One seemingly miniscule blemish could ruin your entire tapestry

Posted by on December 31, 2003 in Articles

One seemingly miniscule blemish could ruin your entire tapestry

By Vivienne O’Keeffe, A.A.D., P.E.A., C.I.B.T.A.C. 

Published in Spa Management magazine’s December 2003 issue

Each member of your spa team is a thread in the rich tapestry that makes up the total spa experience and each must have the same dedication and commitment to detail as you do to ensure that every visit provides guests with the restorative effect you are striving to deliver.

Planning and organization is fundamental in consistently delivering a positive spa experience for each and every guest, and at each returning visit. You commit large amounts to setting up a tranquil, efficient spa experience and even more to marketing your business.

However, the long hours devoted to planning and the resources you commit to achieving the high standard of spa service that will ensure business success, will all amount to nothing if there is a blemish in the rich tapestry of minutiae that make up a memorable spa experience for your clients.

Spa directors or owners cannot make the overall spa experience happen on their own. It may be hackneyed, but it bears pausing for a second to ensure the ancient lesson is refreshed in our minds: success depends on the spa team – each is a thread in the tapestry and each must have the same dedication and commitment to detail in the role they are there to play. In this article, my objective is to draw every member of the spa team’s attention to the responsibility they hold for the client and his or her contentment.

The spa business is a carefully orchestrated delivery of processes designed and formulated to de-stress the recipient and allow the body’s innate restorative abilities to be revitalized. The complex weave of a total spa experience is the compounded effect of several minute and not-so-minute details but, in the midst of keeping up with operational issues and the delivery of treatments and experiences, small instances – loose threads of the tapestry, as it were – can easily be overlooked.

Clients, however, do not overlook them – nor will they forgive them. It’s a well-known fact that loyal clients complain; others go elsewhere. Even more difficult to quantify are the potential clients who go elsewhere due to a less than exceptional 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 web site 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 is not welcome enough.

Staff being uncertain or confused, when asked, as to what a treatment is, or what it costs, or the incorrect information leading to embarrassment once the client is in the spa – any number of incidences like these could cause a client (or potential client) to question the level of skill at your spa and lead them to ask, “Would I trust my well-being to this operation?”

In an environment where every need or wish should be anticipated, a washroom where the bathroom tissue has run out may be enough to put a wrinkle in the carefully woven fabric of the spa experience you aim to achieve.

Step back and put yourself in the guest’s position: it can be daunting for potential consumers of the spa experience to step into a spa for the first time. The irony being that these consumers could benefit greatly from the experience if they could only be made to feel comfortable with the reception and processes involved from the moment they finally decide to contact your spa.

For example, it is intimidating for many to walk into a high quality spa and ask the beautiful young lady behind the desk about anti-wrinkle treatments, or an anti-ageing package. I have often heard young front line staff saying they do not know about this type of treatment as they have never experienced it! What should the answer be? Is your staff prepared, if asked, with a good answer?

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 (and financed).

Funny thing is, we as an industry spend millions on spectacular (and costly) facilities with unique features and designs and rely on our staff to produce an impressive R.O.I. (return on investment) for us. But we seldom train them in the most elementary aspects of human relations, such as understanding, warmth without being familiar, empathy, compassion, awareness and anticipating our clients’ basic needs.

For instance, understanding what it is like to be a first-time client, understanding that the spa industry attracts clients who may be experiencing major life traumas such as death, loss, illness, emptiness; understanding that, while they rattle off instructions, the guest is just familiarizing themselves with the surrounds and absorbing the newness – understanding alone can make or break the experience from the first minute.

Anxiety – the very thing a spa should overcome – is amplified if the receptionists or concierge is hurried, cool or snobby, or does not display any of the characteristics mentioned above.

A key skill you can teach your staff is how to identify the subtle, tell-tail signs of embarrassment, shyness, fear and uncertainty. 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 their spouse, but they should always – and I mean always – be calm, efficient, warm and attentive. As leaders, it is our role and responsibility to lead by example and teach our teams how to handle such situations with easy 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 have been overlooking, because they have become too familiar or habitual.

Attention to detail should be addressed every day in your spa. If you neglect the tiny things, your carefully woven tapestry will unravel and there will be a bright new one waiting to attract the clients you had, or could have had, just around the corner. If you don’t personally have the time to obsess about the details, you may need to employ someone to do so. It’s worth that much attention.



Our industry is growing a rapid pace and will continue to provide the antidote to the stresses and strains of time-pressured modern men and women. It will grow stronger if each and every spa owner and operator commits to teaching each and every member of their team the importance of the following:

  • Understanding
  • Warmth, without being familiar
  • Empathy
  • Compassion
  • Awareness
  • Anticipating our clients’ basic needs


Vivienne O’Keeffe, A.A.D., P.E.A., C.I.B.T.A.C., President 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 Industry Service Award in 2001, 2005 and 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


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