Peak end

The Peak-End Rule: The rule to make you rethink your customer experience design?

30th Oct 2017

We all want loyal customers. Loyal customers spend more money and cost you less. Many organisations believe it is the customer experience they provide that makes customers loyal. However, they are wrong. It is not the experience you provide that loyal customers come back for; it’s the experience they remember you provide.

So what’s the difference between the experience you provide and the experience you remember? The answer to this question will surprise you.

Emotions make strong memories

Can you remember everything you did last Tuesday? I don’t mean one or two things, I mean the WHOLE Tuesday. Chances are you don’t. If you remember anything about last Tuesday, it will be something that significantly affected you, like getting into a fight with your spouse or receiving a raise at work. What you ate as a snack and how many items you picked up at the dry cleaning are details that have likely vanished. Why did they vanish? They weren’t important to you.

However, if you ate an apple with a worm in it, or rather half a worm in it (ew), you would remember. That memory would be important to you, so you don’t eat an apple with worms in it.

The same principle applies to your memory of customer experiences. If it wasn’t an intense emotion, you don’t remember it. So, in the dry cleaning example above, if there were no incidents at the dry cleaners or about the items cleaned, you probably won't remember the details. However, if the cleaners ruined your favorite trousers, you might experience a sharp emotion (outrage, frustration, disappointment, or maybe all three) and you remember that experience.

Select parts of the experience form the memory of the customer’s experience. These parts include the moment when the experience had its strongest emotion and how the experience ended. It’s called the Peak-End Rule and it addresses this lack of a moment-to-moment recollection of a customer experience.

Professor Daniel Kahneman, winner of the Nobel Prize for Economics, researched the Peak-End Rule. He chose for his study to analyse the colonoscopy experience, an experience that many people who have had one would like to forget.

Patients undergoing a colonoscopy would record on a dial their pain levels throughout the procedure. The researchers then predicted how the participants would rate their colonoscopy experience. After the treatment, researchers asked the patients to rate the whole experience. 

The colonoscopies varied in length, ranging from just a few minutes to almost an hour. However, the duration had little to do with the patient’s rating of the procedure. Researchers discovered by averaging only two moments, the moment when the patients felt the worst and how patients felt as the colonoscopy ended, the researchers could accurately predict how the participant would rate the overall experience.

Moreover, the results of the overall rating could predict which of the patients would then return for their follow-up care as recommended by their doctors.

Your experience has a peak and end, too

Chances are your experience doesn’t involve colonoscopies, so you will have a terrific opportunity for producing a positive peak emotion and a pleasant end. But you have to know what those moments are, when they occur, and how to deliver the intense emotions that drive value for your organisation.

In our global customer experience consultancy, we help our clients uncover these moments. One of these sessions took place with a call centre’s senior team for a major insurance company in the U S. We listened to a call together to find the peak emotion during the call. All ten people present could identify the peak. I am not at liberty to share what the moment was, but those of you that have dealt with an insurance company’s call centre can probably imagine.

In this case, an operational trigger caused the customers’ peak emotion. The first step was identifying it. The next step was to focus on this moment to evoke a positive peak emotion - or at least as favorable a feeling as possible.

An example of this exercise is from our work with another client, a mobile phone company’s lost and stolen call centre team. Customers that are entering the experience are upset. After all, they either just lost their phone or had it stolen. So, we engineered a moment in this experience that produced a positive peak emotion.

Most people don’t know people’s numbers anymore; we just pick their name and dial. To create a positive moment, the mobile company emailed them their most-dialed numbers. Also, when a person had their phone stolen, the agent would ask if the customer was okay and if they needed the police or an ambulance. Both of these actions showed the customer that the mobile company viewed them as more than a transaction. It communicated to the customer that the company cared about what had happened to them, helping produce a favorable peak emotion.

End on the highest note possible

When it comes to the end of an experience, I’m sure we can all agree the goal is to end on a positive. We are, after all, in the business of satisfying customers, particularly if we want them to come back. Ending on a positive requires training with your customer-facing team, and it also requires defining what emotions drive the most value (that is to say, $$$$) for your organisations.

No emotions are more important to your bottom line than happy and pleased. These emotions are at the top of the emotional hierarchy that you want for your experience. Happy and pleased are the ones that produce the most revenue and encourage your customers to share their experiences with others. In today’s hyper-connected world, these word-of-mouth promotions are the crown jewel of customer experience and the work of customers that either already are or are on their way to becoming loyal.

Memories fade, of course. Memories can alter with time. Both of these facts point to the possibility that you can influence memories. Training your people to enhance memories is also key to your customer experience strategy. One tactic for this is to review all the positives accomplished in the experience at the end. It can reinforce the positive and end the experience on an even higher note than it would have without the review.

Loyal customers are the goal of your customer experience design. However, the customer experience you design is not what facilitates customer loyalty. Instead, it is the customer experience customers remember that creates loyalty. Helping customers have great memories of your experience is vital to getting them to come back for more.

Concentrating on evoking a positive peak emotion felt during your experience as well as the ending on a high note is the Peak-End Rule. Break it and you might experience a peak emotion of your own - and it might not end well for your brand.  

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By Guy Letts
02nd Nov 2017 12:32

Excellent point, and there are some heart-warming examples here of creative solutions.

The observation I'd like to add is that although this article focuses on low points and high points in the 'standard' processes, I find the same principle of heightened emotion also applies when a good process goes wrong, or a bad process ends well.

For example the bad Amazon experience and the good insurance company experience will stand out in my memory and emotions.

There's just as much financial value in catching these customers, and sometimes they're in the majority.

If your customer feedback process is truly customer-centric, you can catch and recover from these unexpected failures (and celebrate the successes, which are often down to individual heroes), as well as identifying the systemic weaknesses that Colin has helpfully described.

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