At Syzygy’s Digital Innovation Day, Paul Marsden discussed customer experience and the ‘Peak End Rule’, the idea that ‘finishing strong’ leaves a lasting impression.

To demonstrate this he used the example of a colonoscopy, and a study by Daniel Kahneman, author of Thinking Fast, Thinking Slow.

Consider the graphs below. Patient A has a 10 minute colonoscopy, with a pain peak in the middle and at the end, but otherwise endurable.

Patient B has a much longer colonoscopy (25 minutes) and has a higher average level of pain throughout.

He/she also experiences a large pain peak in the middle, but crucially experiences a smaller amount of pain at the end of the procedure.

So who had the better experience?

colonoscopy pain 

Well, patient B scored the whole thing to have been less unpleasant than patient A did.

The memory of the experience for both patients was similar - influenced by the peak pain felt. However, patient B shows recency bias, because their pain was less than A's at the end of the procedure.

This experiment was repeated until statistically significant. The result is that doctors now understand it may help to leave colonoscopy patients on the table for extra time at the end of a procedure.

That way their last memory of the colonoscopy is more bearable and patients are less likely to skip repeat procedures that may be necessary further down the line.

The principle of improving the end of a customer experience to disproportionately increase customer satisfaction is practiced by many brands, which Paul enumerated.

  • Cathay Pacific flight attendants learn the names of people in business class, so they can deliver a personalised goodbye.
  • Disney’s MagicBands use RFiD to allow families to access rides, hotel rooms, pay for meals, having experienced the ‘pain’ of purchase up front.
  • Starbucks’ relatively new mobile ‘order & pay’ app allows customers to skip the line and pick up their drink, after paying in advance (see below).
  • Mercedes car salesman do not sell you a car and then take you into a soulless room to get you to fill out the necessary paperwork. Instead, the customer sits in their new Mercedes, where an employee uses a tablet to take down the requisite information.

So, what's the takeaway message?

starbucks order and pay

The implication, Paul argued, is that CX is worthless. What is priceless is the memory of the CX. This defines whether the customer will share or buy again.

Before you go neglecting every other part of your customer journey, it should be added that this is a relatively simple model and one that complex customer experiences cannot be simply mapped to.

However, the idea of prioritising high-impact changes in CX is one that organisations have to come to terms with, before they spend an awful lot of money for what could be underwhelming gains.

Ben Davis

Published 3 June, 2016 by Ben Davis @ Econsultancy

Ben Davis is Editor at Econsultancy. He lives in Manchester, England. You can contact him at ben.davis@econsultancy.com, follow at @herrhuld or connect via LinkedIn.

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