Peak-end Rule

Experiences are mostly judged by their end or peaks

Peak-end Rule

Experiences are mostly judged by their end or peaks

We judge an experience by its most intense point and its end, as opposed to the total sum or average of every moment of the experience. So tap into empathy, end on a high and make people feel great about using your service.

Kahneman, D. (1999) Well-Being: The Foundations of Hedonic Psychology

1993 study provided groundbreaking evidence for the Peak-End rule. Participants were subjected to two different versions of a single unpleasant experience. The first trial had subjects submerge a hand in 14°C water for 60 seconds. The second trial had subjects submerge the other hand in 14°C water for 60 seconds, but then keep their hand submerged for an additional 30 seconds, during which the temperature was raised to 15°C.

Subjects were then offered the option of which trial to repeat. Curiously, subjects were more willing to repeat the second trial, despite a prolonged exposure to uncomfortable temperatures. It was concluded that subjects chose the long trial simply because they liked the memory of it better than the alternative (or disliked it less).

Takeaways for Decision-Makers

  1. Negative occurrences in any consumer interaction can be counteracted by establishing a firmly positive peak & end. This can be achieved in many ways, such as playing music that customers enjoy, giving out free samples, pro-active after-sales care via social media or paying a staff member to smile as they hold the shop door for customers as they leave.
  2. As Scott Stratten has suggested: A really great salesperson who helps with an exchange can erase negative experiences along the way. The long wait in line and the bad music in the changing room are forgotten”.
  3. Design empathic product experiences. If things go wrong, which they naturally do, whether through fault of the consumer or a failure of the product experience itself, allow flexibility, humility, and an opportunity to save the relationship. We’ve written a good example of this on the ribot blog, entitled The Fuelband Incident.

Further Reading

When More Pain Is Preferred to Less: Adding a Better End PDF (Kahneman, Fredrickson, Schreiber & Redelmeier, 1993)

Designing emotional micro-interactions - The day of the Fuelband incident Blog post (ribot, 2013)

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