Spa Management: Assessing Your IT IQ

When it comes to developing intelligence technology chops, spas can’t afford to sit on the sidelines.

You’ve probably heard people discussing the merits of high tech vs. high touch, but have you ever considered what it really means? Credited to John Naisbitt’s 1982 book Megatrends, “high touch” refers to business practices that require dealing with a human being rather than a technological device. Spas have created considerable appeal via human contact; whether it’s massages, facials, pedicures or body treatments, chances are the spa client is going to be touched by someone during their visit, making our industry the epitome of high touch.

Operating any business today, however, requires an ever-increasing degree of high-tech practices. We are all subject to an embarrassment of riches in this vein and yet many spa owners are reluctant to utilize the high-tech options available to them, whether it’s to streamline a procedure, or to provide insight and analysis for better business decisions. This is often due to a non-tech-oriented point of view that results in a lack of savvyness, along with the belief that current methods are working just fine. In short, the majority of spa businesses are not what you would call early adopters of technological solutions.

Drew Allt, owner of Drew Patrick Spa in Bayshore, New York, draws an “intelligence technology” bottom line: “The most important IT skill an owner and staff can have is a general comfort with computers to complete basic tasks and not get flustered when routine ‘error’ messages appear,” Allt says. “It’s most frustrating to me as an owner when a staff member uses technology as a scapegoat for minor mix-ups or becomes overly dramatic when technology doesn’t work perfectly.”

Where do you and your team fall in the tech-knowledge continuum? Consider the following aspects of technology to assess your spa’s “IT IQ.”

1) Enterprise Software

The good news: Most spas use operating software to implement appointment booking, point-of-sale and transaction management. The bad news: Software companies routinely report that spas tend to use only 20% to 40% of the capabilities of their systems.

“Spa owners can be timid about clicking on something before they know what will happen,” explains Malori Newcomer, a customer experience representative at Booker Software. “I think that ‘tech savvy’ is a mindset, and a huge component is being willing to try new things. When supporting users, I love using free screen share programs (like to guide the less confident users within their own systems. Also, I always tell our clients to not be afraid to click on ‘Help’ or ‘Training’ for contextual guidance within a system. Many ‘help’ environments used to be hard to navigate, but now a majority of those sections are interactive learning environments geared for those who are less tech-savvy.”

Spas owners and managers could make valuable discoveries just by sitting down at the computer once a week for 15 minutes and poking around. Click on a particular heading and see where it takes you, or run a report you’ve never tried before—you may find something really useful and worthwhile. As is often the case, the 20-somethings working the front desk may already have figured out a few tips and tricks, so ask them!

Although it’s very common for spa owners to use so little of their software’s capability, that shouldn’t minimize the importance of this issue, says Dan Chandre, Booker’s strategic development vice-president. “Unfortunately, many spa owners don’t invest the time and energy to make their software a true business development system—they view it as solely a required operational tool,” he says. “In this day and age, your software decision should be determined by what your software can do to build, maintain and grow your business. If you don’t look through that lens, you’re just being short-sighted.”

2) Supporting Software Programs

Suppose you’ve mastered your basic operations software, including its business development capabilities. That’s still not the end of your tech quest. Capable as it may be, spa software alone isn’t enough to run your business. You also need to use a word-processing program such as Microsoft Word, or free online option from OpenOffice or LibreOffice to write key memos, policy and procedure manuals, service protocols and the like.

From a financial standpoint, many spas also use a spreadsheet program such as Microsoft Excel, or a free program such as OpenOffice or Kingsoft Spreadsheets. Can your operating software handle this? Not all of it. Although the software can generate numerous business reports, you’ll probably need to export that data into a spreadsheet program so that you can customize the data to meet your needs.

Your business also needs an accounting software package, such as Quickbooks or Sage 50 (formerly Peachtree). Yes, spa software is capable of running your payroll, but it doesn’t manage your general ledger or track receivables and payables. Beyond the online help resources, your bookkeeper or accountant can advise you on how to set up the program—after that, it’s just a matter of entering information into the correct fields.

