Communicate clearly: spas are about restoration, not just indulgence

Posted by on April 17, 2020 in Articles

Communicate clearly: spas are about restoration, not just indulgence

Misperceptions = missed opportunity. Wellness consumers who don’t understand your business or its treatments won’t become your clients.

By Vivienne O’Keeffe, CIBTAC, AAD, PEA

What’s the biggest reason that people come to spas?

A soothing massage? Skin treatment?

Nope. The biggest single reason people come to experiential spas, I believe, is to get away from the stresses of modern living and experience soothing relaxation for their bodies and minds. People are looking for comfort and relaxation, not confusion and hassles. Once you understand this, you understand the need to create consistency and certainty – both in the delivery of your services and in the way you communicate them to your clients.

Remember, as an industry we are competing with every other leisure activity out there – movies, golf, dining out, even ocean cruises. These long-established activities have a head start, with long histories and rich social languages that have become part of our modern vernacular.

Consider that just about everybody understands what it means when someone says: “I hit a home run!” or “Those pork ribs were practically falling off the bone!”

Not so in the culture of our industry. Because of the intrinsically intimate and personalized nature of what we do, we’re at a disadvantage when it comes to enabling people to quickly and easily spread the word about a wonderful spa experience.

Which leaves us with some significant challenges.


Communicate effectively what spas are selling to clients

We need to more effectively communicate what it is we’re selling. We need to make potential clients feel confident about their impending purchase.

And we need to demystify the language around our treatments and products so that it’s easy to understand what they are and the benefits they offer. We offer restoration, which is more than mere indulgence.

Every good public speaker knows the three rules of good oration: tell your audience what you’re going to tell them, tell them what you want to tell them, then tell them what you just told them. New spa clients, skittish about what they’re about to experience and possibly harbouring images of strange concoctions or treatments being foisted upon them, may arrive feeling anxious and queasy. To dispel their concerns, you need to tell them exactly what you’re going to do, and then to make sure their experience begins positively, invite their questions and feedback.

In fact, the process begins even before their first visit. How you portray your treatments on your website or in social media, ads or a brochure will give them a taste of their experience (and its many benefits) ahead. And once your clients arrive, your front-line staff, aestheticians and therapists need to be aware that their perceived stature as professionals necessitates ongoing professional behaviour.


Soft skills help put spa clients at ease

This doesn’t happen all by itself. We need to do a better job of teaching the soft skills your team members need – both face-to-face and on the phone. These include appropriate voice tones and vocabulary, a sincere and personable demeanour, good body language, careful observation and listening to grasp the clients’ needs, and the ability to empathize with the full spectrum of mindsets a typical spa employee can experience every day.

One particularly huge barrier, in my opinion, is the privacy issue. Training staff to take the time to respectfully assure clients, especially first-timers, that they will be fully draped during their visit, or otherwise have their desire for privacy respected, will eliminate embarrassment, awkwardness and potential loss of future business.


Clear communication = clear expectations

But it’s not just at the start of treatments that good communication is vital. Imagine this all-too-familiar scenario: a client who has enjoyed most of a spa package is about to begin the manicure portion when she asks if she can go and get dressed. The therapist automatically agrees, expecting the client to quickly change and return to the manicure table – only to end up waiting a full half hour for the client’s return. When the client finally does return, she has not only changed her clothes, but done her makeup and hair as well.

It’s a classic case of miscommunication – leaving the therapist fraught with frustration – at both the client and herself for not clearly articulating the time boundaries. Who’s to blame? The client for feeling so relaxed and comfortable that she made herself at home in the change area? Or the therapist for letting the client beetle off for a half hour while she twiddles her thumbs?

Clearly, the responsibility for appropriate communication and client handling lies with the therapist. Blame her lack of experience or lack of confidence – or training. The therapist wants to follow the mantra of ‘exceeding expectations’ to the letter – in this case, to avoid any semblance of confrontation by not clearly communicating with her client. The client is getting a mixed message, in this instance from an aesthetician who wanted to be friendly but didn’t feel confident drawing the line.


Communicate unwritten rules and expectations

To communicate the unwritten rules and expectations of the whole spa experience, spa professionals need to feel empowered. And that starts with proper training and leadership by you, the spa owner.

In many urban markets of our affluent western societies, relatively high disposable incomes coupled with personal time deprivation have boosted the demand for spa services. Spoiled by an abundance of choice, consumers – like butterflies flitting from flower to flower – will try as many establishments as they need to until they settle on one that gives them a consistently good experience.

I’d bet that a survey to find out what keeps potential consumers from benefiting from spa treatments would shock a lot of spa practitioners, therapists and aestheticians. Because it would reveal that the very idea of visiting a spa – along with such worrisome unknowns as dress code (or lack of attire altogether), tipping protocol, new surroundings and strange people in clinical gowns – is enough to turn some people completely off. We in the industry quickly forget how daunting the experience can be for first-time clients, and even sometimes for frequent spa-goers.

Potential spa customers would benefit a great deal from hearing lots more about the many good things we know the spa experience can provide. But their curiosity is thwarted by the choking smog of ineffective communication. Catering to consumers seeking ‘petals and pampering’ undermines the authentic benefits delivered by most professional spa facilities. We have many modalities to help them on their physical and mental wellbeing journey.


Restoration vs. indulgence

In short, I believe there is a huge untapped market of potential spa-goers who need only one positive experience to permanently establish their view of spas as places of restoration rather than indulgence – ultimately triggering their habituation of your spa facility and its therapeutic experiences and making them an essential part of their wellness lifestyle.

That’s the experience they’re looking for from you and your team.

And the message you need to get out.


Published as “Misperceptions = missed opportunity” in Spa Canada March/April 2020

Vivienne O’Keeffe, CIBTAC, AAD, PEA, 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 a recipient of the Spa Industry Association of Canada Outstanding Industry Service Award in 2001, 2005 and 2012.


  1. Fabulously well-stated article, as usual, Vivienne.

  2. Wonderful Viv as always
    We need to be ready as everyone will need this when we can reconvene!

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