One my most interesting customer experiences in 2006 had an olfactory impact. As a semi-frequent visitor of spas (when we travel and my husband goes golfing, I go to the spa), I am tuned-in to the way different fragrances can evoke certain images and feelings. According to research cited by Jonah Lehrer over at ScienceBlogs, the sense of smell is one of the only senses that connects to the brain’s long-term memory.
I stayed in a Westin hotel in Denver over the summer, and I remember noticing how nice it smelled. I thought it was the scent of their spa wafting out into the hotel or perhaps a fragrant candle (they had small candles burning in several spots around the lobby). I didn’t have the occasion to stay at another Westin until November when I went to Vancouver. The moment I walked in the door of the lobby – there was that nice smell again. This time, I asked the front desk about it as I checked in. She explained it was the signature Westin Scent, which they call White Tea. They pipe it throughout the lobby and common areas in all the Westin hotels. It is supposed to evoke a feeling of calm and, according to a quote from Nadeen Ayala, senior director of PR at Starwood Hotels, it is part of delivering an arrival experience. (Note, they don’t pipe it into the guest rooms!)
The scent has been so popular that customers demanded it for themselves. Westin now sells candles as well as other items that guests can have at home to enjoy White Tea.
The customer experience can be impacted by the smells around us. One my favorite things about Starbucks is the smell of freshly-ground coffee. Realtors burn vanilla-scented candles in homes they are hosting. Bakeries blow the smell of freshly baked goods out to the shopping mall. Car washes offer that “new car smell” to customers who want to feel that their vehicle has been made fresh again. Aromas become part of the brand experience.
Scents can create a poor customer experience as well. For example, a few months ago we were shopping around for an orthodontist. We narrowed the field down to two candidates and made introductory appointments with each. One of the reasons we didn’t go with the first candidate, in the words of my son, “Mom, he had really bad breath!” This should be the first thing any dentist or orthodontist makes sure of – sweet-smelling breath!
Hotels have been spritzing their lobbies with aromas for many years, but only recently have they started to create signature scents for their brands. Westin is using its scent in an interesting way to connect with customers. Will Westin guests recall their stay at the hotel when they catch a whiff of White Tea at home? Or will it help guests feel more at home when they stay at a Westin hotel? Either way, it is definitely a nice touch when staying at a Westin.
When reviewing the experience of your customers, look across all the senses. What are your customers seeing, hearing, and feeling, even tasting and smelling when they interact with you? What do you want them to be experiencing? Planning the experience, possibly even different experiences for different customers, is one the keys to a successful customer strategy.
Do you do something special to surprise and delight your customers’ senses? (No? See Andy Nulman’s blog for ideas on customer surprise.) Tell us about it! Also, please share any outstanding sensory customer experiences you may have had, both sweet-smelling as well as stinky.