A customer experience that’s a feast for the eyes – and the nose.
Hollister’s unique sensory experience got Gaetan Germain thinking; how can companies utilise the five senses to differentiate their customer experience from their competitors?

A visit to a Hollister clothing store is a brand sensory expedition. Entering the dark cave-like entrance you are immediately hit with sensory overload. Cool tunes are banging on the stereo, Hollister perfume wafts across your nostrils, and beautiful half-clad models provide a visual feast.

When trying to improve customer experience, most companies are thinking about simplifying processes and reducing waiting time. All those hygiene factors are necessary but not enough.

One way to create a distinctive emotional resonance with the customer that is unique, personal and will ultimately drive loyalty, is to appeal to the five senses of the customer. Sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste provide the context by which we form opinions; they create expectations that we hope will be fulfilled. The smell of hot pancakes on the grill signals breakfast, the feel of cashmere signals quality and so on.

Some industries like hospitality are focused on experience already and the senses are now fully part of their value proposition. However this approach is not limited to luxury and hospitality industries. It can be utilised for any company, its products and services. For example, some financial institutions have started transforming their retail environment through branded coffee and music, to provide a comfortable atmosphere, encouraging customers to take their time and consider all of their financial options. Volkswagen found that since it added music to its website, the average visitor stayed five minutes longer.

So how do you make the most of this opportunity?
Here are some steps to follow to create an experience that will have more staying power in the mind of the customers.
1. List what impressions of your brand, you want the customer to experience.
2. Build a storyline and write the story you want to tell your customers.
3. Identify possible sensory experience touchpoints across the customer journey.
4. Engage the customer’s senses around a theme that will enhance your storyline and, ultimately, your brand.

Getting it right.

Creating a sensory experience is like creating a theatrical production. It sounds like a lot to do but here are a couple of tips to get it right:

• Know your customers: Understand your customers and why they buy your products, to identify desired outcome and the emotional engagement you need to create.
• Take all of the senses into account: Experiences are stronger and richer when presented with variety: images, colours, sounds, tastes, smells, emotions. 85% of commercial communication appeals to only one sense: the eyes. Customers will be more receptive or surprised if you use other senses.
• Exclude one of the senses to emphasise the effect of the others (e.g. the experience of a roller coaster ride is different and stronger in the dark).
• Balance the stimulation of the senses: each sense influences the others. Successful companies (e.g. Pringles, Starbucks and Swarovski) do not address all of the senses with the same intensity. Instead they concentrate on stimulating specific senses as a way of creating a special experience.

By employing a sensory experience, you will create a memorable experience and emotional connection with your customers.

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Gaetan Germain is a Management Consultant at the Customer Experience Company (www.customerexperience.com.au) in Sydney, Australia. He has worked extensively throughout Europe and Australia, and specialises in creating exceptional customer experiences.

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