Last Impressions are Lasting Impressions

About 10 years ago Abigail and I were out shopping. I had a cast on my left hand because I’d broken a bone sparring at taekwondo. When we stopped at Best Buy, the young man at the register asked me what happened to my hand. We had an engaging conversation about my injury and his time in martial arts as he rang up our items.

Later that day we went to Dick’s Sporting Goods and the experience at the checkout line couldn’t have been more different. The young man behind the counter looked like an athlete and I assume he worked there primarily for discounts on athletic items. He never said hello, never looked me in the eye and barely acknowledged us. When I pulled out my credit card he finally spoke when he pointed to the card reader and said, “You can scan it there.” He put my items in a bag, handed me my receipt and Abigail and I were out the door.

I asked her on the walk to the car, “What did you notice about him?” She struggled for the words, but at 10 years old, she said, “He didn’t engage the customer.” (Now you know what we talked about a lot as she grew up!) I replied, “I feel bad for him because it’s not his fault. His manager needs to teach him the last impression people have as they leave the store is the interaction with the person at the checkout line. That needs to be a good experience to make people want to come back.”

And that leads to the point of this week’s post – last impressions are often lasting impressions. Consider these examples:

You’re a golfer and you’ve played pretty poorly but on the last hole you got a par, or perhaps a birdie. You probably feel fairly good and look forward to the next round because you might just keep the mojo going. However, if you played really well but had a double bogey on the 18th hole, you’re most likely angry and frustrated because you could have had a good score were it not for the last hole!

What about going to a restaurant? Suppose your table was ready when you arrived, you had a very nice meal and excellent service but at the end of the night you found a discrepancy on the bill and it wasn’t resolved to your satisfaction. That would ruin an otherwise great night for most people. What if you got to the restaurant and had to wait an extra 20 minutes for your table, the food and service were okay but a discrepancy on the bill was corrected quickly and to your satisfaction. You’re most likely happier about your experience than the person I first described.

Humans are funny in this regard. Something wonderful can be wiped away by a bad experience at the end or something not so pleasant can be made very good by a positive experience at the close.

Researchers actually tested this theory on people who had to have a somewhat painful, very uncomfortable and certainly embarrassing procedure – a colonoscopy. They had patients rate their discomfort and overall experience throughout the procedure. Here’s what they learned:

Patients who experience a lot of pain for a short period rated the experience much worse than patients who experienced just as much pain and over a longer time, but who experienced much less pain near the end. In psychology this is something known as the peak-end rule to denote the fact that we rate experiences by the highest level of pain (peak) and the pain we experience at the end. Duration neglect accounts for the fact that the length of discomfort was irrelevant because it was all about how bad was it at the peak and at the end.

What does this mean for you? First and foremost, in whatever you do (make a sale, go on a date, celebrate a milestone, work as a customer service rep, etc.), certainly look to minimize any potentially bad experiences throughout the process but most importantly, make sure the ending experience is as good as possible.

I still shop at Dick’s Sporting Goods but there are very few other choices for big sporting goods stores in my area. When there’s lots of competition and people have choices, you better pay close attention to this because it could be the deciding factor in someone coming back or not. Remember, last impressions are lasting impressions.

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