The Contagious Customer Experience

Call it group dynamics or say it’s how the universe works, but once your customer starts down a certain path, they usually keep going and take others with them.


When I was doing marketing and PR for a luxury hotel chain, we had a local who would come in for dinner, to visit the spa, and sometimes, to do a little staycation. Let’s call her Helen.

Helen was very nice. Helen was very wealthy. Helen was smart. Helen was also rather stubborn and once she got on a path, there was no getting her off.

One day Helen had a spa appointment and after changing into her robe and slippers and waiting in the relaxation room, she sees that the pitcher of cucumber water (her favorite) is empty. Then, she notices a stain on the chaise cushion. Two small things, but Helen has now put on a pair of negative lens glasses along with her robe and slippers.

The next thing you know, the magazines aren’t good enough, and then she isn’t comfortable on the massage table. It’s too hot. And where oh where is Natalie, who always gives her the best massages?

The massage table is the same as always; it’s the temperature she always requests. And the new therapist is really good.

She started by seeing negative and now that’s what she sees first.

Now the good news is, this also goes the other way: when a customer has an unexpectedly good experience, they aren’t as tuned in to the negative, but more on that in a minute.

We feel bad for Helen (and for Natalie’s replacement), but what makes it worse is that the other guests in that spa relaxation room pick up on Helen’s bad vibes. This is not just a woo-woo thing - it is real.

Customer experience is contagious - let’s talk about that for a sec by looking at an experiment in the late 1960s, often referred to as The Street Corner Experiment.


It’s 1968.

The researchers asked a single person to stand on a busy street corner in New York City and look into a spot in the sky for 60 seconds. The researchers track who else followed their gaze.

Then put a group of 5 people on the street corner and it quadrupled the number who looked up.

With 15 people standing and staring at a single spot in the sky, 45% more pedestrians stopped to join them.researchers put fifteen assistants on a sidewalk. When one of them looked up to a 6th story window, 4% of those passing by did so as well.

We like to follow the crowd.


Restaurant owners put their first customers by the window.

You drive to a place with an empty parking lot? Should you even go in? Success breeds success. 

Emotional vibes are also passed. The closer you are to someone happy, they happier you will be.

So, how do you help you customers and clients start off on a positive vibe?

  1. Know how important all touchpoints are. Identify them and pay attention where they might be broken. Fix those first.

  2. Be your customer. What part of the journey doesn’t work?

  3. When their is a problem, address it! Influence Over Ignore.

Influence Over Ignore.

The “mirror neurons” in our brains link observation to imitation. There are so many studies about this (here is an interesting overview) and scientists now believe that they play a role not in just physical mirroring, but emotional. This is called emotional contagion.

When we empathize with someone’s emotion, it lights up the brain as though we’d felt it ourselves. Have you ever watched sport sand when a player is tackled hard, or falls or is kicked, but cringe and yell “ouch!”

It’s why when one baby cries in the nursery, they all cry. They can feel the pain.


So, let’s get back to the positive on this. When your guests are happy, having a good time, things are going well - then new guests will pick up on this vibe and will start from a better place. I am sure that are other studies and more science that can explain this, and I will find those if needed, but think about it. Can’t you FEEL a group dynamic?

When one person cries during a performance or at the movies, it increases the likelihood that others will, also . The same can be said of laughter. Or anger.

So, help your guests be contagious in a positive way.

  1. Know how important all touchpoints are. Identify them and pay attention where they might be broken. Fix those first.

  2. Be your customer. What part of the journey doesn’t work?

  3. When there is a problem, address it! Influence Over Ignore.