Disney Mickey Mouse

How Disneyland's CX strategy creates memories to replace the rotten reality

14th Nov 2017

A few years ago, I took a summer vacation to Disneyland Hong Kong with my extended family, a total of 13 people including my 15-year-old teenage son and my 86-year-old father-in-law (note 1).

There were many laughs and lots of effort expended during this vacation, but there was one defining moment. We all found it to be the most memorable and joyful – the photo opportunity at breakfast with all the Disney characters at the Disneyland Hotel restaurant. Let’s recall it now.

Our remembered experience is great


Figure 1 – Defining moment: A kiss from the adorable Daisy Duck (photo courtesy of Tse Chun)

The weather this morning is perfect. The breakfast is delicious; the buffet has so much variety. Then, the peak moment arrives – Mickey, Minnie, Donald and Daisy appear.

Their gestures are lovely and they tease and play with each of us, young or old. They spend an extended period of time with us to take individual and group pictures.

The signature photo of the trip is the one with Daisy kissing my 25-year-old nephew. Even today, we still recall the smiling faces and big laughs during this breakfast. Our remembered experience is great.

Our actual experience is unpleasant

Yet, the rest of the vacation is far from great. As in every other Disneyland around the world, there are long queues everywhere from restaurants to theaters to rides.

The food, other than breakfast, is only average. The play in the theater is neither fun nor exciting. The rides are boring. The hotel we stay in is dull, like any other local three-star hotel, lacking the genuine ‘Disney’ feel.

Despite the fact that Hong Kong Disneyland is small (note 2) with a flat landscape, their crowd control is terrible. We almost fight with a group of people who jump the queue while we line up for the ‘round the park’ train. Our actual experience is unpleasant.    

Forget the realities; concentrate on memories

Although there are numerous unpleasant moments during our actual experience, the whole family remembers only the most pleasurable moments – particularly the photos with the Disney characters during breakfast – and disregards all the unpleasant feelings.

By the end of it, everyone calls our Disneyland visit as “a great family vacation!” Whether we feel good or bad is not determined by the actual experience but our remembered experience.

To deliver a memorable and effective experience, we should forget the realities, and concentrate on memories – to focus resources on the critical few moments that customers recall. It lays the foundation for a resource revolution in customer experience management.

The conventional approach

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Figure 2 – Emotion Curve: The conventional approach

The majority of business leaders have been brainwashed by the sacred beliefs of pursuing excellence, customer centricity and continuous improvement. They are determined to eliminate any pain points, efforts, frictions, imperfections and defects within an experience.

The red Emotion Curve (note 3) in figure 2 represents the conventional approach. Companies are working hard to raise the entire red curve higher and higher still.

Nobel-prize winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman suggested that human beings only remember two moments of any experience – the peak and the end (note 4).

The red curve dilutes your limited resources on too many things with insignificant peak and end. Customers forget you and resources are wasted. It is an ineffective experience.

A resource revolution

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Figure 3 – Emotion Curve: The conventional approach vs. a resource revolution

Now, let’s take a paradigm shift and allocate the resource differently by focusing on a critical few and allowing customers to experience valleys. The blue curve in figure 3 represents a resource revolution.

By following the Peak-End Rule, the blue curve generates a higher peak and a higher end point than the red one – which the customers will recall in their memories.

Does it mean that we have to spend more resources? Yes, we do have to spend more on the peak and the end as shown by the areas shaded burgundy. At the same time, we can save an even greater amount of resources as represented by the areas shaded navy. This implies that we can deliver a more pleasurable experience to our customers with fewer resources.

The resource revolution is patently simple: Allow valleys to create peaks.

Allow low to create high

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Figure 4 – Emotion Curve: The retail banking experience at a European bank

A European bank takes the resource revolution to their retail operations (note 5). This bank used to deliver the retail banking experience using the conventional approach. They achieved neither high customer satisfaction ratings nor positive business results. They just looked more and more like rival banks, as represented by the red Emotion Curve in figure 4.

Then, they deployed a pilot project. They now allow their customers wait longer to be served than in an average bank. This generates a severe valley for their customers as shown in the blue emotion curve. By allowing the wait-time low, the bank creates a high point for their customers.

