Spa consistency in a hyper-personalized world

Posted by on November 18, 2018 in Articles

Spa consistency in a hyper-personalized world

Spa customers want experiences that are both customized and predictable. A quality management system can help you deliver both

By Vivienne O’Keeffe

Imagine a situation where a guy walks into a hair salon for a cut. He is welcomed with a steaming cup of his favourite beverage – a double double cappuccino – and along with an excellent cut, gets a complimentary head massage. Delighted, he tells all his friends about this wonderful salon and almost can’t wait until his hair grows long enough to indulge himself in another session.

When that occurs a month later, he gets a good cut and a head massage but is not offered a coffee. On his third visit, to his chagrin, he is offered neither a complimentary beverage nor a head massage. Needless to say, that visit will be his last.

The above scenario plays out all too frequently in the spa industry. Instead of offering reliable, consistent experiences, many spas, staffed (in some cases) by individualists who all have their own way of doing things, are sending out messages of confusion and inconsistency. Thus the returning customer, instead of getting that same wonderful facial she got the first time, must confront a different approach, different skin analysis and even different treatment brands in some cases.

The good news is that having a systematic framework to deliver a quality experience and create a solid repeat business while delivering the personalization today’s customers expect can be achieved. All it takes, no matter what segment of the spa industry you are serving, is a clear understanding of your concept, vision, values, intentions, objectives and a commitment to continuous improvement. And for that, you need a system.


Inconsistency and poor relationships: the enemies of quality

We love our cup of Starbucks because, though maybe not intended for the coffee connoisseur, it provides quality that’s consistent. We know what to expect and are seldom disappointed. Now think about our wellness spa industry, where the environment is infinitely more intimate, personal and vulnerable than a mere sidewalk coffee shop.

How are some spas able to offer their guests consistent experiences with every visit? Inevitably, the answer is by adhering to a quality management system.

The foundation of consistent delivery is a strong, stable work environment. Dysfunctions and incongruencies in your spa culture – infighting, powerlessness, victim and martyr mentality, for example – can sap a team’s energy, impede progress and stress employees. Jan-Emmanuel De Neve, Associate Professor of Economics and Strategy at the Saïd Business School University of Oxford, says raising an employee’s well-being raises productivity 7 to 12 per cent. By contrast, unclear protocols and procedures, communications and expectations that create dissatisfaction and frustration can kill productivity and profitability.


Risk avoidance and mitigation

In a fast-changing world, a culture that encourages communication and facilitates consistency can help spas traverse the turbulent times for example of leadership transition. A strong business system can also help a spa defend itself from litigation – something I’ve seen several times. In one instance, a guest alleged a spa was responsible for a sexual assault. It failed when the spa proved it had gone above and beyond its established protocols to ensure the guest’s safety.

In another instance, a patient claimed a medical spa caused an infection owing to inadequate sanitation. The spa was able to demonstrate that, no, it had followed its well laid-out protocols and procedures by properly sterilizing all implements used. It never even went to litigation.

More gratifying than the avoidance of legal risk, perhaps, are the morale benefits – the feelings of unity, coherence and pure joy a spa team experiences; the ongoing elation of being a part of a dynamic team that grows and evolves with the business.

My clients who have taken the time and resources to invest in a framework for their quality system have experienced those benefits firsthand. It’s like building a house on a solid foundation.


Implementing a quality system

There’s no doubt that a quality management system will positively impact your spa or wellness facility, regardless of its size or the depth of your pockets. Moreover, growing it beyond a certain level is possible only when you have and use a good quality management system. Trying to grow without one is like being a firefighter in a British Columbia summer, risking exhaustion and burnout in the face of impossible odds.

A quality system will send your spa on an upward trajectory, which in turn will:

  • Improve your training and retention
  • Prevent chaos, frustration and burnout
  • Improve guest/client satisfaction
  • Generate positive word-of-mouth recommendations
  • Increase your market share
  • Lower costs and reduce wastage
  • Allow you to work on the business not in the business – reacting to constant crises
  • Help demonstrate value (essential if you are ever to contemplate the sale of a spa business).


What is a spa quality management system?

One example of a Quality Management System is ISO 9001, which says: “A quality management system (QMS) is a set of policies, processes and procedures required for planning and execution (production/development/service) in the core business area of an organization.”

In the spa business, a quality management system is a formal system that replaces reactivity with stability. It is a framework that allows you to review your experiences, products and operations with the aim of establishing consistency and improving processes.


Can I set up a quality system in an existing spa?

Absolutely! Your business may have been operating for many years with an established clientele, yet you find yourself unable to grow or running around in circles, experiencing the same problems over and over. A quality management system can help your spa grow while relieving the pressure on management and staff that always results from a lack of clarity and certainty.

Creating a new system is not for the faint of heart, mind you. It takes vision, commitment and discipline on behalf of the owners, leaders and all team members. In response to the integrity and clarity of purpose a new framework provides, the spas I have worked with have seen a cascade of benefits: deep empowerment, concerted enthusiasm, and a new spark of commitment ignited within each team member and in the team as a whole. And where there’s passion, conviction and momentum, increased profitability and predictability aren’t far behind.

A good spa quality management system will also facilitate growth of your guest experience by clearly communicating the customer journey, required resources and standards of care to your staff. A good system clearly defines its intended outcome and also has a formal process for improvement.

The enhanced environment of your spa facility and its newly consistent services and quality, products and operational procedures translate to predictable yet personalized experiences for your clients. Your renewed business will also likely draw new customers who can trust your integrity because your brand message is one of authenticity and consistency. From a staffing standpoint, your business will also be more likely to attract high-level, dedicated wellness professionals who want an organized environment to work in.


Spa quality system – the long and short of it

Having a formal, systematic approach not only roots out inconsistencies, it can prevent them from ever arising. Guests who pay for the same experience should get the same experience – every time, and from every service provider. Envision what the guest journey and experience should be, then write a protocol for every step. Be specific. Review the protocol, test it, modify if required, approve it, then use it to train your staff.

Of course, any protocol works only when followed and maintained. If a change is needed to any part of it, be sure to update it and retrain staff accordingly. That takes discipline and document control, but it’s worth the effort. Remember, it’s usually the customer who’s the first to notice when processes and systems fail. By collecting and reviewing meaningful guest feedback, having a comprehensive and well-functioning system of preventive and corrective actions and regularly sending independent, anonymous testers through the spa to see how well the protocols and procedures are working, you can identify and correct small problems before they turn into large ones.


Published as “Consistency in a hyper-personalized world” in Spa Canada September October 2021

Published as “Consistency in a hyper-personalized world” in Spa Canada November/December 2018

Vivienne O’Keeffe, CIBTAC, AAD, PEA, European-trained therapist and spa development consultant, is President of Spa Profits Consulting Inc. Active professionally in the spa industry from 1986, she specializes in turning wellness concepts into new spa developments and excels at creating authentic guest experiences within a sustainable, successful framework of quality operations. Vivienne also develops product lines, treatment plans and training programs. She is a member of ISPA, International Management Consultants Inc. and Spa Industry Association of Canada (for which she won an Outstanding Achievement Award in 2001, 2005 and 2012).


  1. “a wonderful overview of the most important aspects to proven management success” The spa quality system can be implemented in Spa , medical or laser clinical settings.
    Spa Quality System is the key to excellence for those who are committed to offering the best in service and consistency

    • Agree Kim, thank you for taking the time to leave your feedback.

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