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Why First Impressions Don’t Matter Much For Experiences

A recent article in the WSJ, “Hidden Ways Hotels Court Guests Faster”, focused on how hotels are trying to dazzle guests with first impressions.

Jeremy McCarthy, a hotel executive, argues this is why “upon arriving to a luxury hotel, you are often greeted in the lobby by a friendly face, an offer to assist with your luggage, and sometimes a welcome beverage or a refreshing chilled towel to help wipe away the stress of travel.”

Research, however, seems to show that, while we remember people by first impressions, we don't really remember experiences the same way. With experiences, we seem to remember the peak moments and how they end. McCarthy writes:

An example of the research that supports this “peak-end” theory, is the work on colonoscopy patients done by psychologist Daniel Kahneman. Kahneman found that after a painful colonoscopy treatment, patients would forget about the overall duration of the pain they experienced and would instead remember their experience based on the peak moments of pain and on how it ended.

A patient whose colonoscopy lasted an agonizing 25 minutes, for example (Patient B), would rate the experience better and would happily come back a year later for his follow-up appointment, as long as the treatment ended with less pain. Another patient (Patient A), who only had around 8 minutes of total pain, wouldn’t come back next year because he remembers the pain of how the experience ended.

The implications of this are pretty clear. If you run a hotel, for example, you want to focus more on the departure than the arrival.

I'm left with more questions about this research than answers, so if you know of any good books/blogs/articles on this please pass them along.