Customer Experience Design and Human Senses

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With the increasing focus on customer experience as a competitive differentiator, many companies ae adopting or considering important facets of the Voice of the Customer (VOC) or Customer Experience Management (CEM) discipline in their design aspirations. Building journey maps, developing personas, crafting measurement and metrics systems, planting listening posts in social media channels, building survey feedback systems, and so on, are among many proposed design practices.

The role of the human senses in this customer experience design, while present, has not received focal attention until recent research on the subject. This area of research, referred to as the study of “embodied cognitions” or sense based marketing, is getting more popular and will, if it has not already, influence how we go about understanding our customers at a level of intimacy that will help drive the business outcomes of acquisition and retention of customers, loyalty and advocacy, revenues and profitability, among many.

Simply stated, what this means is that as companies think about crafting their customer journey maps, whether in a traditional brick and mortar environment or in the digital web environment, key ‘sensory’ design principles must be part of the blue print. Each point of contact with the brand, whether that contact occurs on a website, in a retail store, during a telephone conversation in a call center, or while using a product, presents opportunities to influence the behavior of customers. Communication has been taken to another level with this approach- it appeals to deep sub-conscious elements of human thinking. Perhaps, most importantly, it offers opportunities to influence how customers think, feel and behave at the point of experience.

To create better perceptions of products and services, marketers have been experimenting with appeals to our five human senses in interesting and, sometimes, surprising ways.

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Chuck Jones, Chief Design and R&D officer at Rubbermaid(1), notes that they pay close to the ‘hand’ or ‘feel’ of packaging material for their pens, the sounds of the paper unfolding, and the way the package opens as an unveiling (but very pleasant) mystery.
Even a potato chip has the properties of sound (crunching), smell, taste, sight (packaging) and touch (Krishna2). Creating an environment of sensory appeal is essential for staging positive experiences. Even in a digital web journey, a sense of ‘taste’ can be created with appropriate language and visuals. Online florists can create powerful emotional connections by using language such as “fresh aromas and vibrant colors…” instead of “beautiful flowers…”

Supermarkets have introduced smell in their physical stores to increase sales; the scent in Nike stores has increased the propensity to spend. The color scheme, space configurations and furniture design in the Cleveland Metropolitan Library has created more readers. Williams and Ackerman (3) provide ample evidence of the value of the sensory strategy. Bed Bath & Beyond, for example, designs customer journeys to “feel” their way through curtains, linens, and other home furnishings, thereby creating warmth. Whole Foods is another retailer highlighting organic feel by offering taste stations throughout their stores. Consumers touch and taste foods to build trust for their products.

Williams and Ackerman3 further report that people would pay 43% more for a product that they felt was warm to their touch; people offered less for a car when they sat on hard chairs as opposed to soft ones. The evidence is compelling and suggests that creating or staging a memorable experience through the senses is itself an innovative journey, and one that all customer experience professionals should adopt.

Pirch is an example of a company that has taken the purchase of kitchen and bath products to an entirely different sensory level, one filled with appeals to all the sensory touch points- (http://www.pirch.com/video/bath/ )

So what? Here are some reminders to all of us who are in the customer experience business, as practitioners, vendors or consultants.
1. Create a sensory-based journey map. To the extent possible, design the customer journey to include as many of the senses as possible. This is the foundational property of a robust and new marketing communication strategy.
2. Create a congruent measurement system, using multiple measuring tools (surveys, observations, interviews, social media insights) so that you can develop a holistic and intimate view of your customers.
3. Connect the metrics from and about customer journey touch points to business performance.

References:
1. Psychology: The Science of Sensory Marketing, HBR, pp 28-29, March 2015
2. Aradhna Krishna. Customer Sense. (April 2013) Palgrave Macmillan.
3. Williams L, and Ackerman, J. “Please Touch the Merchandise”, HBR, 2011

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