By Vivienne OKeeffe A.A.D., P.E.A., C.I.B.T.A.
Considering the stress and tension associated with the pressures of modern living, where depression and anxiety are at almost epidemic proportions, it is necessary for the healthy growth and development of your business to create certainty and consistency in the spa experience being offered, to both established and first time clients, not only in therapeutic methodology but also in the manner in which you clearly communicate to these clients.
We as an industry are competing for consumers disposable incomes with other leisure industries, such as the cruise ship industry, golf, dining out and the movies. These long-established leisure activities require a socially acceptable level of involvement of behalf of their participants - they know what to expect from the experience and for that reason they are more likely to talk in detail about it afterwards. The spa industry is somewhat at a disadvantage, due to its intrinsically intimate and personalised nature, when it comes to people discussing what it is that they have experienced. One of the greatest challenges in the spa industry is effectively communicating what it is that is being sold (therefore dispelling uncertainty and trepidation), and creating confidence in the mind of the potential client as to what it is they are about to purchase. Thousands of new spa clients flock to spas - apprehensive of the experience and wondering to themselves if they presently will be bare naked ladies. Communicating certainty in the minds eye of the consumer is an essential element in beginning any positive experience. This consumer's confidence begins with how you portray your facility through such communicative mediums as your website, brochure and print materials, advertisements and the quality of your reception.
Your front line staff, aestheticians and therapists need to be very aware that clients or guests look to them, as spa professionals, for guidance and direction - both initially and ongoing throughout their relationship with your facility. There is a need within the spa industry to increase awareness of essential soft skills required from each member of the spa team; in effectively communicating and interacting with clients/guests, whether that be face-to-face or on the telephone. These soft skills include appropriate voice tones and vocabulary, being sincere and personable, body language, anticipating client needs through observation and listening - or empathizing with the full spectrum of client mind-sets that constitute a working day at the spa. It is my professional observation that training your staff to take the time to respectfully assure the guest/client that they will be fully draped during their experience, or clearly informing them that their desire for privacy will be respected, are some of the very qualities that will make the difference between gaining or losing market share.
To illustrate the need for consistent communication in creating certainty, I will briefly describe an all-too-familiar scenario, which I am sure your staff will have encountered on more than one occasion. A client partakes of a full day spa package, which concludes with a manicure. The client asks if she could go and get dressed before having the manicure and the therapist automatically agrees, expecting the client to quickly change and return to the manicure table. What evolves is a classic example of miscommunication, resulting in the therapist waiting half an hour for the clients return. When the client does show up, she not only has changed her clothes but has proceeded to do her makeup and hair as well hence her delay. At this stage the therapist is fraught with frustration, both at the client and herself for not clearly articulating the boundaries of time. It is not the clients fault that, being so relaxed and comfortable, she proceeds to make herself at home in the change area nor is it the therapist's fault for wishing to accede to her clients request. The fault lies in the therapists lack of appropriate communication and client handling training.
Many times the service provider, or therapist in this case, is not confident in clearly communicating with clients they feel they have to live up to the spa's credo of exceeding expectations, which can be both elusive and exhausting for the service provider. Sometimes the clients get mixed messages; aestheticians want to be friendly but do not feel confident drawing the line between being friendly and being professional with regard to their time capacity, etc. There is a need to empower spa professionals so they can clearly communicate the boundaries that do exist within the spa experience. With the fortuitous social demographics in North America, affluence combined with personal time deprivation has led to a combination of increased demand for spa services and a burgeoning number of spa facilities competing within potentially lucrative catchment areas. Consumers, somewhat spoilt for choice with the quantity of spas in the market, are like butterflies flittering from perennials to annuals to perennials seeking out stable and reliable establishments on which they can settle, knowing that the spa experience will be consistently delivered no matter when they arrive.
If we were to conduct a survey specifically aimed at answering what holds potential consumers back from benefiting from the spa experience, many spa practitioners, therapists and aestheticians would be shocked to discover that the very idea of a spa experience, involving unknowns such as mode and manner of dress (or the lack of when in the spa), new surroundings and strange people in clinical clothing is enough to turn some people right off. We in the industry are sometimes so busy in our businesses that we forget very quickly how daunting the whole experience is for first-time clients and indeed for frequent spa goers
Many potential spa customers would benefit greatly from the established credence of the wellness benefits directly associated with the spa experience - but their curiosity in the process of discovery is impeded by the ineffective communication saturating the industry as a whole. Pandering to the market for petals and pampering is a disadvantageous development in relaying the authentic wellness benefits more properly associated with authoritative spa facilities. In truth there is a certain languor and duplicity in the marketing of the experience associated with the day spa treatment repertoire. Basically how you market or sell your business will directly affect the quantity, and more importantly the quality, of your clients. There is a huge almost untapped market of imminent spa goers, who see spa as a place of potential restoration rather than indulgence, which are just waiting to hear the right message from you and your team.