Nothing is more synonymous with summer than ice cream! And that means ice cream trucks and that wonderful jingle that lets us know that the ice cream truck is on its way or has arrived.

In the last week or so, in Long Beach, CA, residents have been complaining that the lovely jingle of summer is a nuisance. And so the City Council has listened to its constituents and is threatening to silence the trucks – not for good, though they will likely be placing restrictions on when or how long the music can be played.

What does that have to do with customer experience?

I started thinking about the nostalgia of ice cream trucks, how the thought of them takes me back to my childhood. It got me thinking about memorable things, which led me to think about memorable experiences, and well, you get the picture.

Let me spell it out a bit more clearly.

What are some of the attributes of a great experience? As I wrote previously, I believe great customer experiences are built on trust but are also personalized, memorable, remarkable, and consistent. I also think there’s an emotional component, and that’s where nostalgia comes in to play. I’m adding “nostalgic” to my list of descriptors of a great customer experience. Read on to find out why.

As defined on Wikipedia, “nostalgia describes a sentimentality for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations.

Isn’t that what we’re trying to achieve as we focus on customers and the customer experience: a place (or brand) with happy personal associations? The emotions elicited by that association, that happy place, are what brands are trying to achieve and build on.

To delve further into the concept of nostalgia, I found some interesting research published just this week (though the research has been ongoing for a decade by dozens of researchers around the world) that ties nostalgia in nicely with delivering a great customer experience.

Research by the University of Southampton tells us (bold is mine): “Nostalgia confers psychological benefits. When engaging in nostalgic reflection, people report a stronger sense of belongingness, affiliation, or sociality; they convey higher continuity between their past and their present; they describe their lives as more meaningful; and they often indicate higher levels of self-esteem and positive mood.

Customers buy from brands with which they align. When customers are aligned with your purpose, there is a sense of belonging, affiliation, or sociality. Couldn’t have said it better myself.

From Scientific American, one of the collaborators, Clay Routledge, wrote:

“Nostalgia, compared to control conditions, does not increase negative emotions, but it does increase positive emotions. As I mentioned before, nostalgic experiences tend to be characterized as positive and this feature of nostalgia appears to translate into actual mood. When nostalgia is induced in the lab, it puts people in a good mood. In other words, thinking about cherished experiences from the past makes people feel good in the present.

“Nostalgia, compared to control conditions, increases perceptions of social connectedness. Again, as previously mentioned, nostalgic experiences tend to be highly social in nature. The consequence of this is that nostalgia makes people feel closer to others. Nostalgia reminds people that they are loved and valued by close others.

Tying back to the ice cream truck jingle, a New York Times article about this nostalgia research states: “A quick way to induce nostalgia is through music, which has become a favorite tool of researchers. In an experiment in the Netherlands, Ad J. J. M. Vingerhoets of Tilburg University and colleagues found that listening to songs made people feel not only nostalgic but also warmer physically.”

The article further went on to say: “Nostalgia serves a crucial existential function. It brings to mind cherished experiences that assure us we are valued people who have meaningful lives.”

What are you doing to create experiences that will become nostalgic to your customers in the future? Or elicit the same emotions and alignment that nostalgia does? Is that possible?

“Emotions” is the new “it word” in customer experience. I’ve heard it more often at conferences and during webinars in the last few months than I have in my 20+ years in this line of work. But I don’t disagree with it; it’s a word we’ll hear more and more as we come up with new ways to both understand customers and create those personal connections – connections that create a bond and a level of commitment that has customers returning to purchase again and sending friends.

How can we deliver an experience that evokes the kinds of emotions – those happy memories – that hearing an ice cream truck’s jingle does? The music is a calling card, alerting children that the ice cream truck is on its way. Do you have a similar calling card that takes customers to their happy places? If yes, what would happen if it was taken away?

I’ll leave you with an ice cream truck video to ponder that thought…

Link to this video

The “what should be” never did exist, but people keep trying to live up to it. There is no “what
should be,” there is only what is
. -Lenny Bruce