by Alec Barr and David Cooper
There are two people ahead of you in the queue. The first (Patient A) walks in to the surgery. Their procedure lasts about 10 minutes and they rate it at about an 8/10 on the discomfort scale. The second (Patient B), apprehensive, follows. They also rate their discomfort level an 8/10. Their procedure lasts for 20 minutes, but for the last five – nothing happens. The colonic tube is kept stationary; the patient is fairly comfortable.
Who suffered more? And, more importantly, who’s experience would you want for your own? By all accounts, the second patient had a worse experience. They endured the same maximum level of discomfort, but over a longer period time. The only difference was that the last few moments of Patient B’s experience was fairly neutral.
However, when asked how much these patients think they suffered overall, Patient A reports a much worse experience than Patient B.
This is a good example of the discrepancy between how we experience events and how we remember them. There are parts of an experience that have a disproportionate effect on our memory.
When it comes to judging our experience, we don’t base that judgment on a calculated average of our enjoyment of every moment. Instead, we tend to evaluate our experiences based largely on how they felt at its ‘peak’ and at its ‘end’ – a phenomenon known, appropriately, as the Peak-End Rule.
In the colonoscopy case (from an original study conducted in 1996) the ending was most important, but peaks are just as vital. Think about rollercoasters: for those that enjoy them, that 30 second thrill seems to wash away the memory of the two hours spent standing in line.
A phrased coined by psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, the Remembering Self is a metaphor for the part of our mind that stores and reflects back on life. It is the aspect of consciousness that governs the stories we tell ourselves about our experiences.
Everything about the way we live our lives privileges the Remembering Self.
We plan our holidays in service of it. We take pictures to look at fondly later and savour the re-telling of anecdotes. The Instagram Generation has taken this to the extreme, prioritising the recording of an event on their phones over its first-hand experience. Attend a gig nowadays and observe the sea of iPhone lights that characterise the crowd. Even throwaway phrases like, “let’s make some great memories”, betray our focus on creating a personal history.
What does the existence of the Peak-End Rule mean for customer experience? When it comes to CX strategy, the most salient conclusion to draw from all this is that you don’t need to fix the whole experience to make it a positive one. You just need to create a higher peak experience and a more pleasurable end.
Automotive dealers know how to do this. Not only will the salesman compliment your driving skills when you take the car for a spin, but when buying a Mercedes, the necessary paperwork is filled out inside the car itself. The sting is taken out of a boring and financially painful experience by keeping the customer anchored to the excitement. And the end experience… well, that speaks for itself.
Peak negative moments, when handled correctly can even become peak positive ones. A recent personal experience with Apple’s customer service exemplifies this. After a highly technical 15-minute conversation, the call dropped out. Vexed, I anticipated having to call back and explain the issue all over again.
Instead, I received an SMS with the following:
“Sorry the call dropped out. We will attempt to call you back twice. If we cannot reach you, please feel free to call me back at your convenience. Just dial XXXXXXXX and you will be put straight back through to me.”
Not only did the human tone-of-voice help soften the blow, but the level of reassurance I felt and the fact that I could pick up exactly where I left off made the experience overwhelmingly positive.
Marketing automation platforms provide marketers with the ‘always on’ triggered marketing approach for our experiences. Over-saturation of communication can make it difficult for customers to see an end to their engagement with a brand, unless in the instance they are ‘offboarded’ (managed-end experience) from the brand experience entirely.
Marketers have the ability to leverage ‘micro-interactions’ to fragment their experiences into individual components. This helps open up opportunities to create large positive peak moments and then manage churn more effectively.
For example, look at purchasing a new phone plan. Service-based providers rarely have to work to encourage basic customer activity post-purchase, as the functional benefit of the service is enough to promote continued engagement. (You engage with your service provider every time you make a phone call). This creates a paradigm whereby the only customer experiences are driven by a direct need from the customer. A customer is most likely to interact with the provider when there is a service disruption, billing incident or if they are looking to move off the brand.
The peaks in this interaction are often negative as there is no overwhelming feeling of joy towards an always-on service. It is in this instance that you will see communication from these providers focusing on free movie tickets, or other discounts or promotions. These micro-interactions help cut through and create positive peaks throughout the interaction.
Early intervention is key for pre-empting and removing the negative peaks. So, how as marketers can we do this? What clues can we get from our customers or clients that they are about to go through a negative experience?
‘Digital Body Language’ is the footprint of behaviour that a customer leaves on your owned digital channels. Some key inferences can be made from on-site behaviour that suggests a customer or client is having a negative experience. A phenomenon known as ‘orienteering’ is a similar indicator of discontent. This is when a customer repeatedly navigates to and from home page while searching for content, and tends to indicate a level of confusion that may frustrate the user. Similarly, visiting pages such as ‘Returns Policy’ or ‘Cancel my membership’ might tell us that, while the customer has not acted on this yet, they are showing negative sentiment towards their experience.
A well-tagged website and early intervention comms strategy can help us leverage the Peak-End Rule to smooth out negative peaks and enhance positive customer experiences across smaller and more targeted customer interactions.
Smooth, small and more targeted. Much like a good colonoscopy.