Spa Management: The Power of Politeness

When it comes to etiquette, a little effort goes a long way.



A word that comes up regularly these days is “authenticity”, which falls under the general heading of “keeping it real.” True, nobody likes a faker. Yet many believe that the pursuit of honesty in modern times has led to a crisis of rudeness, and a general lowering of social expectations when it comes to etiquette. People—apparently nice, well-dressed people like you or me—cut in line, push, shove, snake into parking spots and seem to forget that you had them over for dinner last night.

That’s the bad news. On the flip side, good manners build good business, and with just a little effort focused in the right places, spa owners can use them to ensure their clients remain happy—and keep coming back, time and again.

First and foremost, we have to admit that our society’s current level of acceptable self-centeredness presents a challenge in service industries. Guests might not mind their manners, and that makes it difficult for those who serve to do so with a genuine smile, patience and finesse.

But here’s the silver, or even golden, lining: because so much of our world seems rough around the edges, service that is offered not only with polish, but with genuine heartfulness, sets a business apart. More so than excellence of product, excellence of service defines profitability, especially in the spa industry. “People come to the spa for one reason only: to feel loved,” says Annet King, director of global education for Dermalogica and the International Dermal Institute in Carson, California. “Of course, we have to offer sensational treatments using sensational products. But it’s really about the feeling people get when they’re in the space. Fewer and fewer clients will put up with the so-called ‘Soup Nazi’ syndrome, where the food may be fantastic, but you get yelled at, belittled or ignored.”

Great customer service, says King, begins with what was once considered “common” courtesy, but which is anything but common these days. Great service, she says, is an extension of good manners and etiquette. Some of it is learned, but most is intuitive. “It all begins with intent—the intent to make every guest feel like a VIP,” says King.

So how do spa owners make sure they’re minding their manners on a regular basis, and where should they focus their attention? DAYSPA spoke with industry pros to find out.

“Because so much of our world seems rough around the edges, service that is offered not only with polish, but with genuine heartfulness, sets a business apart.”

Hire Standards

After two decades of traveling the world teaching business owners and skin therapists how to connect with clients and create lasting and lucrative relationships, King believes that intensive training of all staff, especially newbies, is an absolute essential, and that continuing education in the spa is critical to keeping the bar high. “But,” she adds, “It really comes down to hiring the right person in the first place.”

The science and art of hiring a great team requires two things: 1) zero tolerance for whatever your spa considers to be red flags, and 2) the willingness to spend time on your search for the right employees.

When interviewing candidates, be on the lookout for telltale behavior. Physical cues, for instance, send a wealth of information, provided we know how to correctly interpret them. As King cautions, “Body posture and facial expression instantly telegraph where someone is coming from. Slumping, slouching, leaning, fiddling with hair or jewelry, crossing the legs ankle-to-knee during the interview, folding the arms in front of the chest, and inconsistent eye contact are all warning signs because they signal disconnection, or even opposition or defiance. You do not want this person answering your phones, or being anywhere near your guests, in fact.”

Conversational signals may have meaning too: someone who interrupts the interviewer frequently may lack listening skills, and may have attention or focus-related issues (although, of course, it may be just nerves).

And happy is as happy does: happy people like to make others happy. For these individuals, a genuine, warm greeting and a bubbly smile don’t mask their feelings; they represent their most authentic and real self. King says simply, “Find those people, and hire them.”

Looking the Part

Just as job candidates make instant, often indelible first impressions with their body language, the same is true many times a day for a spa team member. With this in mind, etiquette and good manners begin with those first impressions, including professional appearance on the job.

Noel Asmar, founder and CEO of Noel Asmar Uniforms, develops chic apparel and accessories for the spa professional. “First impressions are influenced by things like gender, age, culture and race, so it’s hard to get it right every time,” Asmar says. “Little things can turn off people instantly, including tattoos, body piercings and garments that are too suggestive. These may evoke strong first impressions—but not in a good way.”

“Etiquette is about timing and being appropriate with our body language and our choice of words,” Asmar continues. “Dressing suitably in our industry makes a bigger impact than most people realize. You want your staff to be stylish and elegant, not the focus of attention. Clothes that are too sexy may turn off—or overstimulate!—some clients. Your spa’s choice of uniform sends a message about your business and the quality of services and standards you promote. A uniform is one of the easiest ways to make a great first impression on your clients, before your staff even says a word.”

Asmar points out that the spa industry is unique in that teams interact with clients—men as well as women—who are half-dressed. “It’s therefore critical to be aware of our manners, for both client experience and staff safety,” she adds.

“Little things can turn off people instantly, including tattoos, body piercings and garments that are too suggestive. These may evoke strong first impressions—but not in a good way.”

No Noise is Good Noise?

When it comes to small talk, both Asmar and King favor a less-is-more approach. Beyond a bright smile, graceful salutation and steady eye contact, guests generally want to be shown directly to the treatment room. Speaking as a Canadian living and working in Vancouver, Asmar recommends that spa professionals maintain a cordial distance, addressing clients by “Mr.,” “Mrs.,” or “Ms.” Getting too chummy and familiar is a mistake. And, reminds King, “The client is never ever there to hear your problems.”

And once in the treatment room? Asmar shares that, as a frequent spa guest herself, she used to feel obliged to chat while receiving a treatment. Not anymore. “Now, once I enter the treatment room, I want it to be all about the experience,” she says. To dispense with any uncertainty, Asmar suggests that practitioners immediately establish the necessary boundaries with each client and ask which they prefer: conversation or silence?

There are other stress-inducing sounds to consider too, not least the ubiquitous cell phone ring tone. At Spa La Vie at Paragon Casino Resort in Marksville, Louisiana, there are firm rules to deal with such modern-day intrusions. Cell phones must be silenced once staff arrive on property and are used on “silent” in the staff lounge only. Employees are not allowed to carry cell phones through changing areas or into treatment rooms. “This is not only for noise issues but also for privacy issues, as most cell phones now have cameras on them,” points out spa director Stephanie Smull. Guests, too, are asked to either turn off their phones or silence them.

“We want the experience here to seem seamless, effortless and easy,” says Smull. “But the truth is that good spas run like clockwork, with a smile. That’s the steel in the steel magnolia,” she chuckles.

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