The Service Line with J.N. Halm ….Making Sense Of Scents : The effect of ambient aroma on customer service

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HALM
J.N. Halm is a columnist with the B&FT

Scents matter. We actually live in a world of scents. That enticing aroma of freshly-baked bread, that fresh scent of freshly-washed clothes, that exciting fragrance emanating from the interior of a new car, that inviting fragrance of fresh fruits are part of the human experience that adds some quality to life. We are so inundated with scents and have become so used to them that we hardly talk about them, unless we are hit with something out of the norm.

For millennia, humankind has been obsessed with the kinds of smell around. As with many other things humanity encountered on this earth, it did not take long for us to attempt to manipulate the various scents we found around us. Our love for certain fragrances and our loathing of others meant that our forebears had no choice than to find ways of controlling what they allowed themselves to smell.

Started among the ancient Persians, Egyptians and Chinese, perfumery was eventually mastered by the Arabs and later by modern-day Europeans. Estimated to reach USD56.98 billion by 2026, the global size of the perfume market is proof that human beings really value what they allow on to their olfactory senses.

It is telling to note that this figure does not include the hundreds of brands of air fresheners and other such aromatic products that are available on the market. That market alone is said to hit USD13,279.1 million by 2025. If people are ready to fork out more than USD12,000 (approximately GH¢70,000.00) on a bottle of perfume like the famed Clive Christian No 1 Imperial Majesty, then it is as clear as daylight that people are really interested in what and how we smell.

From a very early age, we know that when something smells bad, then that thing cannot be anything good. As a matter of fact, scientists say that by the 7th week of pregnancy, olfactory neurons, which help a baby’s brain to process odours, begin to develop. By the 8th week, the nasal cavities which eventually develop into the nose, can be clearly seen.

In other words, we arrive on this planet ready to detect the various smells all around us. It is therefore no wonder that we can still recall some childhood smells. With that in mind, it is important for those who deal with people to be conscious of the kind of the kind of scents that are around them. Businesses should be as concerned about the kind of scents that customers have to deal with as they are with every part of the business. The same energy, effort and due diligence that is out into acquiring a new software should be the same that is used in determining the smell of the business’ premises.

There are genuine reasons why customers should be concerned about the smell of a place. Scents say a lot about a place. First of all, a scent is a signature of a place. Without being told or without even seeing, we are able to make correct guesses about what happens in a particular place just by the characteristic smell. Hospitals smell like hospitals and bakeries smell like bakeries. The mechanic’s has a peculiar smell and the barber’s has its own unique smell. Even though the barber and the hairdresser both deal with human hair, the smell from those two operations are markedly different. The fragrance of one product can make all the difference.

Whether by design or by default, every place has its own ambient scent. These scents linger on for so long that those who work at the place and those who frequent the place regularly tend to slowly push that characteristic smell to the back of their minds. However, anyone who visits the place for the first is always conscious of that scent. If the said scent is a pleasant one, there is no problem. However, if the characteristic smell is not the best, then that business has a problem.

Aside its ability to act as a signature to a particular place, scents can also evoke strong emotions in people. Scents, because they can become characteristic of certain places, can evoke certain memories. It is not unusual for a certain scent to send one down memory lane. According to scientists, some scents can evoke even childhood memories.

It has also been claimed that the scent of a place accounts for as much as 35% of what we recall of the place. What we saw of that place accounts for just about 15% of what we recall. For this reason, many people are conscious of the kind of scents they have around them. If a certain odour is reminiscent of a certain negative experience, one would not want to stay in an ambience with that odour for too long.

Bad smells can also mean a number of things. Bad smells, more than anything, could mean something unhealthy. Human easily associate bad smells with something that is dead or, at best, something that is dying. How something smells determines whether we put it in our mouths or not. We would mostly make judgments on how sumptuous something might taste based on its aroma.

It is a fact that every business needs to be conscious of the ambience it creates for its customers. It is however also true that there are certain businesses that must be much more interested in how the place smells. This is because for those businesses, the aroma or otherwise is part of what they are offering to customers. A prime example is a perfumery. It is a given that a place that manufactures or sells sweet smelling fragrances must smell great. Another example is an eatery. One would expect the aroma within a restaurant to be a great marketing tool. Anything else and it can become a serious customer turn-off.

The characteristic smells associated with certain places also means that when certain places take on the smell expected of other places, there is bound to be a problem. Customers at an eatery would have a major problem with the service if the place smells like a hospital. One expects a health facility to smell a certain way because of the strong-scented cleaning agents predominantly used. It would therefore be strange if one finds a clinic smelling like a biscuits factory. Even though, there is absolutely nothing with the pleasant aroma of a confectionery, it would be misplaced in a health facility.

That the scent of a place can evoke strong emotions in customers has been established. Another firmly established fact is that buying is an emotional process. It is known that customers buy emotionally and justify logically. Therefore, if scents evoke emotions, it can be safely surmised that scents can affect a customer’s purchasing decision. Some scents can cause customers to want to buy more while others can cause them to want to stay away.

It is not too far-fetched to imagine a scenario where customers would not want to stay in a place that smells horrible. One does not need any scientific experimentation to know that people will not want to stay long in an ambience with a putrid, pungent smell. Customers who are in a hurry to get out of the place because of the smell would not be relaxed enough to spend enough money in the place. Every business wants its customers to stay as long as they choose to and to spend as much as they have to. Therefore, if something as manageable as the scent of the place is affecting customer decisions, then something needs to be done about it.

There are many stories of organisations all over the world that have spent money in establishing signature scent brands. These organisations understand that to be well-branded, they need to go beyond just having easily-identifiable logos, brand colours and typefaces. For years, many businesses have concentrated in appealing to the visual aspects of the customer’s experience. Very few businesses in the past concentrated on the olfactory aspects of the experience. Thankfully, there are many studies that show that businesses should not ignore the sense of smell when they are dealing customers.

A 2020 meta-study titled “Pleasant Ambient Scents: A Meta-Analysis of Customer Responses and Situational Contingencies” and published in a 2019 edition of the Journal of Marketing came out with some interesting findings. Conducted by researchers from the University of Klagenfurt in Austria, the study revealed that ambient scent had “positive and robust” effects of on mood, evaluations, memories, intentions, and behaviours.

The study further sought to prove that that the presence or absence of certain scents can increase or decrease customer expenditure. The range of expenditure increase or decrease might be from 3% to 23%. Yes, changing a scent of the shop or office can increase revenue by as much as 23%. In short, the scent of your shop or office is having an effect on the amount of money your customers are spending at the place. By extension, the scent of the place is affecting the profit of the business. These might seem like jokes but that is the truth.

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