Last week my partner and I went to a new casual-dining place near our flat. It’s the kind of place that’s been cropping up all over London lately: small, obsessively designed, serves mostly vegan burgers.
He went in to order while I waited on a bench outside. Minutes passed, then more minutes passed – too many minutes for a place that was almost empty. My partner finally came out with both our food and a sour mood, vowing never to return. And then we ate. And the food was great. For days he kept talking about it. “What about that super-slow service?” I’d ask, and he’d just shrug it off. One delicious seitan burger and all was forgiven.
Most of us can relate to a situation like this, where a great ending makes previous negative feelings vanish like magic. There’s a larger psychological principle underpinning this, and it’s called the peak-end rule. It’s a simple concept: we can’t possibly recall every moment of an experience, so instead, we remember “snapshots” of it. And there’s a predictable pattern that governs which snapshots are most likely to stick: the most emotionally intense point (the “peak”) and the end.
For brands and retailers, this may be a bit of a relief – because customers don’t keep an
encyclopaedic mental log of their interactions with you, a strong positive ending (like amazing food) can override some less-than-perfect points along the way (like waiting ages for that food). But it also means being strategic about touchpoints and emotional triggers. Here are some guidelines for making the most of the peak-end rule.
Choose your moments
For customers to remember an emotional peak, there must be an emotional peak. Providing a mildly pleasant experience the whole way through isn’t enough: the result may be a flat (and thus unmemorable) journey. But deciding where those emotional triggers make the most sense is crucial.
If you’re a bank, you might want every trip to the cash point to be memorable (quite the opposite). But an annual letter thanking your top customers is a different story – it’s one that must stand out. Pick your moments wisely and focus your energy there.
Standing out as a “peak” means going beyond what customers expect – and maybe surprising them a little.
Take cult beauty brand Glossier’s recent fragrance pop-up shop in New York. One unusual feature: when a customer pressed a button on the wall, a gloved hand emerged from a hole and sprayed her wrist with perfume. Weird? Very. Memorable? Absolutely. It was the top thing mentioned on social media about the event.
Make it multisensory
There’s a reason something like food can so quickly override an otherwise frustrating experience: taste, smell, and touch tap into our emotions more than vision alone. It’s the free hand treatment at the beauty store, the chocolates on your pillow at the hotel, the “Subway smell” that seems to permeate every high street.
I heard a recent example of a credit-card app that lets the user programme custom vibration patterns to mark key positive moments such as earning rewards. Involving touch makes these moments stand out more than a simple push notification would. Is there a way to integrate more than one sense into your touchpoints?
Among the many good reasons for making payment fast and easy: this transaction is usually at the end of an experience – and the end must be positive. One advantage of taking an Uber is that, when the ride is over, you just get out. No waiting, no chip-and-pin, no hassle. Pain-free payment creates a positive “end” and ensures your customers’ last memory isn’t standing in a queue or flagging down staff to pay.
Pick your touchpoints, activate emotions, and stick the landing: using the peak-end rule can create a positive overall experience and ensure that the strong moments – not the iffy ones – are what stick in customers’ minds.
Kate Jacobs is the senior consultant at Morar HPI, a company which offers consulting services to some of the top brands in the retail industry.