Even before the pandemic, issues like rising ticket prices, man caves, sports bars, and live streaming were already competing for fans’ presence at live sporting and entertainment events. COVID-19 presented another unwelcomed challenge. It is evident that returning fans fall into one of three categories that I call the “Runbacks”, “Holdbacks”, and “Walkbacks”.
The Runbacks represent fans who are highly eager to return and will come running back as soon as the green light is given on higher occupancy levels. The Holdbacks are either not coming back right away or may never come back. Then there are the Walkbacks. These folks will come back with hypersensitivity to new policies, safety, and how they are treated. Disengaged, uninformed, or apathetic staff will hugely impact if they keep coming back, and that fact is particularly true in premium areas.
The Peak-End Rule Defined
Ensuring that fans return and stay in large numbers is why understanding the Peak-End Rule is so important. The psychology of guest service, customer loyalty, and client decision-making has always been a hallmark of my work as a consultant and trainer.
Psychologist and Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman introduced the Peak-End Rule in 1993 as part of ground-breaking research. The study found that we remember events based on only two factors of our experience – the peak and the end. The most intense positive or negative moments (the “peaks”) and the final moments of an experience (the “end”) are critical to the type of memory made. Good or bad.
How the Peak-End Rule Works
Contrary to popular belief, our brains do not create good or bad memories of an event by simply taking an average of what went well and what went wrong during the experience. Our brains are not capable of remembering everything.
Instead, the brain engages in a psychological heuristic or mental shortcut. The brain filters out parts of the event it considers neutral or inconsequential and prioritizes the most painful and pleasurable moments that will be useful for future decision-making and whether or not to return.
It is also interesting to understand that the duration of the event has little to no consequence. The peak and end emotions drive the memory, whether it be a three-minute encounter or a three-hour event.
Peak-End Game Plan for Fan Experience
The key is to be intentional. When you consider the Walkbacks and Holdbacks described earlier, the importance of this principle becomes increasingly apparent. The sports industry is no stranger to the presence of high-level emotion. Yet the ability to predict and even manufacture peak moments (outside of the game or event) is critical.
A solid strategic plan will consider the impact of peak-end theory and implement actionable steps to purposefully create moments that transcend team performance and other uncontrollable factors. In addition to other innovative solutions in next-level fan engagement, our organization is committed to being part of the solution by teaching our clients the following strategy.
The first step is to conduct an honest assessment, similar to a SWOT Analysis to identify where the current positive and negative “peaks” and “ends” are already happening. You undoubtedly have features, services, and traditions that are fan favorites. Guests love them and talk about them.
You also have existing pain points. They could be related to a parking situation, new policy, or building issue. The problem areas could be minor and temporary or major and permanent. Either way, take inventory, eliminate surprises, and get in front of known challenges.
You must be willing to invest the time, energy, staffing, and money to be successful. Not everything is expensive, but the cost of inaction is enormous. Again, intentionality is vital. Hope is not a strategy.
I am reminded of a local amusement park that saw an increasing number of guests arriving at the park and (in their excitement) were locking their keys in their cars – a painful way to start a fun day. Even though it was not the park’s fault, it invested in staff members and golf carts who roamed the lot as heroes to save the moment. The negative peaks became positive peaks. Nice!
Let’s face it, the event staff has exponentially more touchpoints than the front office or leadership team. More touchpoints mean more opportunities for peak-end moments. Today more than ever, staff readiness must go beyond instructions on where to stand and how to do the job operationally. Team members must be informed, incentivized, and inspired to do the little extra things that purposefully lead to positive peak and end moments.
Johnny Rockets is a 1950’s diner-styled restaurant that specializes in burgers and fries. The staff is trained and inspired to create peak moments using ketchup. Yes, ketchup. Before your order arrives, the happy server brings the condiments and then draws a smiley face on your plate with ketchup. Gesture (small), cost (nil), peak-end potential (huge!).
A successful Peak-End Strategy should not be viewed as a campaign, seasonal initiative, or gimmick. To stick and have a long-term financial upside, a focus on Peak-End must be seen as a culture-building opportunity that becomes a consistent attribute in your organization’s service DNA.
An elite service culture must be purposefully built. You don’t get the culture that you proclaim, you get the culture that you painstakingly practice. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are a great example. Since 2012, they have continually identified pain points, accentuated the positive, invested in corrective measures, inspired the staff, and incorporated a lasting approach to success. It is no surprise the Buccaneers are consistently the top-rated team in the NFL for Customer Service.
The realities of the Peak-End Rule are already happening in your building by default or by design. As fans return in more significant numbers, if there were ever a time to take better control of the memories you are making, this would be it.
Chris Bryant, “The Service Coach”, is a former Training Director with The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company and the Chief Experience Officer of BGX, an award-winning firm that trains sales and service professionals to catapult relationships, retention, renewals, and revenue. Connect with Chris at Chris@BryantGroupExperience.com and visit BGX’s website at www.BryantGroupExperience.com.
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