We Need More Pain


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Well, it doesn’t sound right and logical.

But think about the queuing up at Starbucks, DIY service at IKEA and flights without meals on Southwest–these are examples of “pain” within an experience. Without those pains, the Pleasure Peaks they generated would not be as evident, we need Pain Peaks to contrast with pleasure peaks. The same pleasure peaks feel like more pleasure once we go through some pain, and it’s the foundation of Effective Experience (an experience is not effective unless it is remembered)–it enhances the “relative” pleasure peaks.

We feel good or bad is basically the result of comparing with others, we’re comparison animals. Our experiences cause us to set our anchors differently. We benchmark against experiences (inter-experience). We also benchmark within an experience (intra-experience), I call it “Intra-Experience Anchoring”.

Let’s illustrate with the Emotion Curve of IKEA.

Emotion curve represents the ratings of my emotional feeling on each sub-process of an experience being mapped in a natural time sequence, and in an experience-centric perspective. I’ve both pleasure peaks and pain peaks during my in-store experience at IKEA, and the emotion curve of IKEA is similar to the great brands’, e.g. Starbucks, Southwest, they all share the same trait–they generate both pleasure and pain peaks, and maximize the Pleasure-Pain Gap (PPG).

Pain is a necessary angel both to your customers and to your brand. Not only does it help contrast with the pleasure peaks of the experience (make customer feel more pleasure), but it can also free up resources and release constraints, so that we could allocate more resources to generate more effective pleasure peaks, and deliver your unique yet highly differentiating Branded Experience–it enhances the “absolute” pleasure peaks.

The bottom-line: not to let the pain peaks fall into Unacceptable Levels.

We need more pain.


  1. Sampson

    The IKEA Emotion Curve you show would appear to fall foul of the Peak-Trend-Ending rule that you reference elsewhere. In particular, the trend is negative and the ending depends upon a cheap ice-cream. This would suggest that the experience at IKEA is far from optimal.

    How would you suggest changing the experience to fix these problems? A cheap ice-cream cannot be the answer!

    Graham Hill

  2. Sampson

    You initial posting and response to my question have revealed many interesting insights into your CEM approach and how it works. And it has revealed a number of concerns about the CEM method and IKEA’s customer experience.

    Let’s take the concerns one by one and look at the implications for IKEA:

    A Single Experience or a Series of Episodes

    We assess extended experiences like a trip to IKEA as a series of episodes rather than a single experience. From my own experience (as someone who lives 5 minutes away from my nearest IKEA) there are probably four episodes in the typical IKEA experience: Arriving, Parking & Entry, Browsing & Shopping, Taking a Break and Picking, Paying, Collecting & Leaving. Customers will assess each of these episodes individually and then asses the total experience as a summary of these.

    The experience curve you provide for IKEA should ideally be broken down into four, one for each of the episodes and a summary for the whole experience, not treated as a single experience.

    Complex Experiences

    Faced with complex experiences consisting of many touchpoints, we have difficulty in coping with the cognitive complexity. So we simplify the task by focussing only on the most important factors for us.

    The experience curve and the weighting quadrant you provide allow the customer importance weighting for each touchpoint to be mapped against the experience curve scores. This shows a significant problem in that eight of the most important touchpoints score negatively. This suggests that IKEA is NOT delivering a good experience from the customer’s perspective.

    Trend, Peak, Ending & Waiting

    Kahneman’s research and subsequent research by Arielly, Lowenstein and others shows that the trend, peak and ending drive the assessment of an experience. The ideal experience starts slowly, increases with each subsequent touchpoint to finish on an emotional peak at the end. Although duration is not important generally, it becomes so once it crosses a threshold and becomes noticeable. I have often seen customers at IKEA abandon the checkout queue and leave if the queue is moving too slowly, despite all the time invested in the experience up to that point.

