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The Peak-End Rule

How to make unhappy customers happy and prompt even churned customers recommend you to their colleagues and peers.

Imagine this...

You signed up for the service — say, a tool that does social listening for your brand name. You’ve been using it for several months, and you actually managed to get some pretty useful insights from it.

But then summer slow down took you off guard and you decided to cut your expenses — at least for a while, until sales take off again. You downgraded your ConvertKit subscription (you don’y have 5K subs for your newsletter and not sending out any automated sequences now, so you can get away with a less expensive tier), you cancelled your membership in several “founders clubs”, and now you want to cancel or put on hold your social listening tool.

You comb through all the links in the dashboard and your user profile — only to find out there’s no way you can cancel it. Finally, you manage to locate copy written in the tiniest font possible “to cancel contact us via email support@[]”. You’re already fuming but fine, you can do that. You write en email saying something along the lines that you’d like to cancel for the time being and wait for the reply.

In 2 days they come back to you — but no, your subscription is not cancelled yet 😡 They want you to tell them the exact reason why you want to stop using their best-of-the-best tool. What’s the hack?! 🤯 You’re not going to explain yourself to a stranger, let alone tell them about your current financial circumstances. So you just jot down some generality like “my circumstances have changed”.

And you know what? They come back to you in 2 days again asking you to confirm your telephone number that you provided upon signing up 🤬🤬🤬 Can you guess how long it will take for you to start posting about this outrageous experience all over social media? And what are the chances that you’ll start using this tool when your sales go up and you need social listening service again?

This is unfortunately a very common story that follow the Peak-End Rule.

What is the Peak-end Rule?

The Peak-end Rule says that people remember an experience based on how they felt at its peak and its end. In other words, no matter how useful your service is while a customer using it they will remember you by the last experience you provided. If this experience is close in time to the best (the peak one) — they will remember you in a very positive way. If your customer experience ends on a lower point, and the peak is located far in time from the end — they will remember you in a more negative way.

The Peak-End Rule


If there a scientific proof of the peak-end rule?

Maybe you don’t need any proof for something that you have experienced so many times (lousy customer service, tough subscription cancelation process, etc.). But what you might love to know is that this can be turned!

Meaning, even if you manage to make your customer really unhappy with your service but you don’t want them to remember you in the worst possible way you still can change their attitude! And there’s a scientific proof that it can be done.

In Dec 2002 D.Kahneman and his team ran an interesting experiment. They tried to measure how bad were the memories of people who went through one of the most unpleasant procedures — colonoscopy. The crazy thing is that they managed to make people feel happier about it.


They made a procedure longer! They basically used the Peak-End rule and turned it all the way around. Because the most unpleasant moment was so close to the end scientists presumed that if they put s time gap between the low peak and the end the memories would be not so painful. And that’s exactly what happened. patients who went over a longer procedure rated the pain lower and said that they would agree to go through it again. While those who went over a shorter one rated it as more painful and replied “never again” to the suggestions to get 50% for the next one.


How can you use The Peak-End Rule to improve customer retention

There are plenty examples how The Peak-End Rule is used in the non-tech products.

1. Rollercoaster put the most exiting loop close to the end. The closer it is, the better would be the memories of people who had a ride.

2. Movie producers make sure the peak (the most emotionally charged moment) is shown as close to the end as possible. The gap between the peak and the end in the movie is able to turn as “so-so blockbuster” into a real hit.

But is there a room for The Peak-End Rule in the startup world? Absolutely!

Make a better ending for the experience

Zappos. One of the key elements of their success story were fast and free returns. If a pair of shoes fit it’s a great memory. But what if it doesn’t? Company made sure customer’s experience didn’t end with that. Instead, they offered a free return which resulted into customer getting money back which ended their experience. Good memory again!

FeedHive. Simon Høiberg, the founder of the tool, used to do personal customer support for months and months after the launch when the service was still far from perfect. A customer service ticket is always about bad customer experience, isn’t it? Customers don’t ask for help if everything works great. So Simon made sure FeedHive’s customers were served by the founder personally (who was by then an influencer on Twitter — this fact obviously helped improving customer memories as well).

Invent a new ending

Sometimes you just can’t make customer’s experience great. Try to think of the ways to invent a new step then that will make customer’s journey longer but that will have a happy ending.

Fist of all, break down your user journey into steps — how they interact with your product, how they use it, what they do if they want to upgrade or cancel. Try to figure out all possible scenarios customer’s interaction with your product might end with.

— Canceled a customer because they were unable to update their payment details? Offer a Zoom call, help by customer support manager or a step-by-step tutorial where a founder explains what to do personally.

— Had a conversation like this one below and the customer canceled? Send a surprise gift saying “Thank you for tolerating us for so long!”

Logology Design use this step just in case — they sell surprise gifts to all their customers. And it’s a win-win. Unhappy customers become happier. happy customers go ecstatic.

Play around with the time gap between the peak and the end

As mentioned above, the closer the peak to an end, the more impact it has on the overall customer memories about the experience with your product.

Rebuild your processes in a way that:

  • negative peaks always call for the next additional step that would have a different ending

  • positive peaks offers a customer an option to end their experience.

I know, the last one sounds weird to you as it goes against the basic idea of churn that you have to fight day and night. But you don’t have to actually cancel customers! You have to offer the a chance to end when they are happy with your service — and that will make them even happier! Look what SparkToro is doing: they send out a notification several days before charging customers! Can you imagine how this little simple email considerably improves customer experience and make them stand out?!


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