Create emotional engagement with your customers: See where you can stimulate the five senses throughout the customer journey

In previous journey mapping sessions we have done with our clients, we look at the main journey phases and always map at least three elements: the customer needs, customer actions (what they do) and customer emotions (how it makes them feel). Zooming in on the emotions is an effective way to see where to take action to improve the experience. This can be done by fixing pain points or by creating extra value points. From there we go to find the best solutions: the ones that create maximum customer value at a relatively low implementation effort for the organization. Quite straightforward.

So far, this is nothing unusual. But not every company consciously looks at their journey to see where they can stimulate the right human senses. We think this could or rather, should be a very relevant part of every journey mapping exercise.

Why is stimulating the senses important?

Science shows that by stimulating the senses, you will appeal to what is known as the customer’s first brain. This brain is the oldest brain; it has been around there for 500 million years, and it is common among most animals. It is primitive and emotional! It manages the unconscious thoughts and plays an essential role in the overall customer experience and how it makes customers feel.

How to stimulate the senses?

There are numerous examples of the use of senses in retail environment, hospitality, and airline industry. I am going to give you some examples used in the airline industry, of course it can be applied to any industry where there is physical contact between the company and its customers.


Customers depend more on sight than on any other senses to navigate through a physical environment. At first glance, a first impression is formed. When you enter an aircraft of Virgin Atlantic, you don’t have the feeling that you are walking through a working area for crew with containers, like with most airlines. No, next to a welcoming crew, you see a nice bar and the right lighting that sets a comfortable mood. This nice atmosphere makes you feel relaxed. Suddenly you are looking forward to your 10 hour flight.


Sound, especially music, can bring the visual world to life and can bring back memories. Virgin played poppy music from Blondie to Kylie Minogue and David Guetta. Delta Airlines played Pharell William’s Happy during boarding and disembarking the aircraft. It works both ways: when you hear the music on board, it stimulates a positive mood. And when you hear it back home, it might bring back Delta memories.


Smell is a powerful sense. It is the strongest trigger of emotional memory. I am sure if you smell the perfume that your mother used many years ago, it will bring you back to your childhood. Airlines also invest in scent marketing. Since the 1990s, Singapore Airlines has created its own fragrance as its scent brand. But it can be applied in other ways: Delta Airlines was famous for serving chocolate chip cookies on board. By heating them, the whole cabin could smell it and long for the upcoming treat.


Free tasting options are used at many food courts, as it increases the overall sales. But also outside of the food business you can use it. Some airlines offer free cookies in baggage reclaim areas, managing perception about waiting times. And seen from a different perspective: as your taste on board of an aircraft is different than on the ground, it brings some extra challenges to provide tasty meals and good tasting (not too acid) wines on board.


Touching something moves it from a representation / an idea to something true. Although with Covid-19 this has changed, instinctively people want to touch something to get a better idea of it or to check or experience the quality. You choose to use what you enjoy touching! For airlines, attention is now being paid to high quality amenities and good bed linen in First Class cabins.

So what can this mean for you your company and your customers?

Have a look at your company’s customer journey and see where you trigger which senses

  • Where in the journey does your customer see, hear, smell, taste or touch?
  • Which emotional reactions does and/or can it trigger?
  • Does it enhance the customer experience? Or could it have negative impact?
    Both in general as well compared to your desired experience and brand positioning?

Want to know more on how to trigger your customer’s senses and improve the emotional engagement? And how to embed this in your journey mapping exercise? Please contact us at

CitizenM - Blown away by the passion for their guests

Last week, I had the pleasure of meeting with Evelien van Damme and Diego Sartori. Both work in the CitizenM Support Office. Don’t be fooled, this is what most companies call their Head Office, but at CitizenM everyone serves the Ambassadors (=front line staff) who work in the hotels. Any people not directly working in their hotels work at the Support Office. And do you know what? Their CEO is actually at the bottom of this support pyramid. Revolutionary, but on the other hand so right!

For those of you who don’t know CitizenM – they are a hospitality company born out of the frustrations business travelers and weekenders experienced in more traditional hotels. You can find their mission statement below.

I was blown away by the passion both Evelien and Diego exhibit for CitizenM guests; something I honestly have never experienced before at other companies. While talking with them, they explained to me the CitizenM DNA, which comes down to their 5 core values:

  1. Passionate attitude
  2. Smart thinking
  3. Contemporary style
  4. Genuine touch
  5. Real Caring


At CitizenM all employees live & breathe these values. It starts during the hiring process, which they call Casting Days and has similarities with the X Factor show. CitizenM doesn’t hire people (necessarily) with a hospitality background, they hire for personality. And they use a bunch of very cool recruitment techniques to figure out someone’s personality.

  • Who is Your Hero? Asking potentials to share their hero stories helps them figure out whether people are able to open up and share emotions.
  • Blind Tasting. Tasting something without knowing what it is and then describing it to peers (without telling what you think it is), lets them see how people communicate
  • They have potentials create a moodboard explaining what CitizenM is and isn’t, to figure out if they understand the concept and company values.

After recruitment everyone is trained in these values, they even get to experience them firsthand during their Experience Shift and Experience Stay. An Experience Shift is literally being an Ambassador for a day and shaking cocktails, preparing breakfast and doing basically anything required to give the CitizenM guests a blast of a time. The Experience Stay is when employees themselves are guests in a CitizenM hotel, so they too can experience the various parts of the customer journey and really feel what it is like to be a guest at CitizenM.

It doesn’t stop there – employees call each other out when they notice that they aren’t living up to the CitizenM values and Diego shared, that just last month during a Team Day 2 colleagues prepared a workshop to discuss which values they were living up to and on which values they needed to work.

We talked about lots more, but I wanted to share these particular items with you, because to me this makes CitizenM an outstanding CX Leader in the area of Customer Obsessed Culture. We’ll be back in a next blog to share the Factors of Influence you have as a company to create a Customer Obsessed Culture.