10 Lessons on How NOT to Run a Spa
A Spa Review
by Julie Register
I've been going to the same high-end salon for over 23 years. Years ago, this salon, like so many others, added a "spa." One needs to walk through the large, busy salon to reach the spa entrance. The salon and spa are separate businesses but share some facilities - the reservation system, the waiting area and the bathrooms. The waiting area is large, bright, noisy and vibrant - great for a salon, not great for a spa. The bathrooms are located at the far end of the spa. This translates to a constant stream of salon clients opening and closing the spa door and walking up and down the spa hall to use the lavatory. For these reasons, I have not felt compelled to experience this spa in the past. Last week, I had a change of heart and decided to give it a try. The following is the result. For you, dear reader, it is a lesson in how NOT to run a spa business if you are a spa owner or director and what NOT to put up with if you are a spa consumer. For me, it is a lesson to trust my instincts. The names are withheld to protect the guilty.
I called over a week in advance to make an appointment for a hair cut. On a whim, I asked if there were any facial appointments available before the hair cut. I was asked if it would be OK to wait 15 minutes between appointments. I said that would be fine. With a little schedule manipulation, I had an appointment for a one-hour facial with D- at 10:15 and a hair cut with my stylist of 23 years at 11:30. I arrived for the appointments a few minutes early and checked in. The receptionist appeared to have difficulty finding me on the schedule. She asked for my name twice, and eventually found it. She looked up from the computer and dismissed me by saying, "OK" with no further instructions or information.
Lesson 1: The receptionist should have told me what to do next and what to expect - minimally that I should wait in this area and someone would be with me shortly.
The reception/waiting/retail area spans the entire side of the building - probably 50 feet or more. One wall is floor-to-ceiling windows making the area very bright. The majority of the space is used for displaying retail - mainly jewelry and handbags. There are two computers for clients to use. There is a self-serve refreshment area with a cappuccino machine. The relatively small seating area is located next to the reception/checkout desk which is situated at the parking lot entrance at one end of the room. The entrance to the salon is at the other end of the long room. This is a very busy salon. This waiting area is not conducive to relaxation, so I took a seat and watched the comings and goings of those bustling around me. There were two bridal parties and a handful of others waiting for their appointments. Fifteen minutes after my treatment was supposed to begin, I was still sitting there. I walked to the desk and asked if there was a separate spa waiting area that I was supposed to be in. The receptionist said, "No, just sit here. Someone will come and call your name."
Lesson 2: Someone should be checking that guests are moving to their appointments on time. If not, find out why not, and let the guest know. Don't ever let the guest wonder what's going on and have to ask you. Be proactive!
So I waited another 5 minutes and wondered if they would charge me the full price for a service that was bound to be cut short. Just as the receptionist said, a woman stood at the other end of the long room and called, "JULIE?" I stood up. She immediately turned on her heels and left the room.
Lesson 3: This was just bad form. She should have waited and walked with me. This was her opportunity to introduce herself and establish a connection with me in the minute or so it took to walk from the waiting area to the treatment room. She should also have apologized for being late.
I raced after her through the salon and caught up at the spa door which she held open for me. Then she took off to the end of the hall with me close behind her. She showed me into the treatment room (directly across the hall from two pedicure stations), introduced herself as M-, walked to the other side of the room and picked up some papers. "You're not in the computer," she said. Feeling defensive, I replied that I made the appointment over a week ago and was told D- would be giving me the facial. "You're not in the computer," she repeated. "Oh, it's not YOUR fault," she continued. "Take off your shirt and bra, Jennifer, and then put on this wrap." I told her my name is Julie. "Well, Julie, when you are ready, get comfortable on the table. Open the door, so I will know you are ready."
4: There are so many things wrong here, I hardly know where to start.
M- should have explained why D- was not going to give me the facial.
I don't care if I was in their computer. Don't tell me. If an error was made on their end, try to make a smooth recovery. Don't EVER make the guest feel like they did something wrong. A simple statement to the effect that a scheduling mishap took place, but it is nothing for me to worry about and that I would receive the treatment I expected would have been more than enough.
Get the name right.
This treatment room is almost at the end of the hall. The bathroom is at the end of the hall - next door to the treatment room. I didn't like the idea of opening the door then getting on the table. Anyone walking to the bathroom could look in and see me. In all of my years of going to spas, this is the first time I was told to open the door to let the therapist know I was ready. Hopefully, it will be the last.
I happened to know M- is the one of the owners of this business. If she treats her clients this way, how do her employees act?
I cracked the door open and climbed on the table. M- came in and asked what problems I was having with my skin. I explained I wasn't having any problems, but had just booked this facial as a treat for myself. She asked if my skin was dry. I brought her up to date on the state of my skin. She asked what products I use. I told her the name of a very well known brand of skin care products. She said she never heard of it.
Lesson 5: M-'s lack of knowledge of this brand made me wonder if she keeps up with what's going on in the industry. Ads for the brand can be found in any spa magazine or at any spa expo. Instead of saying she never heard of it, she could have simply asked if I was satisfied with the results. This would shield her ignorance and possibly open up a retail sale opportunity later.
