elephants never forget

It is extremely likely that we have all heard the phrase ‘an elephant never forgets’ at some point in our lives. Like many well known sayings, it is also likely that you have never questioned whether or not this is actually true. According to many resources, the saying is pretty accurate – have a read of this:

Remarkable recall power, researchers believe, is a big part of how elephants survive. Matriarch elephants, in particular, hold a store of social knowledge that their families can scarcely do without, according to research conducted on elephants at Amboseli National Park in Kenya.

Researchers from the University of Sussex in England discovered that elephant groups with a 55-year-old matriarch (elephants live around 50 to 60 years) were more likely to huddle in a defensive posture than those with a matriarch aged 35 when confronted by an unfamiliar elephant. The reason: they were aware such strangers were likely to start conflicts with the group and possibly harm calves, Karen McComb, a psychologist and animal behaviorist at Sussex, and her colleagues reported in Science.

Other researchers, who studied three herds of elephants during a severe 1993 drought at Tanzania’s Tarangire National Park, found that they not only recognize one another but also recall routes to alternate food and water sources when their usual areas dry up.

The scientists from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) in New York City reported in Biology Letters that pachyderm groups with matriarchs, ages 38 and 45, left the parched park, apparently in search of water and grub, but the ones with a younger matriarch, age 33, stayed put.

Sixteen of 81 calves born in the park that year died in a nine-month period, a 20 percent mortality rate, much higher than the typical 2 percent; 10 of the dead were from the group that remained in the park, where feed and water were scarce.

Researchers concluded that the older elephants recalled a drought in the park that lasted from 1958 to 1961, and how their packs survived the slim pickings by migrating to lusher areas a distance away. None of the elephants that stayed behind were old enough to remember the previous dry spell.

Elephants also apparently recognize and can keep track of the locations of as many as 30 companions at a time, psychologist Richard Byrne of the University of Saint Andrews in Scotland and other researchers discovered during a 2007 study at Amboseli.

When it comes to smarts, elephants are right up there with dolphins, apes and humans, says WCS cognitive scientist Diana Reiss and colleagues at Emory University in Atlanta. They reported in 2006 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA that elephants, like the other mammals in that exclusive circle, are the only animals known to recognize their reflections in a mirror.

Click here to read the full article by James Ritchie in Scientific American.

I don’t know about you, but I find this absolutely fascinating. All beasts in the animal kingdom generate a sense of curiosity in most of us – but rarely do we dig deeper to understand how they work – physically and mentally. What makes this even more interesting (in my opinion), is the link to human behaviours. Knowing that ‘elephants never forget’ is not a far fetched myth, can we also see similarities in the behaviour of humans – especially as customers?


This quote is one that I wholeheartedly agree with. I personally am a big advocate of the EMOTIONAL component that forms all customer experiences (the other two being the FUNCTIONAL and the ACCESSIBLE) ultimately being the one that will determine most whether a customer will keep coming back for more…. or will run for the hills. Like Elephants, we find it almost impossible to forget the awful way we felt when an organisation treated us badly; with contempt; without any semblance of emotional engagement.

Just recently, I was intrigued by the significant upset a Telecoms provider was causing an ex colleague of mine. Her experience was so bad, she, like many others, decided to vent her fury on social media. At one point, she stated (metaphorically speaking obviously) that the company should be SET ON FIRE!!!  It takes a lot to get a customer – someone who hands over their hard earned cash to you – to be that upset. I guarantee you that this lady will NEVER FORGET her experience with this company and will NEVER interact with them again.

As regular readers of my blog will know, I have had my fair share of experiences that I will not forget in a hurry – despite the fact I would love to! One such experience was last year with Easyjet. I will not repeat the story – if you are interested in reading it – you can do here. The point is that I will NEVER FORGET the way Easyjet made me, my wife and my children FEEL at the end of a lovely holiday.

The important thing about this subject – and the reason why I am writing about the significance of the likelihood for humans to ‘not forget’ (in much the same way as elephants do not forget) – is that ignoring the way you make customers FEEL can have significant consequences for your business. I am writing this blog post in Madrid. I flew to Madrid with Ryanair – not my favourite airline. However, I consciously chose to fly with Ryanair because I will NOT FORGET how Easyjet made me feel. I used to say that I would rather swim than fly with Ryanair. Now I would rather fly with Ryanair than Easyjet.

The significance of me not forgetting how Easyjet made me feel is that I have now made a conscious decision NOT to fly with them on 12 occasions since that fateful day. Even at an average cost of £200 per flight, the consequences start to add up.

There will always be scenarios where customers feel hard done by. It is impossible to achieve 100% customer satisfaction 100% of the time. However, the greatest customer experience brands in the world understand that they want you to remember them for the right reasons. Even if something goes wrong – even if customer expectation is not met – they will do whatever it takes to put things right.



This is moo.com – a fabulously customer centric printing business in the UK. I have always ordered my business cards from them – the experience is brilliant. A couple of weeks ago, I placed my latest order online. As is pretty typical with me, I placed my order in a slight fog of tiredness. When I received an email advising that my new cards had been dispatched, I decided to have another look at the beautiful cards I had created.

It was at that point I realised I had made a mistake – I had repeated a word twice on the front of the card! Entirely my fault – I am adamant about calling myself a Customer Experience Specialist – but not that adamant that I want to be known as a Specialist Specialist!!! Under normal circumstances, I would have to swallow my pride and swallow the cost of cards that I could not use. However, being moo.com, I decided to email them and advise what had happened.

Without any fuss…. without any hassle…. moo.com not only immediately reprinted the cards with the additional word removed, they did so at no additional cost to me. I was advised to keep the incorrect cards as emergency spares and to enjoy the new ones when they arrived. What an amazing experience – what a way to make a customer feel. What a way to leave a customer remembering you for the right reason.

I will never forget the way moo.com treated me as a customer. As a result, they will have me as a customer for life. Likewise, Easyjet have lost me – not just for now, but forever. We are tricky things customers – even if we may forgive – it is unlikely we will forget the way an organisation made us feel.

At the end of last year, I wrote about my observations of the state of Customer Experience having worked with multiple industries in 20 countries around the globe – you can read the article I wrote for my column on Customer Think.

One of my learning’s related to COMMITMENT – you will need to read the post to find out what I said – however, the reason for me sending you this email is that the article has inspired me to launch my first and only survey for 2016 – a very short survey investigating organisational commitment to Customer Experience.

I would hugely appreciate it if you could take two minutes to answer three very simple questions – the results of the survey will be published in a future blog post. Please also forward the survey to anyone who you think may find it of interest. Thank you so much for your very valuable time in advance…