Queen Guitarist Brian May in Concert

What can Brian May from Queen teach us about Customer Experience?

  • February 16th, 2018
  • By Paul Taylor
  • No Comments

Which parts of an experience do people notice and remember the most? When trying to increase customer satisfaction, it’s a very important question, and Brian May has some insights into this.

(Read time: 10 minutes. If you’re in a hurry, scroll down to get 4 customer experience tips that reflect what people notice and remember the most.)

Brian May is a guitar virtuoso and rock icon, an astrophysicist, a national treasure, and all-round nice chap (actually, I once stood next to him as he bought pansies in Homebase, he seemed very polite, pleasant and down to earth.)

He’s a highly intelligent man with an impressive CV. But aside from what people know him most for, Brian May is quite knowledgeable when it comes to customer experience.

A recently aired BBC documentary, Queen: Rock The World, shows previously unseen footage of  Queen’s first major tour of the United States, in 1977, in support of the album News of The World. It’s a very good watch if you’re a Queen fan, or just a music fan.

Anyway, during the programme, Brian says this:

“A lot of people come to see a show for the familiar things, and always at the end of any artist’s show, generally, when he starts doing the old stuff, people respond in a…completely different way.

So you have to strike the balance between doing the things that people want to hear, and doing the things which you think you ought to be introducing them to.

Strangely enough, the things people notice most are the beginning and the end.

It’s hard to tell for sure, but it sounded like Brian May was saying this in 1977. So how did he really know, 40 years ago, which parts of an experience people tend to remember the most?

And was he right?

Of course, all great showbusiness performers need to have a good understanding of their audiences, and few people would disagree that Queen truly were in the  “great” category: they obviously knew how to deliver an incredible customer experience!

In the documentary, Brian talks a lot about how he and the band loved to design the shows and the set lists for the maximum uplifting effect on the audience; maximum “wow factor”.

But again, was Brian right? Do people remember the beginning and the end of an experience more than anything else? (and therefore, are these the most important parts?)

It’s quite a commonly held belief that people do remember the beginning and the end more than anything else.  And in relation to Queen concerts (and showbusiness generally) no doubt it was (and is) nearly always true.

But in terms of experiences generally, there is a little bit more to it than that, and it really is worth thinking about…

So what do people remember most from their experiences?

First of all, it is obvious and true that we don’t remember all parts of an experience equally, and it makes sense that we wouldn’t. Memories are formed most strongly at moments of peak emotional intensity so – unless we are meditating – there are bound to be changes in our intensity and focus.

This is one reason why people – and therefore customers – don’t judge their overall experiences rationally or fairly (most business owners and managers will be very aware of that this is true).

So what parts of an experience do people really notice and remember the most?

Ladies and Gentlemen, prepared to be rocked by… the Peak-end Effect.

The Peak-end Effect

For many years now, psychologists have proven the existence of what is called the Peak-end Effect.

Human beings aren’t rational. They don’t have perfect memories, and they don’t consider everything in perfectly balanced ways.

There are many biases that affect our perceptions, and the memories that we form about experiences. The Peak-End effect just describes one of them, but it’s a very important one to know about, for everybody with an interest in customer satisfaction and customer experience.

So, what is the Peak-end Effect?

When we look back at an experience (a pop concert, a visit to a retail store, a 2-week holiday), we tend to remember two things far more than anything else:

  • The moment of peak intensity (good or bad), and
  • The end, the finale, the closing moments.

We remember, much more accurately, what was happening at those moments, and how we felt about them, than other parts of our experience.

Looking at the end, first

So, a customer’s final impressions are always very important in colouring their perceptions about the experience overall.

Perhaps this tends to be because at these moments we are more alert and tuned in, we anticipate the end of this experience, and therefore a significant change to our situation and environment. We are already starting to judge the experience overall, so we can catalogue it in our memories as having been “great”, “good”, “bad” or “ugly”.

So, the finale, the final song in the encore, the checking out, the friendly goodbye, the final thoughtful gesture … these things are massively important times for customers in terms of their levels of satisfaction with the experience overall.

What about the “peak” of your customers’ experiences?

So what about the moment of peak intensity (the part of an experience (other than the end of it) that your customers are most likely to remember)?

This is harder to pin down, and it is harder to plan for:  it could occur at any moment during an experience.

For audience members at a Queen concert, you can easily understand why it almost always was the start of the concert. Imagine…after much anticipation: Roger Taylor starts on the drums with the simple 1-2-3 beat of We Will Rock You; you and all your fellow fans stamp your feet and clap in time; then Freddie Mercury suddenly appears alone under a spotlight coming out to sing first verse and chorus; Brian May then appears under a spotlight of his own; eventually Roger and John are in full view; and now the whole band is visible on stage, and everybody is singing the chorus together.

The moment has finally arrived: you, Queen and your fellow fans are together and feeling an incredible sense of unity!…

The massive rush of excitement and pleasure that comes from an opening like that is bound to be intense (for any genuine fan at least). So intense that there would be little chance of topping it, except maybe towards the end of your communion with Queen, when you are at another emotional high towards the end of We Are the Champions.

It makes total sense that in showbusiness, so much attention goes into an artist’s entrance. It is a unique opportunity to make a massive impression on an audience, when they’re full of anticipation and at their most receptive. So it’s easy to see that Brian must have been right: for music concerts, the beginning and the end likely to be most important and most memorable.

