Chip Bell: You can't automate theatre

| by Chip Bell
Chip Bell:  You can't automate theatre


Howard Schultz's recent second attempt to step down as Starbucks CEO reminds me of the letter he wrote employees in 2007 when he returned after his first attempt. He lamented what he called "the watering down of the Starbucks experience" in favor of "the commoditization of our brand."

"When we went to automatic espresso machines, we solved a major problem in terms of speed of service and efficiency. At the same time, we overlooked the fact that we would remove much of the romance and theatre that was in play with the use of the La Marzocca machines…The height of the machines…blocked the visual sight line the customer previously had to watch the drink being made and for the intimate experience with the barista."

Are you watering down the "romance and theatre" of your enterprise in favor of efficiency? 

Is your customer experience plain vanilla, leaving absolutely no imprint at all on your customer's memory? How would your customers' stories about your business sound to prospects? Try using this scenography audit.

Scenography originated in ancient Greece. Artists painted colorful stage scenes on stones for a theatrical production.  It was a tool to ensure set, script, costume, and sound all worked together to create a congruent theatrical experience. The secret is attention to minute details since the brain can subconsciously pick up any dissonant signal or symbol. Audit your customers' experience though all five senses.

The elements of eye candy

Most retail experiences start with what we see. Make every detail of customers' visual experiences match to "script" of your business. Sports bars have TVs with several channels on ESPN stations. An antique store had employees in old-fashioned formal wear. Ask 20 customers to critique your website home page. Does that picture on the wall really add value? If your bathroom was your customers' total experience, how would they grade you? What role does the color of signage play? Would an employee uniform matter?

What the nose knows

Unless your business is related to food, you might not think about the smells of your retail business. Westin created a signature scent (White Tea) and used aroma machines behind furniture to fill their lobbies with the subtle scent.  Why? Without it they were left with the scent of the street. It was also the scent of the soap in guest rooms and the oil used by the spa masseuse. Aromatic symmetry is as important as ensuring no pictures are hung crooked.

Give customers an ear full

Sounds alter customers' moods in a retail experience. Are you playing music you like or tunes your target market would prefer? What do customers hear in the background when they call your location? What would a signature theme tune do for your business? Are there places in your customers' experience where special sound effects would add value? What about on your website? A hardware store added to their old-fashioned popcorn machine a sound chip that played popcorn popping all the time.  Also remember sensory enhancement must reflect balance. If customers are singing along with the music, it might be playing too loud.

The taste of great service 

The way to a customer's heart could be through their taste buds. When a western wear store in West Texas added a large barrel of ice cold beer, sales jumped even though most patrons turned down the "May I get you a cold beer" offer from a sales person.  An auto repair shop in Georgia puts a container of homemade cookies in their waiting area. Miller Brothers, an upscale men's clothing store in Atlanta placed a giant gum ball machine in the foyer right next to bowl of shiny pennies. Guess where junior goes while dad is trying on trousers? Make your taste tantalizers fit your setting. A seafood restaurant put salty toothpicks at the cash register for their exiting patrons.

Touch your customer's memory

Despite the proliferation of high tech and the growth of e-commerce, customers still enjoy a tactile experience. Stew Leonard's Dairy Store in Norwalk, CT won the hearts of customers when they added a petting zoo in front of the giant store. An auto auction company places a unique auto — an FBI van, an antique Rolls or a pricy sports car — in their waiting area for customers to climb in and feel. Build-a-Bear Workshops is not known for its toys and clothing but rather for its capacity to let a child create their own stuffed animal. Bass ProShops invites "try before you buy" with much of its merchandise.

The scenography of service can be your playground to choreograph the total mindset of your customers. Put your customers' senses on steroids and create an experience that yields a story they are eager to spread. Great service is colorfully congruent service. It delights our subconscious in a way our wide-awake mind might not even comprehend.

Topics: Consumer Behavior, Customer Experience, Customer Service, Department Stores, Digital Merchandising, Technology

Chip Bell

Chip R. Bell is a renowned keynote speaker and author of several best-selling books including Take Their Breath Away, Sprinkles: Creating Awesome Experiences through Innovative Service and Kaleidoscope: Delivering Innovative Service That Sparkles. He can be reached at

wwwView Chip Bell's profile on LinkedIn

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