These supporting software programs sound simple—and they are, when it comes to basic use—but because they also offer immense and varied capabilities, they tend to scare off the casual user. Fortunately, just as with spa software, online assistance is often available from the program’s provider and in YouTube videos.

3) Online Options and Social Media

Thanks to today’s cloud-based commercial applications (meaning they’re hosted on the internet), you no longer need to go from computer to computer with an installation disk to access your documents. Instead, you can just log in from any computer or device and your data is all there. This development makes managing software much easier—all updating and maintenance are done in the cloud, by the program creators, rather than by you, the end-user. Still, the concept can still be difficult to grasp.

Undoubtedly, the biggest challenge to business owners trying to keep up with technology is the need to market through social media—a need that didn’t even exist five years ago. Just learning to manage a Facebook business page can take weeks, and when you add Pinterest, Instagram and Twitter to the mix, it’s easy to become overwhelmed. An effective approach would be to focus on one outlet at a time, rather than try to learn everything at once. Pick a channel and give yourself a few weeks to get comfortable with it. Then move on to the next one, while continuing regular usage of the first one. By the time you get several outlets up and working for your business, you may feel like it’s a full-time job. And many believe that it is.

“Just managing the SEO (search engine optimization) is time-consuming and requires someone with special knowledge that most small business owners don’t have,” notes Michele Phillips, owner of Bellagio Salon & Day Spa in San Diego. This is where outsourcing may make sense; type “social media marketing” and your locale into Google, and you’ll discover many companies who handle social media marketing tasks for a monthly retainer fee.

Just don’t think that enlisting the services of a third party frees you from having to learn the ropes yourself. “Even if you hire someone else to manage your online advertising and marketing efforts, you need to understand how it works, and be able to claim and update your business listings on any search engines or directory pages,” points out Phillips, who cites the internet as her “primary source of new business.”

“Everything is online now, and clients are not as dedicated or loyal as they used to be,” reminds Susan Barbaglia, owner of the 19-year-old Skin Deep Day Spa in New Providence, New Jersey. “Now, with the click of a button my clients are tempted with discounts and offers from 20 other spas. So even if you hire outside media managers, they need to be taught how to word your messages the right way.”

4) Training Efforts

Whether training yourself or your staff, success has a lot to do with approach. You need clear goals, stresses Renee Kozik, professional IT educator and president of software training company Kozy Productions. “Most folks just want to know how to complete a task, and then get on with their day,” she acknowledges. “But training documents should also provide end users with details of who, what, why and when. These reference materials are likely to be read more in-depth after training, when users are actually in the middle of a task and the relevance level is high.”

Although some people are undeniably computer-shy, Kozik finds that most under the age of 55 have used cellphones, tablet computers and/or electronic time clocks, so they have had exposure to an array of software and hardware. The difficulty often lies in the seemingly breakneck pace of change. “No sooner do you think you have something mastered, then it changes. New technology, faster computers… the options are endless and you need to know it all,” says Barbaglia. “There’s no time for fear—you just have to jump in and learn.”

But “jumping in” isn’t always easy for adult learners, points out Sheila Johnson, adult education professor at Delaware County Community College. According to Johnson, going too fast when teaching in the workplace is a common mistake. “Adults are not as willing to ask questions and can miss a concept if they fall behind,” she says, and offers the following tips when training staff:

• Share common mistakes with them; knowing how to recover from them gives them the confidence they need to resolve an issue.
• During the learning phase, pair them with someone who is more comfortable with the software or task at hand.
• Be patient, and give them time to practice.

Regardless of your approach or comfort level, the fact is that familiarity with technology basics is a pre-requisite for success in business today. Create a list of programs used in your operation, along with basic knowledge or requirements for each. Use that list in job descriptions so you can hire staff who are already trained to use your systems, and train your current staff to the highest degree possible.

“We find that today’s spa clients are no longer as accepting or understanding as they once were when it comes to ‘technology glitches,’” Allt remarks. “It cannot be an excuse for inconveniencing a guest.” And as intuitive as today’s programs can be, it still takes regular usage to get to that magic level of automatic IT competency. Like learning a foreign language, the more you use IT, the easier IT will become!

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