Clear communication creates certainty
If they don’t understand your business, they won’t become clients
By Vivienne O’Keeffe, A.A.D., P.E.A., C.I.B.T.A.
Published in Spa Management magazine’s July 2013 issue
People seek the blissful tranquility of spas to get away from the stresses of modern living. So the last thing you want to do when they get there is raise their anxiety levels. For the healthy growth and development of your business, you need to create consistency and certainty in the experiences you offer – about the therapy itself and in the way you communicate its methodologies and benefits to your clients.
Remember, as an industry we are competing for consumers’ disposable incomes with every other leisure activity out there – from movies to golf, dining out or even ocean cruises. These long-established activities have a head start. Their social languages are well established, so people know what to expect from them, and are able and eager to talk about them in detail afterwards.
After all, just about everybody understands comments like: “I got three birdies!” or “The rack of lamb was falling off the bone!”
Not so with our industry. Owing to its intrinsically intimate and personalized nature, we’re at a disadvantage when it comes to having people spread the good news of their spa experience.
Which leaves us with a significant challenge: to effectively communicate what it is we’re selling, and to make potential clients feel confident about their imminent purchase.
Every good public speaker knows the three rules of good oration: tell your audience what you’re going to tell them, tell them, then tell them what you told them. New spa clients, skittish about what they’re about to experience, maybe with images of strange elixirs and accidentally exposed flesh racing through their minds, often feel uncertainty and trepidation. To dispel it and to make sure their experience begins positively, you need to tell them exactly what you’re going to do.
The lesson begins long before their first visit. How you portray your services on your website, in ads, or in a brochure or other handout will give them a foretaste of your offerings.
Once your clients arrive, your front line staff, aestheticians and therapists need to be aware that guests will look to them for direction, as professionals – before and during their relationship with your facility.
The spa industry needs to do a better job of teaching the soft skills required by each team member, whether face-to-face or on the phone. These include appropriate voice tones and vocabulary, being sincere and personable, adopting good body language, anticipating client needs through observation and listening, or simply empathizing with the full spectrum of client mindsets a typical spa employee can experience every day.
It is my professional observation that training staff to take the time to respectfully assure the guest or client that they will be fully draped during their experience, or clearly informing them that their desire for privacy will be respected, are among the most important messages that make the difference between gaining (or losing) market share.
Here’s an all-too-familiar scenario that illustrates the need for consistent communication in creating certainty. A client partakes of a full day spa package, and is about to begin the manicure when she asks if she can go and get dressed. The therapist automatically agrees, expecting the client to quickly change and return to the manicure table.
In a classic example of miscommunication, the therapist waits half an hour for the client’s return. When the client finally shows up, she has not only changed her clothes, but has proceeded to do her makeup and hair as well.
The therapist is fraught with frustration, both at the client and at herself for not clearly articulating the boundaries of time. Is it the client’s fault for feeling so relaxed and comfortable that she made herself at home in the change area? Or is it the therapist’s for letting her go and get dressed in the first place?
Obviously, the responsibility for appropriate communication and client handling lies with the therapist. Blame her lack of experience – or lack of confidence. The therapist wants to follow the credo of ‘exceeding expectations’ right out the window – in this case, to avoid any semblance of confrontation by not clearly communicating with her client. Sometimes the clients get mixed messages; aestheticians want to be friendly, but don’t feel confident drawing the line they need to draw to properly manage their time. To communicate the unwritten rules and expectations of the whole spa experience, spa professionals need to feel empowered.
In affluent North America, relatively high disposable incomes have partnered with personal time deprivation to boost demand for spa services – spawning more spa facilities competing in the same catchment areas. Spoiled by an abundance of choice, consumers – like butterflies flitting from flower to flower – will try as many spa establishments as they need to until they settle on one that gives them a consistently good experience.
I bet a survey to find out what keeps potential consumers from benefiting from spa treatments would shock a lot of spa practitioners, therapists and aestheticians. Because I bet it would reveal that the very idea of visiting a spa – complete with such worrisome unknowns as dress code (or in some cases, lack of attire altogether), new surroundings and strange people in clinical attire – is enough to turn some people completely off the idea of ever going. We in the industry quickly forget how daunting the experience can be for first-time clients, and even sometimes for frequent spa-goers.
Many potential spa customers would benefit a great deal from hearing lots more about the benefits we know the spa experience can provide. But their curiosity is thwarted by the ineffective communication saturating the industry. Today’s tendency to go after consumers seeking ‘petals and pampering’ undermines the authentic wellness benefits delivered by most professional spa facilities. I believe there is a huge untapped market of potential spa-goers who need only one positive experience to forever forge their image of spas as places of restoration rather than indulgence.
That’s the message they’re waiting to hear from you and your team. That’s the message you need to put out.
Vivienne O’Keeffe, A.A.D., P.E.A., C.I.B.T.A., President and CEO of Spa Profits Consulting Inc., has earned an international reputation as an expert in designing successful spa concepts. She specializes in working with owners to create profitable spas. As an international consultant she is highly skilled in developing unique product and treatment lines, as well as training programs. Vivienne has studied and trained extensively in the beauty and well-being arena and is a member of ISPA, Leading Spas of Canada (for which she won an Outstanding Achievement Award in 2012) and the Institute of Management Consultants USA (IMC USA). She is also a published author, having written a wide range of articles on developing and running a successful spa. Spa Profits Consulting Inc. is the only SpaExcellence certified consultancy in North America, and is committed to setting the standard for quality, successful spas on a global level. For more information call 604.921.6245 or email