Customer Experience: Your Physical Environment is Not Just Window-Dressing


The influence a physical environment has on us doesn’t get as much attention as it should. What we experience through our physical senses generates some of our strongest memories—good and bad. The more a business can involve our physical senses in the customer experience, the more powerful and memorable the experience they’ll create. It can impact the use of a product, service and buying decisions of your customers.

Some businesses are more affected than others. Those where customers spend very little time on the premises (such as the post office) are less affected than services where long customer-provider interactions are typical (such as an apartment leasing office, restaurant or doctor’s office).

The physical environment at your apartment community can have a positive or a negative impact on a customer’s purchasing behavior and resident retention.

Physical environment factors can:

  • Attract or detract attention.
  • Convey subtle (or not so subtle) signals about your community, product and the services you offer.
  • Act as an effective medium, where color, smell, and sound evoke instinctive reactions that will influence the likelihood of renewal or conversion.

I recently had a conversation with a friend regarding the power of the physical environment in business and how it can impact the customer experience. She shared a personal story with me that I would like to share with you.

Get to the Core: Setting the Scene for the Guest Experience (PDF)

My friend’s story in her own words

A few weeks ago I threw my neck out of whack—again.  I have been seeing a chiropractor for this injury but wasn’t getting any relief. I decided it was time to get a second opinion. I asked my friends for recommendations via Facebook, posted on a Yahoo group, and visited a few customer review sites. As the recommendations began to flow in I noticed that the same doctor’s name popped up over and over again. So, I made contact and I set up an appointment. The best word that I can use to describe my experience is “amazing!” The best way I can describe my experience is to draw a comparison between Bone Doctor #1 (previous) and Bone Doctor #2 (present).

Bone Doctor #1His office is located in the middle of town in a great location. As you approach the building the office signage speaks to the fact that this is a long standing practice. It looks original and tired. When you walk through the front door there is no doubt you are in the presence of a doctor—from the smell, to the pictures on the wall, to the office design—it is clear. The equipment and the decor are the same as they were the day they opened the doors. Does any of this impact my experience as a patient? At the time I didn’t realize the impact, but now I do. Please continue reading.

The Patient’s View:

  1. Sign in at the receptionist desk. If you are a new patient you will need to complete at least 5 pages of medical forms.  Have a seat and wait your turn.
  2. When your name is called follow the receptionist to a small patient room with a number on it. Your medical file will be placed in a box next to the door to alert the doctor that you are in the room.
  3. Now it’s time to remove your top portion of clothing and put on that very fashionable green hospital gown. The paint on the walls matches the gown, too. Have a seat and wait your turn.
  4. The doctor enters with your chart, asks you about your injury, and begins to manipulate your bones.
  5. When you are done it’s time to stop by the payment window to discuss your insurance coverage and how much you will need to pay for today’s service.
  6. Communication: Office phone only. No website exists.

Bone Doctor #2- His office is located several miles outside of town. In fact, it resembles a small house rather than an office. The signage is crisp and is surrounded by beautiful flowering shrubs. As you approach the front door you walk through a pathway that is planted with fresh herbs, fruit trees, and vegetables—all planted around a small outside seating area for patient overflow. The facility is very small, quaint, and presents a non-medical feeling environment. In fact, when you enter the doors it feels more like a spa—soft music, soft wall colors, an open room, aromatic smell in the air, etc. It is not uncommon to walk in and hear the doctor singing a tune while adjusting a patient.

The Patient’s View:

  1. There is one form that needs to be completed and you can download it off of his website. There is no front desk or receptionist—you simply sign the welcome sheet located on a small coffee table, sit in a chair and wait your turn. He is a one man show!
  2. When it is your turn, the doctor will come to you, shake your hand, welcome you, and proceed to ask you how you have improved since your last visit. He does not refer to his medical file—he knows his patients well.
  3. You don’t have to remove your clothes, put on a hospital gown, or go to a separate room with a number on it.
  4. The adjustment area is only separated from the waiting area with a half-wall. Conversations flow back and forth between the doctor and other patients.
  5. When you are done you simply slip your payment in an antique wood box located on a small table. If you forgot your check book don’t worry—he will catch you on the next visit.
  6. Communication: His cell phone, Facebook page, and an iPhone app for office information.

Question: Which Chiropractor would you rather visit? 

The physical environment of a business can have a powerful impact on the customer’s experience—in a good or a bad way.  Walt Disney once said, “I don’t want the public to see the world they live in while they’re in the Park. I want them to feel like they’re in another world.”

That pretty much sums it up!

Get to the Core: Create Magical Customer Experiences (5 min 30 sec video)

When your potential residents enter your doors, what do they see? Have you ever considered how you stack up to your competition when it comes to physical environment? Are you just another apartment community to the resident, or are you providing an entirely different experience? If you don’t have the answers to these questions it might be time conduct a resident survey or even visit an apartment ratings and review site to hear what conversations are happening about you and your apartment community.

Get to the Core: Influence of Physical Environment on Satisfaction (PDF)

I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic!