Saving the Best for Last - Lessons from Pop Stars and Physicians

Thursday, 12 April, 2012 05:00Comments

April12IIRBy Steve Martin, CMCT

In previous Inside Influence Reports we have discussed contrast effects. The idea that the way an offer or proposal is perceived will be influenced not just by the offer itself but also by what is experienced or presented immediately before that offer or proposal. Accordingly, when looking to persuade others, a detective of the influence process will know that what comes first is of great importance.

But what comes last is important too. Understanding the powerful sway that ‘send-offs’ can have on how experiences are evaluated can have implications not only for future business interactions, but also how much your clients enjoy their next interaction with you. 

Imagine for a few moments that you have just visited your physician’s office for a routine, yet rather uncomfortable medical procedure and immediately afterwards you are asked how painful it was and how much you are looking forward to the next examination.

By way of contrast now, imagine this much happier scenario. You have just returned from your vacation and you are asked how pleasurable it was and how much you are looking forward to your next one.   

If you are like most people who have been asked these questions, then your responses will most likely be influenced by two things. The peak moment of intensity you felt during the experience (pain in the case of the medical check-up or pleasure in the case of the vacation) and the final moment of pain or pleasure (Paying your bill as you leave the medical office or attending the final night gala at the end of your vacation).  This is what is known as the peak-end effect.

Rather surprisingly, your feelings at any other time of the experience would matter a lot less than you would at first imagine. Furthermore, your overall evaluation of the experience will most likely also suffer from duration neglect. Put simply you will tend to pay less attention to how long the actual experience lasted or perhaps even disregard the time it lasted entirely.

Peak-end effects go some way to explain why pop stars are more likely to play their most popular songs at the end of the concert rather than at the beginning or during the middle. And remember that incredibly boring meeting you were in last week, the one that you thought would never end? On reflection, it doesn’t seem so long now after all does it? That’s duration neglect in action.

These peak-end and duration neglect effects mean that the memories of our experiences are etched into our minds with extremity and recency but not necessarily duration. As a result, our memory can be an imperfect guide when we decide how we feel about our experiences. However, regardless of how imperfect a guide our memory will be, it will clearly still have a significant influence over us; both in terms of how when we decide and in terms of when we persuade.

Let’s take an example of each.

Imagine that the time has come to book your next vacation - one that you will want fabulous memories of when you look back on it. Given that much of your future evaluation will be based on the powerful yet hidden influence of the peak-end effect, you might be better off planning one amazing experience during your time away and, rather than using those free miles to get a nicer seat on the way to your vacation destination, you should probably travel home in style instead.

As far as your business interactions go, if you wish to persuade customers and clients to remember their experiences with you more favorably and to come back for more (and what business wouldn’t want this?) then you should be sure to focus an appropriate amount of attention on the final stages of your business interactions. Keep in mind that we are not minimizing the need for “what comes first” but simply also stating that there is a benefit to making sure customers and clients experience a high point of their interactions with you by ensuring  a great send off!

So when it comes to influencing others, it is important to pay attention both to what comes first and what comes last and to notice the subtle differences in the roles of each.

When looking to influence a decision, a detective of the persuasion process will know that what comes first will be of most importance. However when looking to positively influence someone’s evaluation post- decision, then arranging for a good send off will be key.


What examples of good (or poor) send-offs have you experienced and how have they influenced your future interactions with that company or organization?

What other potential ways of employing these contrast and peak-end effects come to mind?


A review of the evaluation and memory of medical procedures can be found in

Redelmeier D.A. & Kahenman, D. (1996) Patients Memory of Painful Medical Procedures: Realtime and Retrospective Evaluations. Pain 66: 3-8

*Inside Influence Report readers with a keen memory may recall that Donald A. Redelmeier also co-authored a paper with our very own Robert Cialdini on the application of the principles of influence in healthcare settings. For those readers working in the healthcare sector the reference for that paper is:

Redelmeier D.A. & Cialdini, R.B. (2002) Problems for clinical judgement: Principles of Influence in medical practice. CMAJ 166 (13) 1680-1684

Thanks go to our good friend Paul Dolan, Professor of Behavioural Sciences - Social Policy Unit, London School of Economics for his support in this piece.

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