Customer experience pain

Why causing customers pain is the most cost-effective way to improve CX


Sampson Lee explains the secret to elevating your customer experiences - no matter what your budget. 

19th Mar 2020

Regardless of how many resources a company has, when it comes to customer experience (CX) strategies, allowing valley (i.e. allowing customer pain) is a more effective approach than pursuing excellence, customer-centricity and continuous improvement in delivering effective CX.  

Let me explain why I believe this to be the case. 

An ineffective experience has a flat emotion curve 

I will use a flat emotion curve [note 1] to represent the customer experience delivered by companies adopting the “pursuing excellence, customer-centricity or continuous improvement” strategies.

The rationale behind the flat line is that companies are trying hard to be good at many things and to avoid generating pain. So the pain points are minimised or eliminated and – as a result of diluting resources by spreading them across many points – so are the pleasure peaks.

An effective experience has a dynamic emotion curve

I will use a dynamic emotion curve to represent the customer experience created by allowing valley. This is based on my three primary beliefs – an effective experience has to be remembered, branded, and contrasted.

  • Remembered – A disremembered experience is ineffective; it is just wasting resources. Customers remember an experience only when there are significant pleasure points [note 2]. The prerequisite for creating significant pleasure is to allow pain. The resulting emotion curve will be dynamic.
  • Branded – Remembering alone is insufficient. You want your customers to associate the experience and its pleasures to your brand. You have to identify branded pleasures that reflect your brand promises and good pains that do not reflect brand promises. Then, use the resource saved on good pains to support branded pleasures.
  • Contrasted – To build sustainable strengths and win against your competitors, you have to push good pains to the extreme. Simply by enlarging the pleasure-pain gap, you can create the highest branded pleasures and the most effective experience and achieve your target objectives using minimal resources.

When you have the “same” resources

Same CX resources

Figure 1: Conventional Approach – Using the “Same” Resources

Allowing valley resources CX

Figure 2: Allowing Valley – Using the “Same” Resources

Using the same resources. Figure 1 represents the conventional approach – pursuing excellence, customer-centricity or continuous improvement, and figure 2 represents allowing valley.

With a limited budget, rather than trying to be good at everything and avoiding pain, allowing valley reallocates resources to create significant pleasure peaks that are remembered, identifies good pains to support significant pleasures that are branded, and maximises branded pleasures through enlarging the pleasure-pain gap.

By allowing valley, you generate the highest possible pleasure peaks for your customers. You provide an effective customer experience that is remembered and branded, and by enlarging the pleasure-pain gap, you establish sustainable strengths that make customers stay. And, you do all this with same level of resources.

When you have “fewer” resources

Fewer CX resources

Figure 3: Conventional Approach – Using “Fewer” Resources

Allowing valley fewer resources CX

Figure 4: Allowing Valley – Using “Fewer” Resources

Using fewer resources. When the economy is stagnant, your industry is shrinking, or sales are down, you may have to cut costs. How do you decide which costs to cut?

It is not uncommon for companies pursuing excellence, customer-centric or continuously improving to vote for an ‘equal’ cut and lower expenses everywhere. This decision drives down the entire emotion curve and lowers the pleasure peaks as shown in figure 3.

Through allowing valley, you are able to maintain a comparable level of pleasure with fewer resources as shown in figure 4. Continuing with the conventional approach in down times is a bad move.

When you have “more” resources

Conventional approach to CX

Figure 5: Conventional Approach – Using “More” Resources

Allowing valley using more CX resources

Figure 6: Allowing Valley – Using “More” Resources

Using more resources. When you have abundant funding or your market is expanding, focusing on a critical few is a better choice than spreading resources around equally. Trying to improve everything and eliminating pain will take away your opportunity to create unprecedented pleasure for customers.

So, whether you have the same, fewer or more resources, allowing valley is a more effective strategy than pursuing excellence, customer-centricity and continuous improvement in delivering effective customer experience.

All in all, there is no one-size-fits-all and no one solution for all business problems. Although allowing valley might not be the only approach or even the best approach for you and your company, I hope I have given you a new and different perspective.

Remarks: the content of this article is extracted from my book PIG Strategy:Make Customer Centricity Obsolete and Start a Resource Revolution. Its simplified edition is now offered for FREE Download.


  1. 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 (, 4 June 2006).
  2. 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, rather than based on the total sum or average of every moment of the experience. According to the heuristic, other information aside from that of the peak and end of the experience is not lost, but it is not used. 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.

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