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

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

Just for a minute, imagine the case of a business owner whose business is struggling and therefore desires to see increase in profits for the business. Now, what if that business owner went to a consultant who decided to look into the cause of the poor performance of the business. Now imagine if, after one month, the consultant returns to say that the problem with the business is not with the product or service, neither with the employees nor with the competition or the industry.

What if this consultant says that the challenge is with the smell of the business’ premises? What do you think the business owner would say? I am sure that business owner might think the consultant is out of the mind—especially if the consultant adds that by changing the scent of the premises, customer spend would jump up to more than 10%. But several studies prove that this is actually the case.

There is a rationale behind why certain scents cause customers to buy more. This was according to a widely-quoted study by researchers from the Washington State University College of Business in the US and Switzerland’s University of St. Gallen. The study declared that because simple smells do not task the human brain too much, customers are left to concentrate on their shopping and to conjure images related to the simple scents. In the said experiment, a basic citrus smell caused customers to spend about 20% more than in a shop that had a blended fragrance of orange, basil, and green tea. The study even claimed that students where better able to solve problems in an environment with simpler scents than one with a more complicated blend of fragrances.

Smart businesses are using the power of pleasant scents to increase their customer spend. There is a story that a 4-star Novotel hotel located in Melbourne, Australia was able to increase breakfast, coffee and pastry sales by diffusing a particular coffee smell throughout the hotel. It is said that the hotel diffused a different in the afternoon. Patrons of the hotel were reported to have said that, not only did it make them buy more but, it also provided a relaxing environment. The scent therefore added to the ambience and brand of the hotel. Going forward, customers would always associate the pleasant scent with the Novotel brand. This whole practice is now being referred to as “Scent or Aroma Marketing”.

Another hotel that has made use of scents in enhancing its brand is the Hyatt Place. Since its inception in 2007, Hyatt Place has used a signature scent referred to as “Seamless”. An article in an April 2018 edition of the Harvard Business Review states that the Seamless fragrance is a blend of fresh blueberries and light florals on a base of warm vanilla and musk.”

It seems the use of aromas in hotels is very commonplace. Upscale American hotel chain, Westin Hotels also has its own signature fragrance that it uses in its hotels in eight cities around the world. The fragrance is referred to as White Tea. According to the designer, White Tea was chosen because of its simplicity and its ability to both relax and energize.

There is also a study by footwear giants Nike that makes three very audacious claims. First of all, the study claims that a scent in-store can increase intent to purchase by 80 per cent. Secondly, a brand-appropriate smell boosts the desire of customers to spend up to 20 per cent more time in-store. Thirdly, the study claims that almost three quarters of customers have been drawn into a store by an inviting smell. If these revelations hold true, and there is no cause to doubt their veracity, then business leaders, owners and managers cannot take scents for granted.

The use of aroma to increase the purchasing done by customers transcends almost all industries. It is also widely reported that a study took place in 2007 in which a nightclub in London was said to have increased the sale of its Malibu rum drink by more than one hundred percent because it diffused a coconut fragrance throughout the club.

It is therefore not surprising that there are certain nightclubs that are employing aroma jockeys who diffuse specific fragrances into the atmosphere. While the disc jockey targets the auditory nerves, the aroma jockey goes for the olfactory senses. It has been claimed that the use of fragrances in these night clubs has the potential of enhancing dancing activity, improving the overall perception of the evening, and affect how positively patrons rate the music as well as their moods.

There is an interesting anecdote about British automobile manufacturer Rolls Royce and its use of scents. Online business magazine FastCompany.com, in one of its articles, reports that in the 1990s, customers of Roll Royce began complaining about the quality of the cars. Rolls Royce set out to investigate the reason for the dissatisfaction of its customers. The reason? Smell. Yes, investigators found that the later version of the cars did not have the same fragrances that made people fall in love with Rolls Royce.

