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.
Beware of BO. Be aware of dealing with it promptly and help those who may be unaware.
Bad breath is another way to blow guests away. Front desk clerks, concierges, bellmen, doormen and all those who have a close-up opportunity to welcome guests in their first few moments can really ‘wow’ them the wrong way with wayward breath. When “Hello” becomes “oh no’, consider the breadth of alternatives. Mouthwash, breath mints, toothpaste and toothbrushes should be available to employees during all shifts and mouth refreshment breaks might be a proactive and worthy strategy. Encourage employees to take a few extra moments after breaks and meals to make sure all verbal communication does not add to guest consternation.
Onerous odors can also come from cleaning supplies and bug sprays. Many times, especially in restaurants, once a table is vacated, the heavy sprays come out to wipe the table clean and get ready for the next guest or even the next day’s guests. Other guests may still be eating and strong smells like this don’t just stay at one table. While guests may feel reassured that cleaning is taking place, it’s unappealing when the strong smell of bleach, disinfectant or ammonia overwhelm one’s meal and take center stage in the guest experience. These products are very powerful and hotel managers and their employees may not be aware of the possible downsides of keeping it clean. Cleaning smells should be their strongest when guests are not around or guests will not be around.
And, when guests check into a hotel room and notice unpleasant smells, it’s usually too late. Rooms may look clean but they feel used when other people’s smells have not yet checked out. It’s very hard to solve odor issues on the spot and often a cover up spray is used to layer a new artificially fragrant smell on top of the unfragrant one. Instead of removing one smell, this may leave guests with the newly combined aroma of both…a stinky solution. Even though many rooms are now non-smoking, there are cheaters and the smoking smell is easily detected within seconds by non-smokers. Sometimes the whiff of mildew from air conditioning units that have not been properly maintained add heaviness to the air which is unacceptable for sleeping conditions. Perhaps the guest will have an option to switch rooms but if the hotel is sold out or alternate rooms are not available, guests may have to stick with the stench and experience memories they don’t want to have. Housekeeping staff should be charged with making sure rooms are smell –worthy BEFORE guests open the door.
Certain areas of the country and the world must be more vigilant about bug control and use bug sprays and pesticides frequently to keep bugs from checking in. However, is it better to simply keep the bugs out with the sprays or keep reminding guests of how many possible bugs they may encounter because of how frequently guests smell those sprays and pesticides? While solving both issues may be a challenge and insects must not be allowed in, the best solution is figuring out how or when to spray to keep only the bugs away, not the guests too.
Consider the following to make sure your guests’ olfactory organs are getting stimulated the way you want:
- Create awareness and guidelines for employees on the impact of smell in service delivery. Make those guidelines a part of orientation and training and explain all the types of odors that employees can control.
- Consider empowering employees to be part of a smell prevention patrol. If unpleasant smells are detected, introduce polite and inoffensive ways to alert the source of the smells.
- Encourage employees to assess their own bouquet while they are on duty. If they eat or smoke during breaks, ask them to make sure they return to their shift without new smells. Have mouthwash, breath mints and deodorant in break areas. For those who smoke, provide or have employees bring in spare uniforms if the smell of smoke on their clothes will possibly interrupt the guest experience.
- For those in spa environments, consider guidelines on using fragrant shampoo at home which can positively impact guest encounters. Dirty or smelly hair is no fun for guests, especially in such smell sensitive environments.
- Focus on fragrance as an individual decision for individual environments, after work. Perfumes and colognes should not be worn strongly or at all unless they will add to the guest experience.
- Make sure housekeeping and maintenance staffs have detailed smell checklists to cover before guests get to the room or hospitality environment. Have solutions ready to deal with any unplanned or lingering smells before the guest encounters them. If certain employees are more smell sensitive than others, ask them to be more involved in helping detect possibly offensive odors.
- Anticipate how one smell may interfere with the next. Cleaning smells don’t compliment food aromas. Try to manage cleaning and other odors like bug sprays when they will not interfere with good guest smelling experiences are taking place.
- Recognize how fantastic fragrance can be in service delivery as well. Scents like lavender, eucalyptus and citrus can calm guests, a whiff of fresh baked bread or vanilla can comfort guests, the aroma of fresh-brewed coffee can invite guests, the smell of crisp white linen can make guests feel clean and peaceful. Evaluate how and where it may be appropriate and effective to add scent sensations to the hospitality scene.