With Customer Experience gaining an ever more central role in the strategic goals of many major organizations, it is relevant to revisit a concept posed by Sampson Lee, back in 2014. In an article named ‘Pain is Good’ he challenges the idea that an organization should try and lift the entire customer journey to a level where every experience is a pleasure and there’s no pain left.

At the heart of the argument is a suggestion made by Nobel-prize winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman, which states that people tend to only remember two moments of any given experience: the peak and the end.

Do you want a mediocre customer experience, or a memorable one?

In a more traditional approach to Customer Experience Management, an organization will try to improve the overall experience, looking at all elements that together create a single touchpoint. As an example, in a physical retail store a CX Manager might look at factors like outside parking, ease of entry, store atmosphere, range and depth of products, navigation through the store, behavior of staff and queuing time. According to Lee, any attempt to improve all of these different elements to a point where the customer considers it ‘pleasurable’ will invariably take up so many resources – both time and money – that the result will be an overall mediocre experience rather than a memorable one.


In order to create a truly memorable experience, the focus should be only on those factors that are important to the consumer and to your brand. In other words, throw all you have got at those elements of the customer experience that build your brand, and allow for some pain in those that are less defining. Lee even goes as far to state that for those factors that are less ‘branded’, customer pain should be aggravated because the pain will contrast with the ‘peak’ of the experience, thereby making it more memorable. Instead of a flat line with sub-optimal experiences that no one will remember, you create an experience wave with lows and highs, in which the highs are truly memorable because they follow a low.

For the customer experience pain is good

Lee refers to this phenomenon as the ‘pain-pleasure-gap’ and he argues that brands that allow for such a gap will outperform others because the experience they offer at the branded peak is most memorable. For this blog, Starbucks will suffice as one of many examples. I don’t know if, like me, you have wondered how on earth it is possible that a brand that allows for such ridiculous queues, is so popular. Well, the answer is in the ‘pain-pleasure-gap’. Starbucks is not bothered about the queues, because the pain you feel while in line is made up for by the branded, personalized experience they offer when you are served and with the quality of the product they offer. The queue is the aggravated pain, the service the peak and at the end of the process you can enjoy your well-earned coffee.


In practice, this means that you need to understand which elements in the customer journey are vital to your customers and vital to you because they reflect your brand image. Then shift your resources to those elements and make them truly memorable. This will result in you taking resources away from factors that might be important to your customer, but not to you as a brand. According to Lee, this is a risk worth taking: aggravate the pain in the so called ‘none-branded’ factors, so that the peak that will follow will stick in the mind of your customers and will differentiate you from your competitors.

If you want to create a memorable customer experience, don’t avoid pain, aggravate it!

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