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People don’t remember entire experiences, they remember only the highlights (or the really bad parts).

This might seem obvious, but let’s put it into the context of customer service; customers aren’t likely to remember good service. They remember bad service, and they remember exceptional service(ever heard of “Joshie” the giraffe who was left at a Ritz-Carlton?). Customers expect good service, so when they receive it, it isn’t remarkable. I know, bummer. I’m often the bearer of this bad news when I have to explain to tour guides that no matter how amazing their facts are…customers will rarely remember the details, only that their guide ‘gave a lot of interesting facts’.
But this can be good news as well!

A few strategically placed ‘special moments’ on your tour not only makes a memorable experience but can overshadow any negatives that might occur (like bad weather).

In this article, I’ll explain the magic of the Peak-End Rule and offer three ways to use this concept to create a memorable experience.

Asian family taking photo in front of arc du triomphe


The Peak-End Rule.

Coined by psychologist Daniel Kahneman, the Peak-End Rule explains that people often remember only a small portion of an entire experience.

In fact, people tend to forget the length of an experience (for example, a vacation), and instead rate the entire experience based on two elements;

  1. The best, or worst, moments (“peaks” or “valleys”)
  2. The beginning and ending (“transition moments”)

While “Valleys” might be unavoidable, rain on a walking tour, a tour bus that breaks down, “Peaks” are easily created and can be injected into the experience (particularly during “transition moments” for an extra boost).

For example, I was in Athens this January. I’m not going to remember every single detail of the trip (especially if I’m asked a year later; “You went to Athens? How was it?”). Things that will stand out to me would be;

  • I had several amazing dinner experiences thanks to some great recs from a local guide (“Peak”)
  • I also got an amazing vintage-shop recommendation and bought my new favorite jacket (“Peak”)
  • I was there for work, which was stressful (“Valley”)
  • The weather was cool & rainy that time of year, and I was under-dressed (“Valley”)
  • I flew through Istanbul’s brand new airport which was beautiful and had great amenities (“Peak”)

Overall, I had more “Peaks” than “Valleys”, moreover, one of my positive experiences (flying through the new airport) happened at the beginning and the end of the trip. So if asked, I would most definitely say; “Oh I love Athens!”

Had I had more “Valleys” (or a really big one that outweighed the positive) or had my airport experience been crummy both arriving and departing, I would probably have a negative connotation with the trip.

This can easily be applied to any tour experience.

I’m keeping it simple to keep this short, this is a good read if you want to dive further into how the Peak-End Rule defines the customer experience.

Tourists inside the Casa Batlló in Barcelona

How to use the Peak-End Rule to create a memorable experience.

(1) Understand what the customer is buying and over-deliver.

In my experience, very few tour guides have been encouraged to look at the entire journey of a customer. What is the vibe of the website, what does the marketing infer about the experience?

At the bare minimum, I always make sure tour guides have gone to the tour website so see exactly how the tour is advertised, what inclusions are listed, etc.

Simply put, you have to know what the customers expect in order to create “Peaks”.

One example is a tour guide who memorizes the names of all of the customers on a tour (obviously easier with smaller-group day-tours).Customers often don’t expect guides to learn their names, understanding that the guides give the same tour to so many customers throughout the week, so when a guide addresses them by their name half-way through the tour, it’s a really impressive touch. Going one step further, guides can make a show of remembering everyone’s name at the beginning of a tour- as if setting themselves up publicly for the challenge then showing off how well they did at the end of the tour (these are “transition moments”).

Maybe it rained during the tour, maybe the service was slow at one of the stops, but, with the Peak-End Rule, it is more likely that what the customer will remember is how impressive it was that the guide remembered 15 new names.

(2) Pre-plan spontaneous surprises that are easily replicable.

Nothing kills a special moment faster than having it be stale and obviously standard routine. It must feel organic, even if you do it every time!

For example, lets on a tour Moscow, you are greeted at the start of the tour with a shot of vodka.  A nice gesture, but if the tour inclusions mention “one shot of vodka”, not surprising.
Instead of simply handing a drink over during check-in, what if the guide first explains to them that Russians do not actually say “cheers” but give a spontaneous toast. The guide can then proceed to give an improvised toast to the customers. This creates a really special moment at the beginning of their experience (“transition moment”).

Realistically, the guide might give a similar toast every time, but if they make it feel as if they’re really creating something special on the spot, the customer would never know. You certainly aren’t going to write on your post-card home that you got a shot of vodka on a tour in Russia…but you might write that you had a really cool local experience that involved a special Russian toast.

One of my absolute favorite books is The Power of Moments by Chip & Dan Heath. I could write a book about this book… so I won’t go into detail about how to define or create a moment specifically but I highly highly recommend the read for both guides (in terms of creating moments for customers) and managers (for creating moments for their team).

(3) Be inclusive when thinking of “peaks” and “valleys”.

What is expected as basic customer service can be drastically different depending on where your customer is coming from. Be sure to familiarize yourself with your demographic, understanding clearly what would be considered a “peak” or a “valley”. It’s going to save you a lot of time and energy to do so.

One easy way to do this is to take stock of what your current customers already perceive as a “peak”.  At the end of a tour, ask customers the simple question;
If you remember one thing about this experience, what will it be.You might be surprised at their answer, it can often be something seemingly small & random (again, tour guides, don’t be offended if they don’t state several of the amazing facts you taught them). Use this data as a base, expanding on whatever the most common “peak” is and making it more defined/easy to replicate.



This article first appeared on the TripKinetics blog- April 2020