Indelible Moments

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It’s August 9, 2007. Do you remember where you were 12 years ago today? Better yet, do you remember specific events, or specific conversations you had that day? Probably not. But I do.

At the time, I used to take my bicycle to work and ride during lunch. I had just come back from a ride, and was walking back to my desk when a colleague (Bob Ostwald) said “I have some bad news for you.”

I remember my reply: “We didn’t get the Aetna project?” He gave one of those nervous chuckles and said “well, that too, but that wasn’t what I was going to say.” His expression turned more serious, and he said “Jerry Garcia died.”

In the 18 years that preceded that day, I had been to countless number of Grateful Dead concerts. Twelve years on, I remember that interaction as clear as if it had happened yesterday. It was one of those indelible moments.

A recent Harvard Business Review article asserts that each generation has its collective indelible moments — things like Neil Armstrong walking on the moon and 9/11. For my parents’ generation it was the day JFK was shot.

I bring all of this up for two reasons:

  1. I’m always looking for an excuse to mention the Grateful Dead here.
  2. Marketers need to recognize — and try to create — the defining moments in their customers’ relationships.

Example: A reporter for a trade magazine told me about how she and her partner were trying to adopt a child. They got a call from the agency, telling them a child from China. But they needed a short-term loan to be able to make the trip. According to this woman, her bank “bent over backwards” to process and approve the loan and get them the money within 48 hours. In her words, because of that, she would “never leave them.”

That was her indelible moment. From that point on, the relationship changed. Small mistakes on the part of the bank were easily dismissed. Marketing efforts exhorting her to consolidate accounts or do more business with the bank were unneeded — she had already decided to do all that.

Few banks do a good job of recognizing (let alone creating) these moments. CRM applications are so focused on recording the facts of interactions that they fail to capture the emotional elements.

Marketers can talk all they want about the superiority of their products and services, and claim that social computing approaches like user reviews improve online conversion rates. But the most powerful driver of customer loyalty and purchase behavior is experience.

And when a particular experience rises above the line to become an indelible moment, marketers need to recognize it and change the way they communicate with (I almost used the words “market to”) that customer.

And try like hell to institutionalize it, and recreate it for other customers.

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