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Why you need a good punchline

by Helen Hamilton-Shaw | July 26, 2016

Last month we said farewell to Victoria Wood and Prince. Their passing elicited much sadness amongst fans and replaying of their best performances. 

As this is a column about customer experience, you may be wondering what that’s got to do with running your law firm?

Well, what united them, and other great performers, was their ability to leave an audience on a high - whether Victoria Wood building up with a run of jokes, culminating in the best punchline of the night; or Prince dropping in some all-time favourites and ending with a knock-out guitar solo in the final encore.  

According to the so-called ‘peak-end rule’, the way an experience ends has a very strong influence on how we feel about it afterwards. The theory suggests users also draw on the extreme points during any experience, creating a weighted average of representative snapshots of an experience, rather than an average level of positive or negative feelings.  

The idea was developed by Kahneman & Tversky following a study they made in 1993. First, they asked participants to submerge one hand in ice-cold water for 60 seconds, then to repeat this with the other hand for 90 seconds. This time, for the last 30 seconds of immersion, the water temperature was raised by one degree. When asked which trial they would prefer to repeat, the participants favoured the second option, despite it lasting longer, because of the marginally warmer ending.

We can use this approach to intervene in the law firm customer journey, turning negative experiences into positive ones, and positive experiences into extraordinary ones, by delivering a strong ending with the power to wash away earlier pain.

Red Carpet ending

Think about how you can make the ending of the matter feel like a real red carpet moment for clients. We can learn from retailers here.  At AT&T stores in the US, employees walk customers to the door and shake hands at the end of the interaction; with company research showing this very deliberate, positive moment has a powerful impact on overall experience.


If your client has a poor experience in some way, the moment of misery often defines their evaluation of the whole experience. But if you make follow-up contact, you have an opportunity to uncover the negative feeling and resolve the problem, leaving the customer feeling good about your firm.  And with 75% of consumers finding service providers in the small business sector through word of mouth1, that positive review from clients is vital. 

Immersive experience

I’m not suggesting putting your clients into ice-cold water, but do look at their overall experience. Rightly, a lot of focus is given to the initial impressions presented to a client, but the concept of peak-end encourages us to pay attention to the end as well. How you say thank you and goodbye, could be as important as how you welcome clients to your firm.

Every individual in the firm can play their part in delivering consistently high service and positive experiences. Keeping peak-end theory in mind, and aiming for a really great outcome combined with consistency to protect against negative peaks, should pay off with happy customers.


This article was originally published in Solicitors Journal on the 31st May 2016 and can be viewed here.

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