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Building a fabric of trust

One tiny flaw can ruin your entire tapestry and send customers elsewhere

If you’re like most spa owners, you’ve spent tens (or even hundreds) of thousands of dollars to create a facility that’s both visually stunning and an efficiency expert’s dream – and likely even more to marketing your business. As a result of this massive spending, you expect to receive a correspondingly impressive return on investment.


But what about your staff? How much have you invested in training them in the most elementary aspects of human relations: trust, understanding, warmth, empathy, compassion, awareness, and anticipating their clients’ basic needs?

Armed with the knowledge that spas tend to attract clients who may be experiencing major life traumas including death, loss, illness, or emptiness, how well can your staff empathize with first-time visitors? Do they know that while they are rattling off instructions to guests, the new arrivals are probably familiarizing themselves with their new surroundings, wondering if they can trust this facility, and forming unconscious decisions about whether they’ll ever come back?

Think of each member of your spa team as a thread in a rich tapestry making up the total spa experience. To ensure that every visit provides guests with the restorative effect you are striving to deliver, each must combine in an interlocking commitment to the quality, consistency and detail. Just one flaw in the tapestry of minutiae that makes up a memorable spa experience for your clients, and those many dollars and long hours devoted to achieving your standards of service and turning a tidy profit are all for naught.

Success is everyone’s business

The spa business is based upon a carefully orchestrated series of processes designed to de-stress the recipient and allow the body’s innate restorative abilities to be revitalized. The weave of a total spa experience is the compounded effect of several minute and not-so-minute details. In the complex tapestry of operational issues and treatment deliveries, threads can unravel. You can bet that clients notice – and condemn – these frayed edges.

Loyal clients will complain; the rest will go elsewhere. More difficult to quantify are the would-be clients who switch spas because of a disappointing (which usually means underwhelming) first contact with your business.

Many spa owners and operators are unaware of the number of opportunities missed every day. You can have a beautiful website or brochure, but if the potential client calls and receives a cool, stand-offish reception at the front desk or on the phone, or is simply not greeted with enough warmth and kindness on a busy day, the opportunity is lost. In a high-touch, personal industry such as ours, it doesn’t take much for the client to feel he or she is not welcome.

Are your staff uncertain or confused (when asked) about what a treatment consists of, or what it costs? Has a guest ever received incorrect information leading to embarrassment later? Do your staff understand confidentiality? Any number of incidents like these could cause a client (real or potential) to question the level of skill at your spa and wonder ‘Would I trust my well-being to this operation?’

In an environment where every need and want should be anticipated, something as seemingly innocuous as a washroom lacking tissue can be enough to fatally wrinkle your carefully woven cloth.

Put yourself in the guest’s position and you’ll realize that stepping into a high-end spa for the first time can be a daunting experience. Imagine a 50-something woman asking the beautiful young lady behind the counter about anti-wrinkle treatments, or an anti-aging product. Believe it or not, I’ve heard young frontline staff respond by saying they don’t know about this type of treatment because they’ve never experienced it! And I’ve heard it more than once.


What is the right answer? Will your staff come up with one?

Anxiety – the very thing a spa should overcome – is amplified by a receptionist or concierge who’s hurried, cool, or snobby, or does not display the elementary aspects of human relations I mentioned at the beginning of this article. The irony is, the most uncomfortable visitors are usually the ones who stand to benefit the most from their experiences. But first they need to be made to feel comfortable with the reception and processes involved from the moment they enter. As you read this, you could be recalling many instances in your spa, all of which appeared harmless in your team’s busy day and seemingly had no negative client response. But each in its own way detracted from the spa experience you so painstakingly planned.

Teach your staff how to identify the subtle, telltale signs of embarrassment, shyness, fear, and uncertainty, such as a short ‘yes’ answer to the question, ‘Did you enjoy your spa experience?’ This will not only provide your team with the ability to serve your guests and clients more effectively, but also provide them with a vital life skill which can enrich every aspect of their lives.

The frontline team can be particularly busy dealing with multiple telephone calls, greeting and checking clients in and out of the spa, or assisting an embarrassed husband to select a gift certificate for his spouse, but they need always – and I mean always – to be calm, efficient, warm, and attentive. As leaders, it is our role and responsibility to lead by example and to teach our teams how to handle such situations with calmness and certainty.

If training is not your forte, hire an expert. The additional benefit of bringing in an outsider is that someone less familiar with your spa will notice little things you and your team may have been overlooking because you see them every day.

Above all, emphasize attention to detail. Neglect the little things, and there will certainly be a brighter, more carefully woven tapestry hanging just around the corner to attract the clients you had, or could have had.

If you don’t personally have the time to obsess about the details, you may need to employ someone who does. And you should. It’ll be worth it.

Our growing industry will continue to provide an antidote to the stresses and strains assailing today’s time-pressured men and women. It will grow stronger if every spa owner and operator commits to teaching all their team members the importance of:

  • Trust
  • Understanding
  • Warmth (but not familiarity)
  • Empathy
  • Compassion
  • Awareness
  • The ability to anticipate basic needs

Vivienne O’Keeffe

Vivienne O’Keeffe, AAD, PEA, CIBTAC, is President of Spa Profits Consulting Inc., and an expert in designing successful spa concepts. She is also an international consultant in developing product lines, treatment plans and training programs, a member of ISPA and Spa Industry Association of Canada (for which she won an Outstanding Industry Service Award in 2001, 2005 and 2012), and a member of International Management Consultants Inc.

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