Forbes recently came out with an article titled, “What Eating Chocolate Can Teach You About Customer Service And Building A Great Customer Experience.” It references a Yale study that supports that experiences, both positive and negative, are amplified when shared with another person. Good chocolate tastes better when you are tasting it with someone else and bitter chocolate tastes worse, even in the absence of direct communication.
My first thoughts when I learned this were, “How can a brand take advantage of the extra pleasure we may get from our neighbor and associate it back with the brand? How can we get people to engage in more positive shared experiences with the brand? And/or how can brands take credit for their customer’s positive shared experiences?” People are social creatures so it would all come down to framing said experiences.
But before we get to the application, why do our shared experiences get amplified? As a psychology major, my mind instantly started to break down the science behind the principle.
Recent research demonstrated that the act of sharing an experience causes the stimuli being experienced to become more psychologically prominent. There are a couple of reasons for this:
Ever since we were babies, we have been naturally drawn to what the other person is paying attention to. Evolutionarily, among other things, this allows adults to more easily orient us and teach us things before we are able to communicate verbally.
We tend to pay more attention to shared than unshared stimuli. This makes sense as only shared stimuli are relevant and can affect our own lives.
Therefore, we may tend to feel more absorbed in our experience when that experience is shared as confirmed in the Yale study. Focusing on another person doesn’t take away from but instead adds to our experience as “people may be built to automatically imagine or simulate how other people see, hear, smell, taste, and feel things... these imaginings or simulations could affect people’s own perceptions, as suggested by the present studies.”
Compared to unshared stimuli, shared stimuli take up more of our attention and so use up more of our cognitive resources. Consequently, even without direct communication, shared stimuli may be experienced as more intense. Shared pleasant experiences would feel more pleasant, and shared unpleasant experiences even less so.
The results from this study prompt us to not only pay attention to the relationship between your business and your customer but also to the relationship between your customers or between your customer and the people your customer cares most about. Facilitating such a connection would provide a more powerful reason for that customer to stay.
Chick-fil-A embraced the idea when they challenged its customers to ditch their cell phones during mealtimes and try to get the most out of the experience of eating together with friends. If customers managed to get through their entire meal without their phones, they would be rewarded a free Ice Dream cone! Other examples include DryBar allowing you to invite your girlfriends to the hair blowout appointment you’re making right on its app and REI encouraging its patrons to stay out and play on Black Friday.
Offering complimentary cake on someone’s birthday or anniversary may seem counterintuitive at first (They should buy their own cake. Better yet, order from our dessert menu!), but the gesture not only celebrates the relationship between the couple or friends and family but allows the rest of your paying customers to share in the joy as well.
Still, there are two sides to this coin. While we tend to focus on the “better together” principle, if your product fails, the “worse together” principle instead applies.
Remember #McDStories? McDonald’s had initially launched the hashtag to promote feel-good Happy Meal experiences and to showcase the company’s suppliers, but instead their plan completely backfired. From fake nails to food poisoning, there was nothing heart-warming about the tweets that could be found when searching #McDStories.
At the end of the day, it all comes down to knowing your brand and your customer. Being a leader in sales does not make you a leader in affection. Don’t assume that your customers would engage positively. We as people naturally strive to connect with each other whether it be through shared happiness, sadness, anger, or pain.
Dilys Zhu, MSD Intern