I’ve been interested in human-centred design for a long time – it’s so clear that to connect with people, you have to stand in their shoes and empathise with them. Once you see the world from their perspective, you’re in a position to do something for them that surprises and delights them. Working out how to do that authentically, consistently and effectively is the hard part – that’s true for leaders, and it’s true for every business trying to connect with customers.

Last year, I became interested in the recent work of Chip and Dan Heath. They’re brothers who’ve written several New York Times bestsellers; Chip is a professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Business and Dan is a Senior Fellow at Duke University’s Centre for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship.

The Power of Moments, their latest book, came out late last year and is built on the premise that the memories that stay with us throughout our lives are in fact a series of special “moments”, like a highlights reel. We recall the best or worst moment of an experience, as well as end points, and forget the rest. In business, that translates to an opportunity to connect with your customer – and your own employees – in small but meaningful ways.

We work closely with a lot of CEOs and companies who are doing amazing things on developing their customer journeys. I see ‘moments’ fitting in here as something to overlay, bringing a different focus to get quick wins. Essentially, it’s figuring out how to make the peak moments memorable – and managing the pits to turn them into peaks. The Heaths’ work brings the focus on how to achieve this. They talk about building peaks rather than fixing potholes: a smooth road is just a smooth road, a road with a joyful surprise is a memorable journey.

When we are designing experiences to connect with people at Maximus, we are naturally thinking about how to heighten the emotion to give it impact and make it memorable. I’m a psychologist, so it seems natural to do that. The Heaths’ work has reminded me that most people don’t have a mental model for doing that. They can’t easily see why – much less how – you would do it, but they do know it feels different when those moments are there for them.

The Heaths have multiple examples of these moments being created, bringing huge impact with customers. My favourite is the Popsicle Hotline. A so-so hotel in Los Angeles is always ranked near the top in LA on TripAdvisor – ahead of five-star brands. Why? Because it has created a way to peak customer delight by having a red wall-phone near the pool – the Popsicle Hotline. Kids pick it up and order a free popsicle, which is brought out on a silver tray by someone dressed like a butler and wearing white gloves. And there’s a menu of other free snacks, too. Kids just adore all that, of course. No matter that the foyer of the hotel is dowdy or that the rooms have a view of the car park; the lasting moment – the feeling people have when they recall that hotel – is joy.

The Heaths are phenomenal thinkers and the psychology behind the model is so robust and clever, which is why I’m excited that Maximus has partnered with them to bring their methodology to our clients in Australia. Here’s a taste of their genius.

Chip and Dan Heath: The Power of Moments

The Heath brothers’ book identifies four key elements that build defining moments. Each moment is an opportunity to connect with customers.

  • Elevation

    Experiences that break the script and rise above the routine.

  • Pride

    Using specificity to congratulate and commemorate.

  • Insight

    Being led to self-realisation is a powerful moment.

  • Connection

    Unity makes the journey to goals easier and more meaningful.