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Sensory Cues That Spur Us to Like Your Public-Serving Place

Give customers the bragging rights that spur them to tell others about their fabulous experience at your place or event.
I wondered. Was it the butterscotch-colored walls, the light coconut scent wafting through the door as I opened it, the cushy island of deep blue carpet under my feet as I stepped into the boutique hotel or the turning mobile overhead featuring kittens chasing each other?

I don’t know yet I instinctively smiled and sighed with relief. And that was before I saw the smiling doorman walking towards me in the lobby, saying, “We’re glad that you’re safely out of that storm. Let me help you with your coat, if you like, and your bag.”

The lobby was light with the soft, full-spectrum lights that store make-up counters have, making us all look and feel our best.

Hint: Positive sensory cues multiple their emotional effect when we feel more than one at once or in quick succession.

In fact, without my knowing it at the time, that doorman looked more handsome and caring than I would have experienced him if the entry to that hotel had shiny metal railings, an elaborately patterned carpet and/or a dark colored wall.

Hint: When we look up at something that is cute, beautiful and/or moving it literally lifts our mood and we project that happy emotion on the scenes we see right after it.

The “closing scene” when I left the hotel the next morning was even more vividly positive than the opening scene. The hotelier gave me a beautifully wrapped package of six cloth napkins that had a floral bouquet on one side, with their hotel logo at the center of it and the words, “Dine Well Together” below it.

Consequently, I the slow room service and cramped bathroom faded from my memory. According to research on the power of the sequence of moments within an experience the most potent is often the least planned; it the last moment.
That’s why it behooves anyone who wants their guests, customers, conference attendees or families at home to feel welcome, brag about their experience and act nicely to storyboard the sequence of multi-sensory experiences that those they serve or love experience in their “place.”

Even apparently small physical experiences make a big emotional and even learning difference. Adapt these multi-sensory cues to emotionally engage with others:

1. Children “are better at math when using their hands while thinking,” found to Josh Ackerman, a MIT psychologist. Further, the weight, texture and hardness of objects we touch will influence our opinion of the people and the situation.

2. Actors recall lines better when moving and we remember more when walking, gesturing, eating or physically working on something. Hint: when people are walking in and out of your place, what do they see, feel underfoot or hear?

3. “People are more generous after holding a warm cup of coffee and more callous after hold a cold drink,” discovered Yale University psychologist John Bargh.

4. Patterns, whether on the walls or floor or upper part of one’s clothing, break up the observers’ attention span and, like ambient noise in a room from the heating or air conditioning system, make us more agitated and inclined to become irritated by each other’s behavior.

5. Scent is the most directly emotional sense and thus a two-edged sword. If the evoked scent memory is positive it hits deeply and, if not….well, we are more likely to project bad characteristics on the scene and the individuals around us.

6. Enable people to engage in the scenes or objects around them and gain bragging rights as a consequence. Have a “What’s next for you?” sign on a large bowl of positive sayings or fortunes near places where they must wait or pause, such as check-in areas. Staff can encourage them to read theirs aloud. (The more actions we take on behalf of something the more deeply we believe in it, identify with it and will share it with others.)

7. Encourage colleagues to stand and walk side-by-side with those they are serving as this “sidling” is more likely to evoke a convivial “us” feeling.

8. Create a story about your region, place, interactive object or monument or event, hopefully involving humorous, heroic or otherwise emotional incidents and individuals, where you can invite those you serve to become a part of that story, as Peter Gruber suggested in Tell to Win.

They may become a part of “our” story when they can participate your custom ritual, receive your souvenir as a gift, eat the snack that’s part of the story or you take a photo of them in front of the scene on the wall that represents a highlight of our story – and email it to them after

9. Continue to keep them involved with “our story.” Use geosocialapps that enable them to connect with each other – and your staff – as they walk through your store, hotel, hospital, sports arena or event.

What multi-sensory cues have you used to involve people in your place, event or other experience? Also share your favorite cues to bring us closer via Twitter. I am @kareanderson.

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