    Looking at the experience curve, the trend rises then falls, the peak experience is in the middle of the experience and the ending depends upon a cheap ice cream, a touchpoint not rated as important by customers. The last important touchpoint (arranging installation), the real ending for most customers, only scores neutral. This also suggests that IKEA is NOT delivering an experience that will be positively assessed by customers.

    Pain Peaks vs. Pleasure Peaks

    Customer’s assessment of pleasure is not dependent upon having experienced pain beforehand. For example, Verhoef finds that the negative peak did not influence the assessment of telephone customer service, whereas the positive peak did. As Kahneman suggests in a recent paper on subjective well-being, this is a complex area that is easily misapplied.

    The experience curve contains eight touchpoints that are important to customers and where they rate IKEA poorly. They do not need any of this disservice pain, let alone any more pain, in order to score IKEA well on other touchpoints.

    Experiencing the Brand vs. Branding the Experience

    The challenge that many companies with established brands face is whether to build an experience that supports the company’s view of what the brand should be (experience the brand), or to build an experience based around customers view of the real brand (brand the experience). Although there is no single correct way to go about building a customer experience, companies must weigh-up the trade-off’s in the two views if they are to succeed in building one that serves both audiences well.

    Mapping the customer importance weighting and the brand importance weighting for each touchpoint against the experience curve scores shows that IKEA has clearly opted for an experiencing the brand approach. Customers score most touchpoints deemed important to the brand well and those deemed unimportant poorly. That is good for IKEA’s communicated brand but not so good for customers; where only eight of the sixteen of the touchpoints deemed important to customers score well and eight score poorly. Again this suggests that IKEA is NOT delivering an experience that meets customers needs.


    It is important when transferring the results of complex research from one field (evolutionary psychology & economics) to an unrelated field (CEM), not to over-simplify and misapply the original research. And because of the rapidly evolving nature of scientific research, it is also important to re-apply new findings from time to time. Kahneman’s original research has attracted a lot of follow-on research in the last 10 years.

    If the IKEA experience curve is anything to go by, it is time for IKEA to apply some of this research in rebuilding its brand around its customers

    Graham Hill

  3. Graham,

    It seems you don’t like ice-cream as much as I do, and I fancy both the cheap and the deluxe ones.

    A cheap ice-cream ‘can be’ the answer, depends on who your target customers are and where they are located (for instance, it works to those young families with one kid in Mainland China). But a cheap ice-cream ‘should not be’ the answer when–if it’s not something treasured by your target customers, or, if it could not be applied effectively under some conditions, e.g. when in winter. In this sense, Ikea should not depend on a cheap ice-cream at the ending (the last sub-process), but it doesn’t mean she has to change the negative trend, as IKEA got a beautiful Emotion Curve (with significant pleasure and pain) and most importantly, reflecting her unique brand values (let me come back on this).

    So how to fix the problem of the end experience? It reminds me a wonderful guy, Jose Maria. Y. Bondoc, he is from Smart Communications (Philippines) who attended our CEM program. When we discussed how to improve the in-store experience at McDonald’s, he suggested giving out cash coupons at exit, rather than at cashier, in order to create a positive end memory. It is not always needed to invest more to enhance efficiency, instead, add, deduct or rearrange the sequence of sub-processes are possible ways to optimize the effective memories of an experience.

    Sampson Lee

  4. Sampson and Graham,

    I’d love your discussion to continue.

    Graham, I really like your contributions to the PPG concept. However some elements seem to be rather academical. Isn’t the market success of Ikea showing they did make the right choices? That they are fulfilling customer needs? Would improving the painful touchpoints not create a barrier for sustaining the low price strategy?

    Sampson, isn’t the notion that negative peaks are not necessary (eg the PPG should not be as large as possible) great? We don’t need to build it in, it’s just that we should not be afraid for negative peaks and that we can create savings by removing unnecessary positive peaks?

    Looking forward to read more from you guys.

    Edo van der Zouwen


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