Want to make more money? Start thinking like a customer
Targeting the bottom line will only lead you straight to the bottom
By Vivienne O’Keeffe, A.A.D., P.E.A., C.I.B.T.A.
Published in Spa Management magazine’s June 2013 issue
During my years as a spa consultant, I’ve often been struck by the differences between the industries in Europe and North America.
For one thing, despite its growth spurt until the recession hit in 2009, the industry in North America is still in the fledgling stage. The European spa industry, on the other hand, is a mature one, steeped in tradition dating back to Roman times, and supplying services and products to a distinctively different clientele.
Spas in North America cater to a wider variety of lifestyles and needs, and focus more on ‘pampering’ the customer, while spas in Europe are like health institutions, valued for their ability to impart wellness – to the extent that until recently some countries actually considered spa visits an integral component of government medical services.
The one thing they have in common? They are both subject to the inviolable laws of business and human nature: you can’t survive if you don’t give customers what they want.
And if you don’t give customers what they want, it won’t take long for the whole world to know. Online chat rooms are making it all but impossible for inferior cars or restaurants – or spas – to survive. Spa customers will do one of two things after their visits: evangelize or criticize. There is no middle ground.
That said, it seems to me that a lot of people in the North American spa business still perceive outstanding customer service to be an expensive pipe dream, a luxury they can’t afford.
Growing up in the skin care /spa industry in Ireland, where our main marketing efforts were simply spent on developing relationships with our customers (with the exception of the odd print advertisement in a local newspaper or glossy magazine), I find it curious to see so many of these businesses ignoring the basic essentials of customer care in the pursuit of profitability.
Because, in reality, the customer-driven approach is the key to profitability. Too many spa operators pay lip service to the concept of customer service only to make decisions with their own needs, or their current business activities or the capabilities of their facility in mind. They’re effectively putting themselves before their customer – focusing on short-term profits rather than on the long-term dividends that result from a continuing customer relationship.
Customer service is a core commitment which requires a determined effort by an organization – a commitment to see things from the customer’s point of view. The value of this approach is based on the simple principle of customer loyalty. After all, you probably spent a lot of time and money attracting customers to your establishment. Compared to that outlay, retaining them is cheap.
Sometimes just listening carefully to your customer – maybe questioning him or her about the general satisfaction with the level of service your spa offers – can be enough for you to implement the kinds of minor changes that can have major beneficial effects on your long-term occupancy rate.
Customer appreciation forms are another, perhaps less intrusive, form of information gathering. Be open to healthy criticism. For every customer who voices a complaint, 10 will leave without a peep. But they will pass along their experiences to some of their friends or online – and this spells bad news for your business.
Satisfied customers will behave differently. Being quietly pleased with the service, they will do exactly what you want – return to repeat the experience.
And as high as customer expectations in our industry may already be, they are rising daily as competition increases awareness of competitive offerings in your market. Remember, customers have wants, expectations and needs – which they are entrusting to you to fulfill. She or he comes to your spa to surrender their worries at the reception, and expect to:
- Be acknowledged;
- Have their anticipated spa needs fulfilled;
- Be treated with dignity and respect;
- Be appreciated;
- Be educated.
Again, the customer-driven model requires a huge commitment, demanding that key decisions be based on an overriding wish to give the best possible service. Every member of the spa team should see serving the customer as the essence of their business.
I’ve seen how well the customer-driven approach can work – building on solid delivery and fulfillment of customers’ needs, and creating that intangible desire to come back for more. It is the most dynamic and challenging way of doing business, and one which keeps you on your proverbial toes.
The best way to think of it is to look at repeat business not as a bonus, but as an ideal which you’re striving to turn into the norm.
It’s the key to your sustained growth and profitability.
So start thinking like a customer.
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