The Power of Service Scenography


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Let’s try a fun exercise based on a real situation. You look for all the places a more aesthetically congruent service experience could have been created.

I had lunch at a well-known seafood restaurant chain. The seafood was good and reasonably priced. There were a few nautical photos on the walls. Except for those two features—pictures and menu, it could have just as easily been a steakhouse or Italian food restaurant. I left without any thought of the seaside on my mind. But, I could not help but notice the wide array of missed opportunities to turn a pleasant meal into a powerful memory. So, what would you do with this seafood restaurant? Here are my observations; you identify how it could be more “sensory.”

The landscaping out front was very similar to the Chili’s rocks and cacti nearby. The hostess greeted me with, “Welcome to Fish Feast (not their real name).” The music playing was Vince Gill. And, the place smelled like any family restaurant, not one with a particular theme. The waitress was nice and wore a white logoed shirt, but no uniform or costume. When I asked her about the Tilapia, she only knew how it was prepared, not anything about the features or habits of the actual fish.

Their music-less bathroom could have been exported from any medium-priced restaurant in the country. The place mat was colorful—blues and greens, but without pictures or puzzles or “little known facts.” And, my take-away souvenir, after paying the bill? A toothpick that tasted like wood; not even salty. The receipt was the same color as the one I get at a Wal-Mart checkout. So, how would you make this restaurant colorful to all the senses?

Scenography originated in ancient Greece. Artists painted colorful stage scenes on stones for a theatrical production so set, costume and style could be harmonious. Colorful service involves integrating all the sensory elements of a service experience so they are congruent around a compelling story, theme, or vision. The secret is attention to minute details since the customer’s brain can pick up any dissonant signal long before their logical mind comprehends a reason.

The scenography of service can be your playground to choreograph the total mindset of your customers. Put your senses on steroids and create an experience that yields a story your customers are eager to spread. It delights our subconscious in a way our wide-awake mind might not even comprehend. Let’s examine a great illustration of sensory service.

A joule is a measure of energy. The Joule is a place of happy energy. The upscale boutique hotel in downtown Dallas has made happy energy its main attraction physically, emotionally, and spiritually. There are many reasons the hotel has earned a five-star distinction! Let’s take a peak at their sensory service.

Arrive at The Joule and an upbeat doorman named Gus escorts you from curbside to the front desk where he introduces you to the clerk rather than announcing you. It is the kind of hosting in which a handshake is in order. The attitude of “yes” permeates every person in the property. A giant wheel constantly turns in the lobby like a gristmill turning corn into meal. A passionate bellman not only escorts you to your room but once there provides a complete orientation to the many unique room accessories. The tenth floor pool provocatively extends eight feet beyond the hotel’s structure, giving swimmers the sensation of swimming right off the edge of the building.

Guest rooms are appointed with a bathroom sink that reminds you of a small waterfall from a purple hillside. All room lighting is mood enabled. The colors richly embrace you as you enter the bedroom. The office section of guest rooms feels like a real office complete with an abundance of accessible outlets, Aeron office chair, and adjustable desk. Turn on the bathroom light in the middle of the night and you get soft under-cabinet lighting to guide your steps, not bright lights that startle you from a sound sleep.

The hotel restaurant off the lobby—CBD Provisions—echoes the same happy, carefree energy from its sound, smell, and ambiance to its menu items—pan roasted quail, little goat pie, pig tails and grapefruit pie. The word joule is pronounced the same as jewel, and, like a precious stone, this hotel offers a delectable and enriching experience to everyone who crosses its threshold. The Joule practices service scenography.

When realtors suggest baking an apple pie before holding an open house, when cookie shops pipe their kitchen aroma onto the sidewalk, and when upscale retail stores put a pianist at a baby grand on the sales floor, all are declaring the common sense of uncommon senses. What opportunities would you discover if you looked at your own unit or organization through your scenography eyes?

Know your customers well and aim for the response you believe your customers will value. Consider the emotion and sensations (real or imagined) you want to call to mind. But also pay close attention to those sense triggers that clash with your desired response and chase them away. Would your customers know from your website, contact center or store front what your core distinction might be? Does that picture on the wall really add value? Are restrooms compatible and congruent with the rest of your strategy? When was the last time you examined your parking lot, waiting area, or front entrance with a focus on sensory signals being conveyed? What should customers see first, second…last? How are key service transitions managed? Is there distracting noise when customers call your business?

Consider what associations might be caused by each sense attraction you consider. Sights, sounds, and smells are all cues for customers that can surface pleasant or not-so-pleasant memories. A sign with red lettering might send a different message than the same sign in green. Once you have decided on the senses to appeal to, find ways to introduce them in a way that customers discover and delight in. Also remember that sensory enhancement must reflect proportion and balance. If your customers are singing along with the music, it might be playing too loud.

Think of the customer experience you are serving like a gourmet meal. Celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck wrote, ‘”A great chef is a mixture of artistry and craft.” A gourmet chef

focuses on presentation, not just preparation; an aesthetically pleasing dining experience, not just a tasty one. Your customers deserve the same!

Chip Bell
Chip R. Bell is the founder of the Chip Bell Group ( and a renowned keynote speaker and customer loyalty consultant. Dr. Bell has authored several best-selling books including The 9 1/2 Principles of Innovative Service and, with John Patterson, Take Their Breath Away. His newest book, Sprinkles: Creating Awesome Experiences Through Innovative Service, will be released in February.


  1. Generating a positive emotional response to the experience can also be obtained through the concept of lagniappe, doing something unexpected, unique and enjoyable. On a recent vacation trip to New Orleans, my wife and I had a wonderful dinner – our best meal – at Restaurant R’Evolution ( We were too full to order anything but coffee for dessert, but the waiter brought what looked like a Chinese puzzle box to our table. It contained drawers full of small, bite-sized dessert confections. Wonderful, emotionally engaging, and certainly memorable. There was both artistry and craft, and a touch of magic, in this small piece of added value to the experience.

  2. This is a wonderful example! It makes me eager to go to the New Orleans restaurant–especially for their quail trilogy. But, it also makes me wish other organizations pursued ingenious service, not just good service. We need more whimsical adventure in our lives. Those that offer a delectable surprise will be those that yield growth through the enthusiastic advocates they create.


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