M- put something cool across my eyes and proceeded to cleanse my skin. Afterwards, she applied a mango product which she warned might sting a little (it didn't). She put the steam on and sat with me in silence for a few minutes. I thought (prematurely) to myself, "Good! At least she didn't leave the room." Somewhat painful extractions came next, followed by a product to nourish the skin and a mask. After the mask was applied, M- spent about 5 minutes massaging my shoulders then told me to relax, take a nap and that she would be back later. UGH!
Lesson 6: NEVER, EVER leave your guest during a treatment. You can massage your guest's hands and feet or sit in silence. I could (and probably will) write a whole article about why leaving the room is a bad practice. For now, take my word for it.
I was not in the mood to relax, so I counted how many seconds would pass before the silence was interrupted by the bang of a door, the flush of a toilet or a conversation in the hallway. EIGHT. In the span of the 20 minutes or so M- was out of the room, no more than 8 seconds passed without an unwelcomed sound from outside my treatment room. The music playing in the room did little to mask what was going on in the rest of the spa.
Lesson 7: When you are planning the layout for your spa, take sources of noise into consideration. Do what needs to be done to keep external noise out of the treatment rooms and other quiet areas such as lounges. Hoping your guests won't notice is not a solution. This is an issue at many, many spas. However, this spa was the second worst for noise I have experienced. The absolute worst is no longer in business.
M- returned and ran the water in the sink. "Good," I thought, "She is washing her hands." Nope. She was wetting sponges and proceeded to wash the mask off my face. She massaged in a moisturizer and announced I was done. She said my skin was in good shape but suggested I take more care in cleansing my forehead. She instructed me to get dressed, and she would take me to my hair stylist. She did not suggest or offer any products to use.
Lesson 8: Wash your hands! M- had two shelves full of two brands of products for sale in the treatment room. She could have suggested one of them to use if she thought my products were not doing the job. However, I noticed that the products she sells are not the products she uses in the facial and find that somewhat disingenuous.
I got dressed and M- escorted me back to the waiting area. All of a sudden, she was quite friendly and kind (If she had been like this an hour earlier, I would not be writing this article!). She said my stylist was running a little behind and asked if I would like something to drink. I declined and sat down. To M-'s credit, I noticed that a full hour had passed since my facial began and my skin felt soft and smooth all day.
A Bad Hair Day
I sat there for 20 minutes (that's 25 minutes after the time of the appointment). Finally, a hair wash technician meekly announced, "J mumble, mumble for -." I stood up. So did the woman sitting across from me. I said, "My name is Julie." She said, "My name is Joyce." I yelled across the room, "Do you want Julie or Joyce?" She called back, "Joyce." Did they really not have me in the schedule? Were they double booking? What the H was going on? I went up to the desk and asked. I was told that Joyce was having color done, so they were starting her first. I would be called soon.
Lesson 9: Reread Lesson 2.
I sat down. 5 more minutes passed. My hair should have been finished by that time. That's was it. I was done. I went to the desk and told them I had plans for the afternoon (which I did) and couldn't wait any longer (which I couldn't). I paid for the facial. "Did you want to include a tip?" No. (I always tip) "Do you want to reschedule your hair appointment?" No. The receptionist apologized (first time that day) and told me to have a nice weekend.
On my drive home, I did some quick calculations. I have been going to this salon for 23 years. At approximately 7 times a year (taking into consideration a few times I had my hair cut out of town), that makes 161 times I've been to that salon. It doesn't matter what time of day I make my appointment, I am almost always taken at least 10 minutes late. 161 times 10 minutes equals 1,610 minutes or almost 27 hours. I have wasted over a day of my life waiting for my hair stylist. I feel like I have been taken for granted. I have better things to do with my time.
I spent the afternoon with a friend. When I returned home, my stylist had left a message on my answering machine apologizing. She said she got behind because of a big wedding party. She offered a complementary hair cut if I would come back.
Lesson 10: It wasn't about the money. A free cut is nice but doesn't address the fundamental problem - these businesses have serious scheduling issues. I am not convinced I was even on the schedule. If the stylist knew she was running that far behind, she should have given me the choice of waiting, coming back in a half hour, hour or whatever or rescheduling. If this had happened right away, I would have been OK with it because it puts my schedule back under my control.
Will I return? I have mixed feelings about it. I don't know who dictates the schedule at the salon. My stylist may have no control over how they book her day, but I doubt it. There are two salons closer to my house. I will call all three to see who can offer me the first appointment and go there. I really need a hair cut!
READ THE SEVEN CRITERIA, AN UPDATE ON THE BAD HAIR DAY PART OF THIS ARTICLE
Afterthought: It is clear the majority of spas I've been to are clueless about customer satisfaction. They don't ask for feedback and don't know how to handle problems when they arise. If you are a spa owner, care about customer satisfaction and want to improve, purchase The International Standards of SpaExcellence(SM) and start understanding what it takes to run an excellent spa from a Guest's perspective. You won't be disappointed. Neither will your customers! SpaQuality also offers on-site education to spa staff at the spa.
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