What Does Your Customer Experience Smell Like?


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IHG (Intercontinental Hotels Group) announced recently that they are deepening the design of their customer experience by creating signature smells for their hotels as part of their guest experience.

This makes a lot of sense. The sense of smell accounts for 70 per cent of what our emotional recall is based on, according to some researchers.

So, do you design the smell and other senses such as the sound of your customer experience? Most organizations don’t. BMW does. They design in that ‘new car smell’ on purpose because research says their customers like it. They tune the exhaust to ‘sound like a BMW’. They understand that the ‘ultimate driving experience’ is one that engages all the senses.

Kjell Nordstrom, the economist, recently explained how Chris Bangle, the former BMW design guru, took him on a tour of BMW’s ‘door room’ – a giant hangar full of car doors mounted on rigs, with engineers all over the place slamming the doors shut and recording the sounds of the doors. It’s how they get that satisfying and reassuring BMW ‘thunk’ sound as the car door closes.

Designing the ‘sound’ of your experience is a concept most organizations don’t even address because even the word ‘design’ has visual origins, so excludes sound. But, here’s an example of what it can achieve: At Glasgow airport they play natural, ambient sounds (birds singing, plus soothing chill-out music underneath it) over the loudspeakers to relax travelers. Sales in the airport shops went up 10%.(No, it wasn’t birdseed…)

So, smell and sound are part of your customer experience. If you don’t design them in, you leave them to chance. But we know that the biggest impact on how we feel about an experience is the behavior of the people that deal with us and yet that is often overlooked because it is intangible. In our book See, Feel, Think, Do, we analyze how you need to take into account the senses, how your customers feel and indeed your own gut instinct when running your organization.

At smith+co we recently worked with a global hotel group on creating the desired emotional experience for guests, as part of a major brand refresh exercise. Leading organizations are increasingly realizing that the customer experience is integral to the brand and must be ‘engineered’ not just left to the front-line to figure out for themselves. Do contact us if this is the kind of help you need in developing your own customer experience.

Shaun Smith
Shaun Smith is the founder of Smith+Co the leading UK based Customer Experience consultancy. Shaun speaks and consults internationally on the subject of the brand purpose and customer experience. Shaun's latest book 'On Purpose- delivering a branded customer experience people love' was co-written with Andy Milligan.


  1. Shaun

    Great post.

    In an increasingly visual world, it is easy to forget that all the senses play a role in customer experiences. Whether that is BMW with the smell of a new car, Harley Davidson with the sound of a fishtail exhaust or Starbucks with the acting out of the entire coffee experience. Just as you describe in your recent book and Benrnd Schmitt described some seven years earlier in his definitive book, “Experiential Marketing : How to Get Customers to Sense, Feel, Think, Act, and Relate to Your Company and Brands”.

    Graham Hill
    Independent CRM Consultant
    Interim CRM Manager

  2. Graham,

    Thanks for your comment. You mentioned Bernd Schmitt and his landmark book ‘Experiential Marketing’ which is a favourite of mine. Interestingly Bernd was kind enough to write to me to say this “Today, big ideas are coming directly from the minds and hearts of customers. Milligan and Smith show how to tap into the ideas driving business innovation and how to implement new stratgies to improve the customer experience. SEE, FEEL, THINK, DO is a must read for any manager or entrepreneur seeking to understand the experiential world of their customers to find new ways to spur growth and innovation.”

    If you visit my web site you will find some other articles and blog posts that deal with this subject.



  3. Shaun

    As I blogged about previously, Customer Co-Creation is a natural development of Customer Experience Management. Why just organise a better experience on customers’ behalf when you can involve them directly in customer-driven innovation, customer generated media, social selling and customer self-service. A company by customers fit for customers.

    There are already a few books out there on the subject, albeit none so definitive as Schmitt’s on experiential marketing. But it is only a matter of time.

    Interestingly, I note that Schmitt’s newest book is entitled, “Big Think Strategy: How to Leverage Big Ideas and Leave Small Thinking Behind”. Is this a new trend? I haven’t read Bernd’s book yet, but I hope not! Management isn’t short of great, big ideas. Big ideas are ten a penny. What management is short of is the ability to implement them effectively and then to make them better, and more better, and even more better. That’s where we need new books, not on having big ideas in the first place.

    Graham Hill
    Independent CRM Consultant
    Interim CRM Manager

  4. Taylor is the father of “scientific management.” At the core of his approach is task allocation – breaking down the overall production process into smaller component parts. It’s about thinking small.

    Thinking big? If not profitable growth, what else?

    Ray Kroc says it right, “the two most important requirements for major success are: first, being in the right place at the right time (think big) and second, doing something about it (act small).”

    Daryl Choy
    Make Little Things Count


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