Without extra staffing but by reallocating their manpower, the bank concentrates resources on face-to-face consulting services and trains the staff with more comprehensive product knowledge and better listening skills and with the objective to spend more time with each customer to personalize solutions.

The resource revolution rewards. The overall customer satisfaction, Net Promoter Score (NPS) and conversion rate (percentage of customers who accepted the next consulting appointment for investment products) have increased. The bank utilizes resources more effectively than before and more effectively than any other banks, by “allowing valley.”

The foundation of the resource revolution is allowing valleys. Without valleys, we don’t have resources to spare for creating significant peaks. “No valley, no peak.” It is that simple. Like “No pain, no gain” this is common sense even a nine-year-old can understand.

Reactivate your independent thinking

However, common sense is not always so common. Most of us are being indoctrinated to trust only data and the advices rendered by experts or authorities; our own thinking and judgments have long been uncalled for. Think of the last time you made a business decision based on common sense and your independent thinking – it’s time to reactivate them.

  • No Valley, No Peak. Now you might become more astute to focus your resources creating peaks. But without allowing valleys – when your resources are still being locked for maintaining a certain level of standard throughout the entire experience – you wouldn’t be able to spare a substantial amount of resource to generate notable peaks.
  • Your Rivals Will Do the Same Thing. The Peak-End Rule is easy to comprehend. You can focus your resources on the peak and end, and so too your rivals. Imagine when everyone is practicing it, you just play the catch-up game and become “me too”. The experience wouldn’t deviate much from the original flatten red curve and is forgotten.
  • All Companies have Limited Resources. To avoid “me too” and to breakthrough, you would ask for an extra considerable amount of resource to create significant peaks. Why do so many CX initiatives fail to get the support of CEOs? Because quite a number of customer experience professionals are so devoid of business sense to acknowledge the fact that every company has just limited resources.
  • Allow Valleys to Create Peaks. Focus resources on where customers would remember and save resources on where they wouldn’t recall. By doing so, you can deliver a more effective experience without extra resources. No CEO would stand in your way. Literally, when allowing valleys to create peaks, a dynamic blue curve appears.    

Be mediocre or extraordinary?

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Figure 5 – Emotion Curve: The flat red line vs. a dynamic blue curve

Strategy is about resource allocation. The effectiveness of a strategy is judged largely by the effectiveness in resource allocation. “Allow Valleys to Create Peaks” is not just a fancy catchphrase, it’s an effective strategy in managing customer experience. It puts your limited resources to their best use, and creates an extraordinary and memorable experience to your customers.

Pursuing the flat red line – eliminating pain points, efforts, frictions, imperfections and defects – is safe and widely accepted, as almost every company in the commercial world is trying hard to achieve so, but it’s also the sure path to drive a mediocre and forgettable experience.

Striving for a dynamic blue curve is the road less traveled. You need to reactivate your common sense and independent thinking. It takes courage to start a resource revolution.

You also have to do the right things and do the things right – e.g. identify right peaks and right valleys, ensure the peaks not valleys are remembered, work out the most appropriate extent of the peaks and valleys, and derive the unacceptable levels of the valleys of your target customers. To be extraordinary is never easy or risk-free. (Note 6)

Choose the color which fits your vision.


1. I would like to add a disclaimer: the “Disneyland Hong Kong family vacation” was my personal experience and happened to me at a specific location. It is a simple example I use to clarify the concepts demonstrated in this article.

2. According to the official Walt Disney Company 2012 Fact Book, Hong Kong Disneyland is the smallest in terms of size among all Disneyland parks and resorts around the world.

3. An Emotion Curve is mapped by linking all the satisfaction levels of the sub-processes (touch-point experiences) and attributes that are encountered or perceived by customers and affect their emotions in a natural time sequence during a touch-point experience (total customer experience). I created the Emotion Curve in 2006. See Sampson Lee, One Cup of Coffee, 20 Experiences: Take a Tip From Starbucks (Customerthink.com, 4 June 2006).

