By Vivienne O’Keeffe A.A.D., P.E.A., C.I.B.T.A.
Published in Spa Management magazine’s June 2003 issue
Managing expectations in clients is key to a harmonious, smoothly running spa operation. Many spas promote themselves as wishing to exceed clients’ expectations – they are imposing daunting targets upon themselves. In reality few businesses are set up to undertake this task – clients are becoming more and more spa savvy and knowledgeable in spa etiquette and in what is to be expected during a treatment. A far more realistic goal would be to try to simply meet customers’ expectations, and then do that consistently. Only then, with a standardised product being delivered on all levels of the business can a surpassing of expectations be promoted. With good staff always a prerequisite for all successful service industries, it is not uncommon for spas across the country to have staff with a broad spectrum of qualifications, experience and treatment methodology – a reflection of the exponential growth that continues to occur within the spa industry. Considering this, consistency in treatment protocol and delivery is fundamental to immediate and long-term customer satisfaction and repeat business. To this end staff in all facets of your business, from front desk to aestheticians should have clear and defined guidelines to follow for in-treatment procedures. Services should be consistently delivered, with a minimum of variation between aestheticians’ styles or specific treatment techniques. Congruent policies are necessary in the operations of your spa to ensure a reasonable balance between energies expended in bringing people into your facility and catering to their requirements – and those energies and resources committed to pursuing a genuinely customer driven policy.
Clients have expectations, which are acquired directly and indirectly from contact with your communication and marketing tools, staff and your business. From the clients’ perspective, whether it is their first or 41st visit to your spa, they will have expectations about the experience they are seeking. Should they be at all disappointed in their experience, the manifestations of such feelings can often be discretely delayed. If you have ever wondered why the client who left the spa after a seemingly pleasant experience, returns to, or phones the spa three days later to complain or voice concerns about their inconsistent or poor treatment, it is because you need to make sure, as the operator of a customer driven business, that you hear what you don’t like to hear. Provision for accessible lines of communication-direct or confidential- with both client and staff is the key to diffusing any misunderstandings. However, time spent listening to your customers does not include bland rituals such as “Was everything all right with your treatment?” or “ Did you enjoy your treatment today?” Such questions, phrased in such a way as to produce a politely affirmative response from the client, in fact do nothing to assist you in acquiring the precious feedback so necessary for self-evaluation. Dialogue as such succeeds in suppressing all but the strongest initial criticisms. Selective filtering of customer opinions is basically counter-productive to your spa operation, your customer base, market and ultimately your growth. While facing the fact that listening to customers’ praise has very little value in making you customer driven (apart from confirming what you are doing right), probing a bit and discovering any little annoyances amounting to mild dissatisfaction they may have – and remedying them, can do wonders for customer confidence in your facility.
Listening to your customers will tell you more about the operations of your spa than any financial review. Feedback from clients can effectively come through your staff if they are aware of your desire to get feedback. Should feedback be solicited from clients your staff should be aware that any criticisms of treatment policy or procedures by clients will be handled by management in a positive and progressive way. The staff should not be afraid for their position when making you aware of difficult situations where a client is expressing disappointment regarding their experience. If you don’t know about a situation because of staff apprehension, you won’t be able to rectify the difficulty. The operative word here is reasonableness. I’m sure there must be complaints which good practice across the industry would adjudge as unreasonable. It’s at times like that that staff need to know of compliments received by the facility. Care has to be taken however, that expression of support for staff in such situations is not deemed to be the total answer. Staff security really comes from the knowledge of a job well done and confident professionals need not feel threatened by the occasional crib. But customer care and updating is equally legitimate and would best be achieved in parallel. Ultimately it is a managerial responsibility to ensure that each and every member of the spa staff is properly trained in the spas Policies and Procedures and client handling and sees him or herself as part of a team. Train your staff well, affirm and have high expectations of them. Be confident in the complete operation, so you can, at the very least, meet client expectations. Concentrate your listening on what it is you want to achieve with the business. Your potential for growth in the spa industry is proportionate to your attention to customer service.
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