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Wednesday, 26 July 2006 09:35

Service Tips from a Customer

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Close your eyes and imagine being enveloped by the soothing embraces of a beautiful day spa. Mmmmmmm... What special images and sensations are drifting into focus? Make a mental list of these details as you indulge in this fantasy. Now, imagine what things would disrupt your serene daydream, regardless of how large or small the flaw might be. What comes to mind? More importantly, as a customer have you personally experienced both satisfying and irritating details at a spa? Yes? Then consider what the delight or disappointment was, how it affected your overall satisfaction, and what you, the spa professional, could do to either highlight or eliminate similar occurrences where you work now.

Let me explain how important this is to your business success.
A spa differs from all other beauty businesses principally through the implied promise that the total experience of being there-everything from the initial greeting to checkout-will be exceptionally serene. The spa is a respite from the pressure and rigors of routine life, a genuine escape, and customers can and do expect almost flawless treatment and care. While that goal is a lovely idea, delivering the goods is tricky business indeed - easy and expensive to fail. Consider these several real life examples:

  • The brochure of a multi-million dollar tropical mega spa boasts "A veritable vacation from your vacation that will be the highlight of your island experience!" That might be a good claim for Devil's Island, but a retreat from paradise?

My experience: Overwhelmed, unsmiling receptionist hands me a locker key but offers no instructions as to where the men's spa area is. When I get the information she points to a door far across the lobby where an attendant is said to be waiting for me. Arriving there I find no attendant anywhere, no slippers in the locker where I'm told they would be, and my eagerly awaited Jacuzzi®/meditation area polluted by a loud gruff guy having a business shout-down on his supposedly off-limits cell phone. All this before ever meeting a therapist! I needed a vacation from my vacation from my vacation after that.

  • A national travel magazine quotes a day spa director: "We believe that employee training is the key to providing the best customer service possible. Clients are always complimenting us on that."

My experience: I wonder what spa she was talking about because, clearly, it wasn't the one that she (formerly) directed. Granted, I was a walk-in inquiring about a spur-of-the-moment facial but the reply to my question was a blunt, "we're all booked up." Then, the silent stare as if to imply that she will wait until I say something equally rude before dealing with me further. So, I say, "well, okay, thanks anyway." She replies with a flat "sorry" to my retreating back.

  • In Las Vegas as I wait enrobed in the men's lounge of a large spa, a Japanese bridegroom in a white tuxedo walks in followed by a photographer for some wedding shots. There I am, a terry-wrapped, involuntary backdrop for a high concept photo album. I good-naturedly raised my plastic cup of iced herbal tea in a sort of feeble toast to my unknown "friend", all duly captured by the lens. Hey, dude! Where's my model release form???

Ahhh, the little details that mean so much!
The point to all of this is that providing an enjoyable and positively memorable experience for spa customers is not determined by the width of the marble pillar or height of the water feature. Brochure fantasies and journalistic statements won't substitute for the simple graces that make people feel special - simple and inexpensive details. Here's a partial list of things that happy spa customers remember most:

  • warm smiles and handshakes (emotional feelings of acceptance, safety, and belonging)
  • instructions and directions (I'm a stranger here - tell me what to do and where to go!)
  • intimacy (don't expose me to the world!)
  • cleanliness and order (I have time to inspect everything while waiting for my massage, and I see a cobweb, dust, a burned out light bulb, and stains on the lounge cushion)
  • mood and energy (Is there employee or customer discord evident?)
  • personal, professional interest in them (Do the therapists take enough consultation time before working on customers?)
  • sensitivity to unspoken needs (I'm cold, hungry, or lost! Can't you see that?)
  • consistency (Every time I come here someone's left and no one remembers me)
  • appreciation (I paid but no one said goodbye or anything as I left)

As a spa-goer, this same list goes for me as well. I love to feel special, cared about, appreciated, and thoughtfully considered as a guest of a personal services business. And wouldn't you, too? In fact, the more lavish the build-outs of a spa, the more I expect from it in terms of service excellence. Sometimes you get exactly the opposite. I wouldn't go to a four-star restaurant looking for a SPAM sandwich, so why should anyone be served poorly when obviously so much was invested into size and features? It's an insult for customers to be underserved and, for a spa operator of any scale to do it is just plain wrong. For those that think the solution is in extending the time you provide for services, consider this:

  1. What's more satisfying: an excellent 50-minute massage or a mediocre 90-minute session?
  2. What spa therapist would you prefer: a warm, caring person a year out of school or the cool, efficient and impersonal 10-year veteran?
  3. Where would you feel more comfortable: in an elaborate, bustling 15,000 sq. ft. spa or a simple and intimate spa of 1500 sq ft.?
  4. Would you be more likely to forgive a grand resort spa for customer service infractions than a small local business?
  5. If a spa made a mistake that upset you what would make you feel most cared for: a free service or a personal expression of regret and apology from management?
  6. If you go to Disneyland and find your favorite ride closed for repairs though all of the others are up and running, are you happy at The Happiest Place On Earth?

In the world of human emotions joys are soon forgotten while disappointments run long and deep. After a business meeting in NYC I dropped into the FAO Schwartz in Trump Plaza and triumphantly strode out the new owner of a large grey stuffed elephant. There I was, fully suited, briefcase in one hand walking along 5th Ave. with this big toy tucked under my other arm, and smiling broadly. There, at 48 years of age, I had satisfied as well as I could a 44-year-old broken promise made by an uncle in the navy: to bring me that elephant home for Christmas. And, as silly and self-indulgent as that seems, it finally quelled an oddly preserved disappointment held over from 1957! Humans are like that.
So, pay careful attention to the small, seemingly insignificant and yet critically important details that make a spa-any spa-a place of genuine repose for those that seek them out. Put that next big purchase on the back burner and invest in some customer service training if you truly want to outperform your competitors and delight clients. I know that this customer would appreciate it!

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