The 2012 ISPA Conference - A Few things I Question: Comments on Surveys, Focus Groups, Intake Forms and Spa Reception
from Julie Register
While I always find great inspiration, knowledge and data at the ISPA conferences, at the 2012 conference I heard a few statements in a couple of the presentations that I question. I understand that the speakers shared from their hearts and believed what they said is true. However, on the four points below, I don't agree with them. With the hope of presenting another point of view, here are the comments and my take on them:
In her keynote talk about Mind, Deborah Szekey stated that she doesn't believe in endless guest surveys to validate creativity. I worry about that statement, because it gave the impression that surveys have no value. I think the primary purpose of surveys is to find out what the spa's guests feel about its operations and quality. Spas simply must ask for this information. If spas show their guests that they want to know what they think and are interested in improvement, the spa has an opportunity to get better and those guests are not as likely to share their less-than-perfect experiences with others. Long gone are the pre-social-network days when one disgruntled guest told 10 of their friends about it. That was bad enough. Now if spas don't ask their guests to share their thoughts about their spa experience with them - good and bad - so that the spa can have an opportunity to do something about the bad, the consequences are even more dire. Those guests are very likely to tell their stories to hundreds or thousands of others on very public forums such as TripAdvisor, Yelp, Facebook, etc., AND they are far more likely to share the bad than the good. Without the knowledge that surveys provide, the spa has no chance to change bad stories into good ones. The closer the survey is taken to the time of the guests' experiences, the more value it has - before they leave the spa is best. Surveys don't have to be on paper or electronic. Verbal (face-to-face and by phone) work, too. Perhaps operations and quality are not what Deborah had in mind when she said creativity. If that creativity appears in new service menu choices, changes in products, changes in spa cuisine, etc., it is still really important that the spa find out what the guest thinks about these changes so adjustments can be made, if necessary. Surveys are some of the best tools spas have for communication with their guests.
Deborah also noted that Google says focus groups deal with the past and are, therefore, not useful. I think this depends on what the spa uses the focus groups for. If they want to expand to an area or underrepresented population at their spa, what better way than to invite these people to participate in a focus group to learn more about what would or would not appeal to them about your spa? If you are considering making significant changes to your menu, perhaps gaining insights from your most loyal guests in a focus group would be beneficial. A focus group is a valuable tool that is underutilized.
In his talk on The Psychology of Spas and Wellbeing, Jeremy McCarthy said that the expectation is that spas are stress free and a place to relax. Filling in a health form almost immediately upon entering a spa is not relaxing according to Jeremy. In fact, Starwood no longer asks guests to complete a health form. They depend on their therapists to ask those questions verbally at the time of the treatment. In my opinion, I think abandoning the intake form is not guest focused. Depending on the
to uncover all potential contraindications and finding what goals the guest has for the service puts an awful strain on those precious few minutes before a treatment begins. I would not want to have this conversation in the not-private-enough hallway on the way to the treatment room and, if the discussion cut into my treatment time, that wouldn't make me, the guest, happy - especially if I had lots of time before the service to provide this information. That doesn't seem relaxing and stress-free to me. Chances are information gathered by the therapist will be abbreviated at best. I would say that not asking for an intake form is a risky omission for a spa. However, Starwood still makes the guest sign a waiver. Hmmm...
want to take this opportunity to go off on a little tangent. In my experience, very few spas ask for health information before treatments these days - far fewer than in the past. But the best ones do. They keep that information and add notes to it after treatments. When the guest returns, they don't make the guest fill out the same form again, they simply ask for changes since the last visit. Therapists refer to it and clarify the information, if necessary. Guests know that they have read it, and the therapist if familiar with the information it contains. It establishes trust. Trust that the spa hasn't wasted their time by making them fill out a form that no one ever looks at. Trust that the therapist won't do something or use a product that is contraindicated based on the information the guest has provided. Trust that the spa has the guest's wellbeing in mind. Trust that the spa is interested in a long-term relationship with the guest. That's being guest-focused. That's the kind of spa that I envision when I hear the desire of spas to be part of the preventive health care movement.
Jeremy also provided examples of spas that no longer have a front desk. Guests just walk into an empty room and sit down until someone comes for them. I also heard about this trend from spa professionals with whom I shared lunch at the Expo. These were not Starwood spas or Jeremy's other example. While I haven't had this experience myself, I have a hard time believing it is better than a reception desk. One of the big stressors for me at a spa is feeling lost - not knowing what the process is or what comes next. If this is the first thing I encounter, I will probably be wondering about the process for the entire visit. Also, it appears to me to be a cost cutting measure - much like the scan-your-own lines in grocery stores. Replace six employees with one. I admit reception is typically the weakest part of the spa experience. Spas could and should do a much better job at it. For a high touch industry, eliminating it just seems counter-intuitive to me. I think spas should strive to make this part of the spa experience every bit as wonderful as the rest of it.
Of course, data trumps opinion. If there is data to support these ideas, I am willing to be converted.
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