The customer is always right and always ‘remembers’ things from their POV.
Christopher Nolan’s resume as a director is spectacular. Interstellar, Inception, Dunkirk, The Prestige, and The Dark Knight, which in my opinion includes the finest performance by an actor ever; Heath Ledger’s portrayal of The Joker.
But I think Nolan’s masterwork as a director and storyteller is a movie you may have never heard of; Memento. Memento follows a man named Leonard Shelby with a very unique condition; He cannot make new memories. Throughout the course of the movie, Leonard tells us of the an attacker who broke into his home, attacked him and his wife. The attacker killed Leonard’s wife and in the process of fighting with Leonard, Leonard was knocked unconscious resulting in Leonard’s ‘condition’. Leonard has this scene where he recalls that night to Natalie:
Natalie: “What’s the last thing that you do remember?”
Leonard: “My wife…”
Natalie: “That’s sweet.”
Leonard’s life since that point has been focused on finding his wife’s killer and extracting vengeance. This quest is obviously made much more difficult by the fact that Leonard cannot form new memories. In general, he can remember the last 5 minutes or so, but if something startles him, such as a loud noise like a car backfiring, his short-term memory will ‘reset’ and he will forget even the last few minutes. He could be talking to someone and know who that person is, and suddenly forget who that person is or why he’s talking to him. Here’s an example where Leonard is running and trying to figure out why he is running. He then sees a man running too, and mistakenly assumes he is chasing the man:
To help put the audience in Leonard’s shoes, Nolan brilliantly organizes the story into 5-minute or so segments. The segments then alternate so that you actually see the ‘end’ of the story at the first of the movie. Then the following segment shows you the first few minutes of the story, then the following segment shows you the next to last segment of the story, so on and so forth until the movie ends in the actual ‘middle’ of the story. Nolan does this purposely to help the audience understand what Leonard’s life is like with his condition. A life lived in 5-minute increments.
Since Leonard cannot make new memories, he created an elaborate system of note-taking to help him make up for not being able to create new memories. He takes Polaroid pictures of important people and places he encounters, and then writes notes on the pictures so he knows why they are relevant to his quest to find his wife’s killer. Leonard even went so far as to cover his body with tattoos which are a list of the most basic ‘facts’ of the case, such as the name of the man he is looking for, his description, and other important information that Leonard needed to have with him at all times.
But the one element of this story that I find absolutely fascinating is how Leonard’s world of truth and fiction, right and wrong, is recreated every five minutes due to his memory condition. In fact, multiple characters in the film use Leonard’s inability to keep his memory to their advantage. In one scene, Natalie tells Leonard that she is about to lie to him, but that it will be a few minutes in the future and Leonard won’t remember that she’s now telling him this. She walks outside and Leonard begins frantically searching for a pen and paper so he can write down what she just told him. As he is searching, Natalie walks back in the house and slams the front door. The slamming of the front door jars Leonard and causes his short-term memory of Natalie’s previous conversation to disappear.
This creates an ongoing puzzle for the audience to solve when watching this movie. Because at any time, any character, including Leonard, could be lying, or they could be telling the truth. And if what Natalie is saying now is the truth, that means what Teddy told Leonard in the previous scene was a lie or vice versa. And Nolan gives us at least one example of every character in the movie telling at least one lie. So we are constantly having to evaluate each scene based on who seems truthful and who doesn’t.
But throughout the course of the movie, we learn that Leonard’s version of what happened on and since the night he lost his ability to make new memories, may not be what actually happened. In other words, Leonard through the retelling of the story in his own mind, has likely altered events to make his actions more pure, and to give his quest to find his wife’s killer more meaning.
Now, how does all this relate to marketing?
Let’s go back to that first line in this post: The customer is always right and always ‘remembers’ things from their POV. If you think about it, we all do this. All human beings tend to remember things differently than they actually happened. Maybe by a tiny bit, maybe by a lottabit. For years I remembered my childhood home as being on this sprawling plot of land, with massive fields surrounding it where I played as a child. The entire area seemed to cover miles in my memory. A few years ago, I drove back to visit that area and was stunned at how small everything actually was. What I remembered as being a massive area of land was only a couple of acres at best.
So when it comes to marketing, you need to remember this lesson that we tend to ‘remember’ things more positively when it comes to our own actions. This is especially relevant when you are working in customer service and dealing with angry customers. Often, these customers can clearly see the company’s fault, and be totally oblivious to what they may have done to contribute to their support issue. The lesson for the company is to not lose its temper and to have empathy for the customer. Understand the customer’s POV and don’t take any criticism seriously. Studies have shown than when we become angry and upset, our ability to think rationally is diminished, and this increases as we become more upset.
If you can show the customer that you have empathy for them and their situation, that will go a long way toward putting them at ease and you can have a much more productive interaction. The customer as a group IS always right because if you don’t satisfy your customers, you will lose them. Now this doesn’t mean every INDIVIDUAL customer is ‘right’ and this is where some people are confused by the true meaning of the phrase ‘the customer is always right’.
Just understand that we all have a unique POV and we all tend to view ourselves in the best possible light. That’s just human nature. Accept that, show empathy to your customers, listen to them, and a productive interaction, whether as a support issue or as a purchase, will be the result.
PS: Hopefully this post has piqued your interest to check out Memento. Here’s the trailer for the movie: