14 MORE Lessons on How NOT to Run a Spa
A Spa Review
by Julie Register
I wrote 10 Lessons on How NOT to Run a Spa almost four years ago. In the article, I shared the story of a salon that I had gone to for over 23 years and the spa experience that made me leave forever. It was a lesson in how NOT to run a spa business for spa leaders and what NOT to put up with for spa consumers. It has turned out to be one of the most popular articles I've written.
After having a few poor experiences at spas using Groupon, BuyWithMe and LivingSocial internet discounts, I think it's time to offer 14 more lessons on how NOT to run a spa.
Note: The name of the spa, location and treatment name have been disguised until I have an opportunity to discuss the problems I encountered with the spa owner.
My friend purchased an internet deal certificate for a 50-minute Aromatherapy Massage at a spa in a top-rated hotel in another city. The price was $45 (regularly $105). For some reason, I didn't get around to buying that offer before it expired, so I was happy when I saw an offer for a 50-minute Amaretto Massage from the same spa through another internet deal site on February 11. The price was $49 (regularly $125). My justification was that the savings would pay for the travel to get there and back as well as parking, which is notoriously high in that city (It ended up being a two-hour drive and $29 to park). I bought the certificate and received the link to it on February 13. I called my friend and offered to schedule appointments for both of us, so we could go together.
Apparently this spa only makes appointments by email (for Internet deals) or by online form (for regular appointments), but NOT by phone.
Lesson 1: Make it easy for your guests to schedule appointments with you. Don't put barriers up such as not taking reservations by phone. The volume of reservations caused by internet deals is no excuse. This is your first opportunity to make personal contact with your guest and make a good impression. This will be a recurring theme - If you can't deal with the volume, don't do the deal.
I followed the instructions I received with the internet deal site certificate and sent an email to the spa on February 15. In the email, I explained that two of us wanted to go together under different deal certificates, and I provided three dates and times that we were available. I got a confirmation on February 16. They scheduled both me and my friend for massage on February 24 in a fantastic one-day response time!! Sadly, this was the highlight of my spa experience.
As luck would have it, my friend was no longer available for that appointment time. I sent an email to the spa on February 16 explaining that we would have to reschedule. I got a canned response, "Thank you for sending your inquiry for an appointment at the spa. We look forward to coordinating your appointments in a timely manner and as such will respond to each e-mail in the order in which they were received. Thank you for you patience and understanding." (Yes, there was a typo in the message.) I was concerned when I didn't hear anything from the spa in the next few days, so I called. The rather crabby spa director answered. She asked if the call concerned the internet deals. I said it did, and she said I had to contact them by email. I explained we already had appointments and appreciated how quickly they were made but needed to reschedule. She said OK, but it was clear she was preoccupied. I assumed she cancelled the appointments and sent us to the back of the line for rescheduling, which would have been fine with me. I was surprised when I got two canned emails on February 22, one for me and one for my friend, reminding us that we had appointments on February 24. I immediately called the spa. I told the young man who answered that I had cancelled these appointments by phone and they should not still be on the schedule. I explained that my friend and I had wanted to go together, but I would go to my appointment on the 24th. However, he would still need to cancel my friend's appointment. After a little convincing, he did, and I received a canned cancellation email shortly after the call.
Lesson 2: Make your reservations process easy to follow, flexible and pleasant for your Guests. Stuff happens. Sometimes your guests need to change their plans. Don't lay a guilt trip on them, be crabby to them, ignore their requests or fail to explain how they can make changes to their reservations - worse yet, not have a process in place to make changes to reservations. If you have to sacrifice basic customer service because the volume an internet deal generates, don't do the deal.
THE SPA EXPERIENCE
On February 24, I entered the spa shortly before my appointment time. While I had planned to arrive a half hour before that in order to enjoy the steam and sauna, I got tied up in traffic and had a challenge finding parking. There were two men at the reception desk. I later found out that one was a treatment provider and one worked in the salon. I told them my name and that I was there for a massage that was to start in 15 minutes. The treatment provider, who had a heavy accent, kept calling me Monica - apparently the name of the other woman who would be having a massage at that time. After I explained three times, he finally understood that my name was Julie. He showed me where the door to the locker room was and described where the lockers were and how to use the lock. He told me to change into a robe and return to the sitting area next to the reception desk to wait for my service provider.
I entered the empty locker room and was immediately concerned. The floor appeared to be dirty. It looked like it hadn't been vacuumed for a long time.
I opened a locker (they were full length - a positive). On the bottom of the locker, there were thin terrycloth slippers in a sealed plastic bag. On the top shelf, there was a chenille robe. On the positive side, the robe was roomy and very soft. On the negative side, it had a stain on it.
Lesson 3: Inspect your linens and apparel. Dispose of those items that are stained, worn or damaged. This should be a continual process. People that launder the items should inspect them, people that stock the lockers should inspect them, and people that empty the bins that hold the used items should inspect them. Apparel in bad repair should never find their way to a spa guest. Spa robes in bad repair make a bad impression.
The robe shed badly and left robe fluff all over the floor (hence the dirty appearance). I also later found robe fluff all over the blanket on the treatment table. It told me that the spa doesn't change the blanket for each guest. When I left the spa, my clothes had lint from the robe even though I don't think they ever came in direct contact with it.
Lesson 4: Keep your spa immaculately clean at all times. No excuses. Tidiness counts. Sanitation counts. Appearances count. If you aren't going to clean the fluff off the floor and use a clean blanket after each guest, then replace those robes immediately with ones that don't shed.
I poked my head in the steam room and the sauna. They appeared to be clean, but I didn't have time to use them. I headed out of the locker room and walked past the reception desk over to the sitting area across from the open salon and next to the men's locker room entrance. The salon was a little noisy. Staff was hanging out, chatting and laughing inside.
Lesson 5: Staff should always act professionally. Staff should never chat with each other about personal things in front of guests.
The sitting area had a sofa situated across from the salon entrance and a wooden side chair next to the salon entrance. There was no place to sit. A woman (Monica?) wearing a robe was sitting in the only chair. A young teenage girl wearing a school uniform was sitting in the center of the sofa and had her homework spread out so there was no room for anyone else. Apparently, this was the child of one of the salon employees. The people at the reception desk saw the situation and said nothing to the child.
Lesson 6: Provide a quiet place for your spa Guests to relax before and after their treatments. While I understand there are situations where an employee's child may have to spend time at their place of employment, this was just thoughtless on the part of the spa. Almost all of the salon chairs were empty. They should have set her up in the salon. Perhaps a chair or two for guests in the locker room would have worked. It seemed spacious enough to accommodate some seating.
Since I couldn't sit down, I walked up and down the space pretending to be interested in the retail items lining the shelves. I sniffed the samples of essential oil blends. The bottles were sticky, and the contents were past their prime.
Lesson 7: Keep your retail samples fresh and appealing. No one is going to buy anything if it's past its prime, gunky, dirty or empty. This should be part of your spa's inventory control procedures.
While I wandered up and down in front of the reception desk, I heard all the phone conversations. Most of them went like this, "Let me tell you how this works. We had over 2,000 responses to this deal that we have to schedule. February is full. March is weekdays only. April may have weekends. But you have to do this by email. I can't help you."
Lesson 8: Reread Lessons 1 and 2. If you have to sacrifice basic customer service because the volume an internet deal generates, don't do the deal.
About 5 minutes after my massage was supposed to begin, my service provider, who also had a heavy accent, came for me. I was led down a dark hallway - let me be more precise - a pitch black hallway to a treatment room that had the dimmest ceiling light I've ever encountered. I could just make out the outline of the treatment table.
Lesson 9: Keep the safety of your guest your first priority at all times. Inadequate (or lack of) lighting can create opportunities for trips and falls and mask other safety hazards for your guests and staff.
The two windows were covered in blackout shades. As my eyes adjusted, I could barely make out some decorations that were probably nice if I could see them. There were candles, but they weren't lit (I hate that). My treatment provider instructed me to get under the sheet face up and left the room.
Lesson 10: Get to know your guest. There was no health form to fill out. There was no discussion of any areas that may need attention (or stay away from) during the massage. There was no request for feedback on pressure used, temperature of the room or comfort on the table. These are things I feel are necessary for a massage therapist to ask. Most do.
The treatment provider did not return for at least 5 minutes. Fortunately or unfortunately I had my camera with me and asked the treatment provider to take a photo of me on the table (I was going to send it as a "wish you were here" note to my friend. When I looked at the image later, I realized why the light was so low. The walls were filthy and in need of repair. Robe fluff was all over the blanket.
Lesson 11: Keep your facilities clean and in good repair. Wash the walls periodically. If the walls get dinged, patch and repaint them immediately. How long has this room been like this? It was disgusting, but I didn't know it until later. UGH!!!
What followed was the absolute worst massage I've ever had (and I've had more than a few bad ones). It started with the service provider waving a scent in front of my face. I recognized it as being a blend from the collection I sniffed in the retail area. It wasn't particularly pleasant, and it certainly was not amaretto. I had really looked forward to that lovely almond aroma. I should have asked where the amaretto was, but I didn't.
Next the service provider rubbed my skin until the friction made it warm. There was absolutely no muscle work or lymphatic drainage or anything else that at all resembled a real massage. The service provider was, as my son (a massage therapist) would say, an oil spreader. I should have stopped the massage as soon as I realized the service provider didn't know what they were doing, but I didn't.
While I was face down, each time the service provider leaned over from the head of the table to reach my lower back, the service provider's body smashed my face into the face cradle. Each time the service provider's hands were drawn from the base of my back to my neck, the back of my head was hit. Clearly the table was too high. I should have said something, but I didn't.
It was the first massage I where I felt really uncomfortable. I couldn't wait for it to be over. I was happy it started late and hoped it would end early. I considered stopping it a number of times, but I didn't.
I kept thinking it would get better. It only got worse. The service provider went far too high on the thighs and far too close to places the service provider has no business being near. I should have stopped the massage and said something, but I didn't.
At the end, the service provider waved that vile scent under my nose under the face cradle and in so doing, bumped the bottle into my face. Finally, the treatment provider rang the chime that signaled the end of the massage.
When I thankfully left the treatment room, the treatment provider was waiting with a cup of water and escorted me to the locker room. I gulped the water down and nodded to the other woman in the robe (Monica?) who looked blissful and was sipping champagne. Oh yeah, I remembered the treatment was supposed to include that. I wouldn't have taken it, but it wasn't even offered to me. No amaretto, no champagne. Yet another problem at this spa - lack of consistency.
Lesson 12: If you say something is included in a service, include it. Consistency matters. It's what people talk about when they compare experiences. It's what you notice from one visit to another.
I got dressed and walked to the reception desk. Two different men were now behind the desk. I handed one of them the internet deal certificate. He handed it to the other like a hot potato and said he didn't know how to do those. The other man fiddled with the computer for a few long minutes. He eventurally figured it out and started to enter information into it. While his head was bent over the keyboard, he asked, "How was it?" I didn't even answer. If you don't make eye contact, if you are not sincere, I am not going to be generous with feedback. I didn't notice any feedback forms on the desk. I never got a feedback survey via email. I am not surprised.
Lesson 13: Sincerely ask for feedback from your guests. That's the only way you will know what went well and what needs improvement from their perspective. It is the fuel that drives performance excellence and business success.
I kept thinking, "What if this had been my first massage?" Here I was, a very experienced spa consumer that didn't stop the massage or make any comments. Certainly a person new to spas would not. They would know they were uncomfortable but may not even know why. If this were my first massage, not only would I never return to that spa, I would never go to any spa again. Ever.
If I had to guess, I would say this service provider had no qualifications as a massage therapist. I think the spa's management brought on any warm body they could find to serve those 2,000+ appointments from the internet deals. Did they really think this would be a good thing for the spa?
Lesson 14: Have high standards for your staff. Define your qualification requirements then hire only those that meet them. Verify education and experience. Have them demonstrate their skill. Train them to your specific procedures. Compensate them fairly. Your reputation and business' success are in their hands. If you can't handle the volume generated from an internet deal without sacrificing your standards, don't do the deal!
Did the spa management send in anonymous guest assessors* to see if the spa experience is delivered as designed? I'm sure they did not under normal circumstances and certainly not under the high volume internet deal circumstances. If they had, I never would have needed to write this article.
If you have to sacrifice your reputation because the volume an internet deal generates, don't do the deal.
At best, an internet deal should be a marketing technique to attract new guests to your spa, so you can have an opportunity to convert them to repeat and loyal clients. It is imperative that spas limit the number of deals sold to a number that they can manage without sacrificing service standards and reputation. It is the one and only opportunity you will probably have to convince these new people that your spa is worth returning to at normal prices. So far, the internet deals I've had at spas have had the opposite effect. I will never return to these spas.
Most importantly, in my opinion, is that internet deals magnify flaws in a spa's quality system**. If the system doesn't work well at a "normal" volume - meaning there are plenty of fires to fight and problems to fix on a daily basis - it will crash and burn under the pressure of a high-volume internet deal.
This spa has run a number of internet deals and sold thousands of services through them to build a local clientelle. I would guess that any person staying at this hotel that takes a peak at the spa before deciding to make an appointment for a service there won't be tempted. It makes me wonder if the spa management is using the internet deals as a new business model. If so, I have a message for them - It won't work. It's false logic to lose money on each service but make it up on volume. You just lose it faster. The price charged won't support a healthy business. Spas generally get only 50% of the internet deal price (that's only $24.50 for that Amaretto massage) paid to them over three months. How will you pay for those new robes, paint and qualified staff you need? You can't, apparently. Your loyal local clients, if you have any, will also buy these deals. They may resent not having special pricing offered to them for being loyal to you. They might wait until a new deal comes along rather than scheduling their regular periodic service. Eventually, there won't be any new people left to buy the deals. Those locals that have purchased them in the past and your once-loyal clients won't return because of poor experiences. This spa would be better served by the management putting a functional quality system in place. Perhaps if the $125-$165 per 50-minute massage rates were reduced, and they were delivered by qualified massage therapists in a clean and safe environment, this spa would generate more business from the hotel and more repeat local business. The spa would not have to depend on deeply discounted internet deals to get people in the door.