The manufacturers therefore had to go back to a 1965 model and to deconstruct its smell. They found 800 separate elements that were then recalibrated and used in creating a scent that is now common with all Rolls Royces. Many other automobile companies have signature scents that come with new vehicles. These days, these fragrances are even bottled up and given to dealers to spray into new vehicles.

In 2005 South Korean electronics giant, Samsung was reported to have tried the use of a signature scent in one of its New York offices. It has also been reported that Sony Electronics also uses a blend of mandarin orange and vanilla in its New York stores. Even small businesses are not left out of the fun. There is a report of a petrol station with a mini-mart that used the smell of coffee to increase coffee sales by as much as 300 percent.

From the foregoing discussion, it is clear that many businesses are very deliberate when it comes to the use of fragrances. The artificial use of fragrances is however not to every customer’s liking. There are times when people feel tricked by the use of artificial fragrances. When this happens, the business stands the risk of losing some of its customers. Some customers find it unethical and manipulative. However, this has not stopped many smart businesses from employing fragrances to enhance the experience of their customers. There are now machines that convert oil fragrances into dry vapour that can fill the ambience. When integrated into the air conditioning system or even with ceiling and standing fans, a drab ambience can easily be converted into a great atmosphere.

It is true that the COVID-19 has caused many organisations to look at ways of serving their customers virtually or via remote means. Some estimates claim that for some industries, it may take as many as seven years for things to revert to normal pre-pandemic levels. Some of those industries include, the tourism, airline and hospitality industries. It is not surprising that these are the same industries whose success depends on people moving from one place to another.

No matter how long it takes however, these businesses would eventually return to their normal levels. When the normal times return, one can expect the competition to be very intense. It is also important to note before the onset of the pandemic, many businesses that were known to be at the forefront of the e-commerce revolution were increasingly investing in more brick-and-mortar presences. One can only guess what the trend would be post-COVID-19.

Additionally, if a July 2020 article in the Wall Street Journal is anything to go by then the whole Working From Home (WFH) phenomenon might not be as exciting as it was hailed out to be. The belief that many businesses were ready to give up their brick and mortar offices is slowly beginning to fade away. The realisation is dawning on many businesses that the WFH Experiment might not be very sustainable.

According to the article, projects are taking longer to complete, training of staff is becoming a huge challenge while employing and integrating new staff is becoming a herculean task. The growing mind-set among CEOs therefore is that as and when this pandemic is over, people have to get back to their offices. The truth is that what will really happen post-pandemic is anybody’s guess.

However, the safe bet is that whether things return to normal anytime soon or not, in-shop experiences will mean a lot more for customers after this pandemic, especially for those who are very health-conscious. Little advantages will mean a lot. Businesses are going to have to perfect their in-shop experience, if they intend to lead on the market. In perfecting that experience, the aroma of the ambience will have to be taken into serious consideration. One bad smell could mean the difference between a pleasant customer experience or distasteful experience.

The scent of the ambience in the shop, office or businesses could be a game changer. As stated earlier, it would not even be surprising if customers begin to relate the smell of a place with whether the air is healthy or not. Post-COVID-19 customers will be very health-conscious and so office premises, retail shops, etc. would be judged on how well aerated they are and how good they smell.

From the earlier discussions, it is safe to state that when it comes to the choice of fragrance for the office, the simpler the better. Also according to one of the experiments discussed, the basic citrus scent did wonders for the purchasing by customers as well as improve the problem-solving skills of students. It therefore makes perfect sense, if a business diffuses simple citrus-scented fragrances around the office and customer reception areas. It might help workers become more productive.

There is a study by Japanese flavours and fragrances manufacturer, Tagasako that claims that the use of aromatherapy can reduce typing errors in the workplace. Different fragrances caused different levels of productivity. For instance, jasmine caused less typing errors than lemon but lavender caused less errors than jasmine.

If a business has enough financial might, it can get an excellent perfumer to create a signature scent for the brand. Businesses that get the scents of their ambiences right—scents that make customers feel at home—will be one step ahead of the competition. Any investment spent in getting the scent right will pay off remarkably. In the end, the scents will eventually make sense.

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