Walking the line with care

Posted by on August 31, 2007 in Articles

Walking the line with care

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

Published in Spa Management magazine’s August 2007 issue 

We all want repeat clients.  Repeat clients form the heart and soul of our spa and wellness industry.  Spas are privileged to share a very intimate and special relationship with their core and repeat clientele and many facilities operate under the 20 / 80 principle with these loyal visitors.  That is: 20% of their client base generates 80% of the income.  This striking statistic deserves our greatest attention; as an analysis of sustained take-up of service by this key group reveals the values which we, as service providers, ought to best espouse, protect, nurture and ultimately sustain through tenacious adherence to challenging quality standards and vigorous promotional claims.  Retention of a reliable core of repeats clients is confirmation that we tend to do things right.

And yet, have you experienced one or more of your core clients leave your facility, never to return – with no explanation and for no apparent reason?  You do some sole searching, attempting to discover the cause.

The client / spa-facility relationship is in reality very delicate, one which is vulnerable to inadvertent oversights, indiscretions and erroneous perceptions.  Only by providing a structured opportunity for stress-free communication can the situation be addressed.

All clients deserve to be valued and acknowledged and your repeat clients require particular attention.  In our eagerness to create a favourable environment to facilitate this aim, we may unknowingly walk the line of familiarity, thereby losing focus on what motivates and attracts this type of client to the facility in the first instance.  Personal qualities of empathy and friendliness, while much sought-for in spa practitioners, should not translate as familiarity with or patronisation of the client.  Nothing could be further from the desired benefit of the spa experience, as perceived through the eyes of the customer.  The integrity of the treatment process is paramount.  The major responsibility for securing this lies with the proprietor and practitioner through clearly adopting and supporting, to the highest degree, the exacting protocols appropriate to the level of risk encountered by such service industries.

The loyalty and trust of your repeat client may sometimes go unacknowledged and without reward by the therapist or provider.  This can create disappointment and disaffection.  Clients may feel taken for granted, or feel that their trust has been violated within the corroborative intimacy of the relationship; their expectations, goals, needs and desires lie exposed and dashed in the disillusion of that awareness.  The spa facility itself may lose credibility and be denied the opportunity to redress the situation.  The frustration is compounded by the realisation that we have crossed the line of insensitivity and poor customer awareness.

We need to raise the horizons of our relationships well beyond those of ‘companion’, ‘buddy’ or ‘friend’.  Conversation about our personal lives; reciprocal queries for information and indeed service provider’s requests for personal advice – all have no real legitimacy within an expensive appointment session.

Choose instead to walk the line of your professional protocol by:

  • Retaining the dignity of professional detachment, while concentrating on the service objective, for the client’s benefit.
  • Preserving the integrity of the role of client / practitioner to ensure optimum service experience and satisfaction and to avoid compromising the client.

The routine of the client / practitioner interaction could easily degenerate into a ritual of familiarity when the practitioner fails to preserve vigilance and caution.  If this happens then the practitioner and establishment have let the ball drop!  Walking the line with an assumption that- “It is just Suzie; she loves us and she will be fine if we keep her waiting / move her appointment / or change therapists”- is a sure-fire recipe for commercial disaster!

A well disposed repeat client will generally see you and your facility in a friendly, familiar context.  Yet, the following cannot be over-stressed: this is precisely the situation where a fine balance and constant, vigilant focus is required.  It is therapeutically very beneficial for your client to feel comfortable and secure, as comfort and a predictable ritual bring about a ‘certainty of situation’ for which the consumers of spa and wellness experiences yearn – it provides an antidote to the high octane charge palpable in the world of to-day.  An excessive degree of familiarity will serve to disturb this critical sense of security and rapidly extinguish the prospect of delivering a worthwhile spa / wellness experience.  In truth, the benefits of the spa experience then become non-viable.

We forever walk a fine line between being friendly and being familiar; being patronising and offering insincere compliments; being casual and being effective in the discharge of a service within the contracted session time period.  Should we fail to get the balance of approach right, many valued clients will be lost to the quicksand of inadequate role self-esteem, poor treatment preparation and depleted job satisfaction.  As the spa service provider progressively loses focus on the needs and expectations of their repeat clients, the client in turn loses their desire to resume treatments at this facility.

Operational Tips For Service Providers, Facility Operators and Personal Trainers:

Secure the present core clientele: Make a quality decision to step back and regroup before you begin your very next client interaction.  Taking the client file and reviewing it before you begin the interaction session with the client can accomplish this.

Client Feedback: Set up a client feedback system as a matter of urgency.  This may consist of a simple card incorporating an invitational prompt designed to elicit a client’s views on projected needs and their prioritisation.  Information so recorded is included in the client’s file.  This brief exercise may occur prior to therapy or at its conclusion.  If performed as a prelude, it could fulfil the dual purposes of quickly focussing the therapist and client on the business in hand while also offering the opportunity for pre-preparation and forethought.  Feedback records, being relevant and helpful, need to be regularly overviewed by the therapist to ensure continuity, direction and overall cohesion of the service.

Accurate Notes:  Keep accurate notes on the client file of the last procedure / service / experience.  The Client Feedback opinion and information card should now form a permanent feature of this file.

Therapist’s Query: One of the best refocusing questions for you and your client is, “What would you like us to focus on to-day?”

Articulating Needs: Some individuals may initially find it quite difficult to describe the service they need, over time they will develop the ability to specify their requirements.  This exercise is a very powerful one on many levels as it serves to recommit the client to regular uptake of spa and wellness benefits.

  • It also begins the process of transformation of the perception of the spa experience from that of ‘luxury’ to ‘necessity’ status.
  • It is a very effective risk management tool when used consistently.
  • It serves to refocus both parties and empowers product prescription and sales.  (Only 36% of spa consumers purchase products from their spa / wellness facility). If their needs go unnoticed they go to the local department store where these relevant needs are heard and addressed.

Conclusion of Service:

  • Recap and document what was accomplished.
  • Ask the clients / guests if they have achieved their intention / objective.
  • Ask if they have any questions.

Design Programs: to address their specific needs and follow-up on them, i.e. if it is weight loss do a follow-up on their progress with this goal.

It is vital to keep all senses on alert and focused while performing client services as this ultimately benefits the client, the facility and the therapist.

To successfully walk the line and deliver a wellness or spa experience providing product satisfaction and genuine value, it is essential that:

  • Management and therapist have a clear concept of Spa and session objectives.
  • A transparent menu of the facility’s treatment designed to deliver these services is easily available to customers.
  • Practices, which go beyond accepted decorum and propriety, have no place in the system.

Finally, the line is adroitly walked if we invest vision, inspiration and the skill of detachment in our work, to best sustain the professional attitude, essential to implementing the service dream of this wonderful industry of ours.


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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