Based on my very limited data sample, I have concluded that spas that participate in these internet deals are spas that are in crisis and cannot attract repeat and loyal clients with their current quality systems. If you are a spa in crisis and are thinking about running an internet deal, I urge you to reconsider. With no other changes, it will most likely accelerate the decay of the business.
I find it hard to believe the hotel has earned top rating with this spa. Clearly the rating does not include the spa, but it should. My experience in that spa is now the only association I have with that hotel, and it's not good.
I hope my friend, when (and if) she reschedules her appointment, has a better experience than I did, but it might be best if she just didn't go.
MY FRIEND'S EXPERIENCE
April 4, 2011
My friend did reschedule and have a massage at this spa. Here is her account...
This is why I don’t consider my experience at a spa through Living Social a bargain. I made a reservation then had to change it two times. The people that I spoke to were helpful and understanding. I was told that one of the difficulties in booking a treatment was that they had sold 2,000 certificates and had limited availability. They kept referring to my reservation for an “Amaretto” massage but my certificate was for an aromatherapy massage.
I finally made a reservation and headed off to the spa for my 9AM massage. Upon arriving at the spa, the receptionist was aware of my reservation and clarified that I was expecting an aromatherapy massage. I had been told that every “Amaretto” massage came with champagne so I asked if champagne was included with an aromatherapy massage as I was not having “Amaretto” massage. The receptionist said that it is included with all massages.
A spa attendant escorted me to the locker room and began opening lockers looking for one with a robe and slippers. She found a stocked locker and showed me how the lock worked. She then told me to come back out when I was ready. Since she did not mention any other features or show me around, I began to look around for a restroom. I had arrived early because I love saunas and steam rooms and wanted to make sure I had enough time to enjoy them. I found the sauna and steam room behind the showers and toilet stalls. The steam room door was covered with water droplets but it was ice cold. The sauna was also cold.
I went out of the locker room and stood looking around. I made an effort to look lost as I did not know where I was supposed to go. Three staff members were standing in a doorway talking. When I made eye contact with them, they stepped into the room and closed the door. I went back to the reception desk where the receptionist wordlessly pointed to a glass of champagne. I asked where I was supposed to go and she told me that I could sit in the lounge area. I sat in an upholstered chair and waited.
After a few minutes of waiting a man stepped up and introduced himself as Dr. Tom. I followed him down a short hall to a darkened room. I ask that he increase the light and ask about aromatherapy. He turned up the lights slightly and began to open one bottle of fragranced oil after another, opening about ten in all and waving them under my nose. He asked only if I had any allergies. I didn’t really smell any of the scents during my massage and am not sure any were actually used. I enjoyed the massage but it was very ordinary.
As I left the room, he handed me a paper cup filled with water and directed me back to the locker room and told me to enjoy the sauna and steam rooms. Ever hopeful, I headed back to find the steam room still cold. The sauna was warming so I spent about 15 minutes in the sauna. I noticed when I returned to my locker another guest had arrived bringing the total to two, My thought was “I’m not sure why it was so difficult to book a massage. They certainly weren't busy. I noticed that the other guest had a Living Social certificate in her hand. Despite the locker room being empty but for us, the attendant gave the new guest a locker beside mine, making it difficult to open our lockers and dress/undress. As I left, I felt badly that the robe that I had worn had left lots of lint all over the carpet.
As I walked out, I stopped at the reception desk and ask if there was anything else I needed to do. I didn't. I left a tip for the therapist and took a positive thought card from a dish on the desk. I got no goodbye, no asking how my visit was and no thank you for coming. It felt like “good riddance” to another Living Social customer.
If using Living Social was intended to increase business, it did just the opposite. I found no reason to return and many reasons not to. I got a discounted massage and a story to share on “How to make a guest feel unwelcome.” If they treat all 2,000 guests the same as they treated me, I’d say that it is a great example of bad marketing.
Not only will I not return to this mediocre spa in a high end hotel, I have noticed that I am no longer tempted by any spa offerings on Living Social or Groupon. I don’t even open the email. One poor experience was plenty for me for a very long time.
*SpaQuality LLC provides Anonymous Guest Assessments that provide feedback of your spa's quality system from a guest's point of view as well as compare your spa's procedures and protocols with the actual experience that is provided - vital information for spa leaders to have.
**The International Standards of SpaExcellence(SM) provide a framework for a comprehensive spa quality system and are available from SpaQuality LLC .
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