Use this simple psychology rule to improve your customer experience

People judge an experience by the most intense point and the end point.

The judgement is not made from the sum of the entire experience.

This is called the peak-end rule. It is a psychological heuristic popularized by Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman. He described the concept in a 1993 paper called: “When More Pain Is Preferred to Less: Adding a Better End.

Two years ago me and the family went to Hawaii for a week. Flying, rental cars, hotels, beach, pool, activities, eating out. What sticks in my mind after one year? What would I tell someone about the trip if I had to summarize it in one minute. I would say I did this great sunrise bike ride down Haleakala with my daughter and the red-eye plane ride home. There were other things about the trip but those quickly come to mind. A literal peak and sleepless end to the trip. (You get an extra day in Hawaii if you take the red-eye home).

What if you just focused on the end of the experience and tried to make that great? The checkout experience at a hotel. What could you do beyond express checkout to make it much better? What about giving you a bottle of cold water on the way out? Or a snack? What if they took your rental car back for you and just dropped you at the airport?

What about rental cars? What if you could leave your car right at the departure curb and the rental car company picked it up and didn’t charge you above market prices for gas when the tank wasn’t full? Wow, that would be a end experience game changer.

Have you noticed that when you walk out of an Apple retail store, an Apple store employee almost always thanks you and makes eye contact? Contrast that with going to Fry’s Electronics in the Silicon Valley. You have to stop to show your receipt to a person that verifies that everything you have was paid for. Which is a better experience? :)

Amazon Go Retail Store Concept

Consider the new Amazon Go retail store concept just announced. What is the end experience when you are done selecting all your items? Just leave. The store knows what you bought. What a fantastic ending that leaves a strong, positive emotional imprint on the shoppers. How will traditional retail stores compete with this?

The other thing that Kahneman found was that the length of the experience didn’t matter. He labeled this: duration neglect. If my Hawaii trip was 2 weeks vs. 1 week, my one minute summary wouldn’t have been different. The mind remembers specific intense snapshots.

The peak-end rule can also be used to overcome negative experiences. Many call centers are very experienced in these cases. A few weeks ago I went to a Verizon store to change my data plan to a lower data usage tier since the family wasn’t using as much data as years gone by. Thirty minutes after I left I got a notice saying I was maxed out on my data usage for this billing period. Turns out I had two days left in the billing period and the the Verizon rep reset my plan immediately so that it showed I had reached my limits and now overages would kick in. I called Verizon. They answered quickly and said the rep made a mistake and fixed it. Frustration turned to calm.

That experience brings up another rule. It’s not the problem, its the reaction to the problem. Remember the Tylenol poisoning years ago? They pulled all the product off retail shelfs right away instead of just the impacted store. You probably don’t remember because of how they reacted. No long term damage to the brand.

One more example….

Last year I was at a super fancy restaurant that serves amazing food. For me, I love bread. They had the best rolls I’ve ever had anywhere. As I’m walking out the door, the waiter hands me a bag of about 10 of the rolls to take home. I don’t remember the exact food I had that night but I do remember getting that bag of bread. Just an over the top, small, but valuable ending experience.

As you storyboard out the experience for a new innovation, try to identify where a consumer could have a peak experience and how you could amplify it. And, then what delightful and unexpected experience you could provide?

You can read my other Medium posts about innovation here. Thanks.



Innovation guy, iOS developer, Apple, Netscape, AOL, Sun, HP, Motorola, Intel, CEO 3 tech startups; @daverothschild;

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Dave Rothschild

Dave Rothschild


Innovation guy, iOS developer, Apple, Netscape, AOL, Sun, HP, Motorola, Intel, CEO 3 tech startups; @daverothschild;