4. Daniel Kahneman (born 1934) is an Israeli-American psychologist. He was awarded the 2002 Nobel Prize in Economics for his work in prospect theory. The Peak-End Rule is a psychological heuristic by which people judge experiences largely based on how they felt at their peak and at their end. This heuristic was first suggested by Daniel Kahneman and others. Originally, the Peak-End Rule was applied to the evaluation of pain, see Donald A. Redelmeier and Daniel Kahneman, Patient’s Memories of Painful Medical Treatments: Real and Retrospective Evaluations of Two Minimally Invasive Procedures (Pain 66, 1996), 3-8. Later studies supported the idea that the effects found in retrospective evaluations of pain are applicable to evaluating pleasure, see, for example, Amy M. Do, Alexander V. Rupert, and George Wolford, Evaluations of Pleasurable Experiences: The Peak-End Rule (Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 2008, 15 (1)), 96-98.

5. The European bank is one of my clients who had attended the Global CEM Certification Program. For reasons of client confidentiality, they will remain anonymous.

6. For how to “Allow Valleys to Create Peaks”, see Sampson Lee, PIG Strategy: Make Customer Centricity Obsolete and Start a Resource Revolution (iMatchPoint, 2014).

Replies (5)

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By barrytrailer
16th Nov 2017 18:07

Sampson, I love you challenging conventional wisdom! I have a couple questions. 1) How do you know when the "peak" moments are? Your Disney breakfast example shows they can be as unique as each customer. 2) Is there a clear "end" or does CX continue along with an ongoing customer relationship? In your bank example, when is the "end" event?
Always good to see you!

Thanks (1)
Sampson Lee, founder of Global CEM and creator of PIG Strategy
By Sampson Lee
17th Nov 2017 05:58

Hi Barry,

I am so happy to “talk” with you here and thanks for your questions.

Since different customers might have different “peak” moments, to spot the right moments, we have to conduct the CX research by different customer segments or profiles. As a result, the shapes and peaks of their Emotion Curves are not always similar or identical.

It would be much easier to identify a “clear end” for a single touch-point experience like retail, rather than the total customer experience (TCE). For the retail touch-point, banking included, we usually use “Goodbye with a genuine smile” as the end attribute / sub-process.

Have a nice weekend!


Thanks (1)
By Neil Davey
17th Nov 2017 10:43

Thanks for your comment, Barry.

We've also covered the 'peak-end rule' in more detail here: https://www.mycustomer.com/experience/loyalty/the-peak-end-rule-the-rule...


Thanks (1)
By samsternjones
17th Jun 2022 15:55

This is such a tremendous post, I have reread it many times over the years, and think about it often. The Peak/End rule has become rather trendy, but your nuance around the importance of the valleys to set up the peaks is just fantastic. Kudos. And I love the two examples, they could not be more different in terms of the types of experiences, and yet the Peak/End rule applies well for both.

Samson, I do have a question for you: The DisneyLand example strikes me as having another element, and I wonder what you would say to this: Your family had such a strong interest in your vacation being a "great" one that was memorable, that Disney maybe had an easier time helping you find a few peak moments to anchor to. After all, who wants to get the whole family together, spend all that money and then have to recall it as a bad experience. I would argue your brains were primed to look for the good that you could remember. If you take that as true, then my question is, how can other companies get themselves into a similar situation where their interests are aligned with their customers such that they both have a shared interest in creating an experience that the customer will remember as great?

I'm thinking it's about building trust and goodwill in your brand so that customers are rooting for you to succeed (I remember seeing data from Forrester that said that Jetblue and Southwest customers believed the airlines had better on time performance than they actually did because passengers like those airlines), but I wonder what you think about how brands can align themselves with customers in this way? Or if that's not even really part of the equation?

Anyway, thanks for your consideration of this question long after your original post.


Thanks (0)
Replying to samsternjones:
By Neil Davey
06th Jul 2022 09:14

Thanks for your comment, Sam. You raise a very interesting question - to word it another way, is there a confirmation bias that takes place in some experiences? As you say, families/individuals actively looking for positives and perhaps overlooking the negatives.

I wonder if it works the opposite sometimes too - folks are looking for negatives during their engagement with a business because their expectations are that they will have a bad experience due to preconceived notions about the brand.

Sampson would be delighted to know that his content continues to surface debate and thoughts long after his pieces were published. He was a great writer and thought leader and even those that disagreed with his ideas agreed that he was always thought-provoking.

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