How psychology can improve your customer experience

Maybe not an obvious area to look to when trying to improve customer experience, but the disciplines of both psychology and behavioural economics can help us understand how to deliver a better customer experience through understanding both perception and behaviour.

Psychology imageOne such example from the field of psychology is the ‘peak end rule’ which helps us understand exactly how our perception of experience is formed, which we can then use to our advantage when designing and shaping great customer experiences.

The research behind this was initially conducted by Daniel Kanheman, the nobel prize winning psychologist. The experiment has often been replicated but the initial one involved patients undergoing a colonoscopy. Whilst not wading into the gory details, the experiment showed that whilst the two groups of patients had experienced different levels of pain throughout the process, they recalled experiencing the exact same levels of pain, despite the fact that their actual experience varied.

Kahneman concluded that the patients, and indeed all people, seem to perceive not the sum of an experience over time, but the average of how it was at its peak (e.g. pleasant or unpleasant) and how it ended. The graphic below illustrates the principle;


The peak and the end of an experience dominate how the experience itself is remembered even trumping our rational perspective. We’re not saying positive first impression aren’t important as they absolutely are. However, in addition to this, you now need to focus on peak and end with your customers.

Interestingly, there is also another effect at play here. One called the duration neglect effect. In essence this means that the duration of the experience over time has little or no influence on the peak end rule. Therefore it’s of little use to try and extend a positive experience further over time to make it last longer with the hope of creating more imppact. The useful aspect is to identify opportunities to create peak experiences during customer interactions. The more extreme the peak, the more memorable the experience. Positive surprises or moments to significantly exceed customer expectation work well. Better still if you can combine peak and end at the same time, you’re on the way to having delivered a truly unforgettable customer experience.

However this could simply be to ensure you send customers away happy in all instances, and to ensure their end experience is as positive and as high as possible.

As an example of how not to do this, I’ll share an actual experience that happened to me. Many years ago I was invited to a wedding and stayed in the hotel where the reception was.

The weekend and the wedding reception was fine (as far as I can remember) and we went to check out after breakfast on Sunday morning by the 10am deadline as all the other wedding guests had to, which was the problem.

By the time we got into the reception area, the queue to check out stretched from the front desk to the front door! To compound the fact, there was only one member of staff checking guests out. It seemed to take a life time to get to the front of the queue and while we were checking out I asked the girl why there was only one member of staff working. She replied that no one else was in for another hour and it was only her!


That’s my overriding memory of that weekend and that hotel. The massive queue to get out. Not the leisure facilities or the wedding reception which was the point of being there in the first place but the queue to leave. I also remember the frustration and my thought about how little the hotel must have cared about the guest experience to put people through an ordeal like that.

That apparent lack of foresight and planning of the staff rota (I’m assuming) combined with the fact that the hotel clearly knew that there was a wedding that weekend and that their occupancy levels were very high to full, created a significantly negative end experience. I’d also suggest that it wasn’t just me that felt like that too.

That whole experience could have been so significantly different, if they’d just planned it better. It’s a simple but great illustration about how just one thing wrong in a customer experience can destroy all the good and positive work done prior to that point.

I’m sure that if you’d have asked the hotel how much they cared about their guests and the guest experience, I’m sure they would give you the right answer, but their working practices and the impact on the customer experience conveyed a different message. That lack of planning said to me that they didn’t care enough to rota more staff on, on a Sunday morning when checkout ‘traffic’ was at its busiest.

This also outlines another important point which is to be congruent with customer experience between what you say and what you do. If you say the customer is important, then you have to act in a way that shows that the customer is important and you can only do that from the customer’s perspective.

How could you use the understanding of the peak end rule to improve your customer experience delivery?



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