Repeat business is a key to many life science companies’ success.

When people are thinking about buying again, what controls their decision? One factor is this: Was the experience enjoyable enough to repeat? But this brings up another question: What exactly do you remember about your experiences, and how does this color your decisions about repeating this experience in the future?

Well, it turns out that some research has been done on this topic.

As reported in The Paradox of Choice, by Barry Schwartz, “Daniel Kahneman and colleagures have shown that what we remember about the pleasurable qualities of our past experiences hinges on two things: how the experiences felt while at their peak, and how they felt at the end.”

There have been some interesting experiments to support this finding. One had to do with listening to an unpleasant noise. The subjects listened to two noises, both unpleasant. One noise lasted a given duration. The other noise was longer: the first noise was repeated, but then the volume was lowered while the noise continued. In total the longer noise lasted twice as long as the shorter one. The subjects then had to choose which noise they would listen to again.

The second noise is clearly worse; after all, it starts with a duplication of the shorter noise and it then lasts even longer. But when subjects had to choose a noise to listen to again, more people chose the longer noise.

This is counterintuitive and is representative of what Nobel Prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman and his colleagues call the “peak-end” phenomenon. This states that two primary factors control what we remember about the pleasurable quality of our past experiences: how the experiences felt at their peak, and how they felt at the end.

In the experiment with two noises, the peak was the same for both noises. But because the longer noise was quieter at the end, it was remembered as being less irksome.

This “peak-end” phenomenon as it controls our memory of past events means that we should pay close attention to “endings.”

For transactional events, such as a hotel stay, this means that check-out will carry more than it’s fair share of importance in determining how we remember our stay.

For life science marketers, with long consultative sales, this means we should pay close attention to the end of the engagement: how was follow-up after the sale, how was delivery, how was the final presentation of the results?

If you are trying to compel repeat business, pay attention to both the peak and the end.

(For more information on the peak-end phenomenon, see Objective Happiness, in D. Kahneman, E. Diener, and N. Schwarz (eds.), Well-Being: The Foundations of Hedonic Pshchology (New York: Russell Sage, 1999), pp 3-25.)