But do your customers also peak at the start?…

It doesn’t just apply to pop concerts. There are many other situations where the moment of peak intensity will be at the start of an experience.

Imagine checking into a holiday villa or apartment for a two-week break… was your journey easier (or at least no harder) than you expected? Are you relieved and also excited to be there? Was the check-in efficient and pleasant? Does everything look pristine? Are there thoughtful little touches that make you pleasantly surprised?  Did the local restaurant look nice? Are your kids overjoyed? Does everything seem to exceed your expectations?…

or does it fall short?

The moments at the start of an experience do have a tendency to be the most emotionally intense.  Our first impressions are quickly formed, and weighed against our prior expectations, and we consider the implications of our “quick assessment” in terms of what it might mean for the rest of our experience.

We might quite easily feel anything from joy and excitement, to massive frustration and anger, or sickening disappointment.

At the very start of an experience, we are  so vulnerable to a peak, we might be feeling “Don’t stop me now”, or  “Save Me”.

How to spot or set your customers’ moments of peak intensity

For your customers, peak intensity means peak memory retention, and raised importance within their experience overall.  Whatever happens at the “peak” is remembered more clearly and seems more important. And peaks can be positive or negative.

But a moment of peak intensity for your customers could come at almost any point during their experience.

It could come from

  • something that happens to them or that is done for them (either very good or very bad), or
  • something that they do, or make happen for themselves, or
  • a combination of the opportunities (or problems) that exist, and how the customer responds to and interprets these. This can be heavily affected by the customer’s state of mind, which could have been affected by earlier experiences, their general expectations and their own unique filter on reality.

The possibilities are almost endless, in terms of the good things and bad things.

So, businesses don’t ultimately control their customers’ emotional peaks. 

But that’s not to say that they shouldn’t try and offer as many potential options for “good” peaks as they can.

Learning from the Peak-end Effect

So, what steps can businesses take to optimise their customer’s experiences, considering the importance of the Peak-end Effect on customer satisfaction (and therefore loyalty, reputation, etc.)?

Here are four tips to help focus your efforts.

Some of them may seem more relevant and applicable to the degree that your business provides an “experience”. So, hospitality, retail and leisure are obvious relevant sectors, but these principles could be applied to almost any industry.

  1. Focus on the beginning of your customers’ experiences. Get the start of their experience right.

As Brian May and others have known for a long time, first impressions have a huge impact. The start of an experience has a higher chance than others of being the moment of peak intensity. It is the moment when we tune in, assess things, and try to align our expectations with reality.

It also often determines whether we bother to continue and proceed, or do something else instead.

So, pay huge attention to it. Try to make people go “wow”, not go “oh…”.

Go for gold. Think: “We Will Rock You”. You might not quite create the emotional peak of a Queen concert, but how high could you go?

The first touch point, the first moment of truth, the first impressions… aim to blow your customers’ prior expectations out of the water. Thoughtfulness, polish, a genuine warm welcome, extra touches that go way beyond customer expectations… these things raise the chances that your customers’ emotional peaks come at the start, and increase the chances that the peak is a “good” peak (not a peak of disappointment).

  1. Focus on the end of your customers’ experiences.

Final impressions will always tend to last and stick in your customers minds, so try to do something that will literally lift their spirits. Can the end of your experience be as uplifting as “We Are The Champions”? How far could you go?

Could you provide something truly thoughtful? A gift? A genuinely thoughtful service or favour? Can you make things smooth, and far easier than your customers had any right to expect? Can you delight your customers and make them remember you as exceptionally nice people to deal with?

  1. Offer plenty of potential “peaks” in the middle.

Queen had (and have) plenty of awesome songs, in many styles, with plenty of variety, to suit many tastes and moods.

Keep trying to go above and beyond any reasonable expectations. Have this as your goal as you continue to refine your operations, your systems and procedures. Build a culture of “going beyond expectations” and of regularly performing thoughtful acts of kindness and consideration.

  1. Avoid disappointments at all costs, by maintaining your standards.

You must ensure that what sticks in your customers mind isn’t the “peak” of their disappointment or frustration. This means ensuring that standards are kept high consistently. This often requires ongoing staff training and the maintenance of the right customer focussed culture.

Frustration, difficulty and inconvenience, together with uncaring and lacklustre customer service are the big risks here, and if they aren’t eliminated, they risk forming that poisonous peak of disappointment.

If you please a customer ten times, but you disappoint them once in a way that’s slightly more intense, it’s the disappointment that will form the lasting memory. That customer won’t be coming back, and they will damage your reputation and your business.

And that is a risk that’s worth guarding against.

Do you want to provide a positive emotional peak for your customers?

Do you want to provide an exceptional customer experience to your customers?

If you could benefit from help in implementing these ideas and more, please get in touch today using connect@customerwise.co.uk or 01392 984224, whatever your business and your industry.

Customerwise Ltd helps B2B and B2C businesses to improve customer experiences and increase sales.

About the Author

My name is Paul Taylor and I’m the managing director of Customerwise. I’m obsessed with customer satisfaction and with helping businesses provide exceptional customer experiences, while also increasing sales.


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