries is a Monthly newsletter that brings you the most interesting updates in consumer behavior research.

Subscribe

 

 

Sources

Mitchell, T. R., Thompson, L., Peterson, E., & Cronk, R. (1997). Temporal adjustments in the evaluation of events: The “rosy view”. Journal of experimental social psychology33(4), 421-448.

Cowley, E. (2014). Consumers telling consumption stories: word-of-mouth and retrospective evaluations. Journal of business research67(7), 1522-1529.

Pizzi, G., Marzocchi, G. L., Orsingher, C., & Zammit, A. (2015). The temporal construal of customer satisfaction. Journal of Service Research18(4), 484-497.

 

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