The Smells and Swells of Service
By Roberta Nedry President & Founder, Hospitality Excellence, Inc. | October 2008
Ahhh...the spa! Check the real world at the door, breathe in the fresh, pure environment, and sink into a relaxed state of mind. As the anticipated therapy begins and the senses prepare to absorb the 'wah' of the moment, the therapist leans over to begin her work and the startling smell of cigarette smoke on her clothing rips the whole experience apart. Like a record scratching, nails on a chalkboard or a bolt of lightning, the moment of bliss has been shattered. Though the spa has gone to great length to create a clean and refreshing space with oils and aromas that soothe the soul, the abrupt leftover stench of the therapist's smoking habit has disrupted the spa effect. Does a sense of smell impact the guest experience and what makes it better, worse or indifferent? In this case, the experience was definitely worse and the therapist may not even have been aware that her cigarette break followed her back into the room.
When guests get a whiff of something, is it good or bad and what impact does it have? Walt Disney believed all senses should be in play when creating the guest experience and in turn, memories. When one walks down Main Street USA at Disney's Magic Kingdom, the sweet smell of vanilla greets most guests as they walk by the candy store. It may not be obvious and guests may not even connect what they are smelling or where it is coming from but they do connect with a pleasant feeling and a sensory memory of that walk and that place.
Scientists have long wondered how we manage to remember smells, despite the fact that the olfactory neurons, the tools in the brain that facilitate and remember smell, only survive for about 60 days. There is an in-depth scientific explanation but the bottom line is that smells do have the power to move us, to conjure up emotions and scenes from the past, to remind us of memories and experiences, both good and bad. And, while what we see and what we hear are key facets of service delivery and training, what we smell can play a powerful role for future guest experience memories.
What happens when seafood smells fishy? Or when the smell of French fries shows up where French fries are not being served? Why do guest or even employee noses curl up or curl down when certain smells are encountered? The smells that surround us affect our well-being throughout our lives and hospitality leaders have a "scent-sational" opportunity to guide the impact of smell in guest service delivery and impact.
Fragrances and aromas can be pleasant as long as they are not overwhelming. Another pet peeve in the smell department is the very cologne conscious valet. He may be dressed well, he may be groomed well, he may even initially smell well, but when he retrieves guest cars and leaves the memory of him and his cologne all over the car seat and steering wheel, it can drive guests crazy! The smell from the seat then gets on guest clothing and the smell on the steering wheel gets on guest hands. Memories of the valet and how he smelled are not usually the ones guests want to take home with them. He may have thought his fragrance would make a good impression when in fact; he should have shifted to neutral in applying any cologne at all. Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger and Ralph Lauren may be popular on a date or on personal time but they should not be invited to the guest experience. Cologne and perfume consciousness should be applied to any service situation.
Body odors can be another smell dimension that can make guests go 'ew' instead of 'ah'. Though employees may start out clean and even use deodorant when they begin their day, they may work up a sweat, especially on warmer days and need to refresh the odor-producing parts of their body on a break. Clothes may look clean but if they emit an odor, guests may want to exit quickly. Recently, a dear friend recalled her experience of enjoying her shopping experience in a hospitality environment, then smelling someone nearby who did not smell good, then ending her shopping experience quickly, thus ending more profit opportunity for that hospitality locale. Scents can impact dollars and cents.