The other day a city bus drove past me and released a huge cloud of diesel exhaust. I was out for a lunchtime run and wasn’t paying close attention to the roadways, but when that smell of bus exhaust hit me it was a like a slap in the face. But then something strange happened. I suddenly had this sweet childhood memory of my grandmother. When I was small, she would often take me on the train to Boston for the day. However, in order to catch the train, we first had to catch the bus which stopped right at the end of our street.
The smell of that exhaust triggered a memory of six year old me walking hand in hand with my grandmother ready to enjoy a day of fun and adventures in the city. It made me smile.
What I experienced is known as the Proust Effect, which is the term given to the vivid recollection of memories or events through seemingly small sensory (in this case: smell) details. It’s powerful and, depending on the circumstances, it can affect the present-day experience based on whether the recollection conjures up good or bad memories.
Disney’s Attention To Getting The Right “Smell”
Disney harnesses the power of smell to create a memorable customer experience (and as a business strategy to increase sales). And while there are many great examples, perhaps one of the most noticeable is the Main Street Bakery at the Magic Kingdom Park. When guests walk past the bakery, their senses are instantly bombarded by the unmistakable smells of cinnamon, sugar, vanilla, cocoa, and coffee. It helps create an atmosphere of warmth and comfort. And, because guests are drawn inside the shop, no doubt the enticing smells help boost sales.
Speaking of Main Street, ever notice the smell before you get to the bakery? Freshly-popped popcorn. Even if you don’t actually like popcorn, the smell is intoxicating and has become a staple “smell” at Disney parks. People expect to smell popcorn when they enter the Magic Kingdom.
At Epcot, if you ride Spaceship Earth, the smell of burning embers from the burning ancient city of Alexandria creates a realistic experience.
The Grand Floridian Resort, an elegant turn-of-the-century Victorian-style resort, smells light and clean with an aroma of flowers.
The point is, smells are powerful and Disney knows it. They’ve used it to their advantage to create a multi-sensory experience beyond just the mechanics of any one ride, hotel, or theme park.
A colleague once told me she refuses to visit anyone in the hospital, even when it’s for good news like the birth of a baby. The reason? The smell. She says it instantly transports her back to when she was a child and she visited her dying grandfather. Specifically, the smell of wound dressings and the faint smell of flowers conjures up unpleasant memories to the point of making her feel physically nauseous.
Smell is powerful! And, depending on the circumstance, it can conjure up good or bad memories. It goes back to something our team says often, which is: “Everything Speaks.”
Everything Speaks refers to all of the things patients or families see, hear, taste, touch, and yes, smell, during their care experience. Certain smells may come with the territory in a care environment, but it ends up saying a lot about your business.
Obviously, we can’t eliminate all smells from a hospital or healthcare environment. But take a moment today to consider all the smells in a care environment and how they might be impacting the patient experience.