Bad breath, bad attitudes: how your spa staff is driving your customers away

Are your spa and/or salon customers returning, and if not, what can you do about it? Could you spa staff be part of the problem?

Customer retention is the key to success. (Unless you’re a hotel or resort spa, where things are a little different. Returning customers are still valuable, but things might be more out of your hands.) Retention costs far less than acquisition. We all know that.

But in the spa and wellness world, where competition is fierce, retention can be a challenge. There are many ways to improve customer retention. But there are also many reasons guests don’t return, and you can often only guess at what they are, which is frustrating to say the least, and makes problems more difficult to fix.

Research suggests that most people won’t complain; they just won’t go back. And sometimes, they’re not even unhappy. One study conducted a few years ago found that 80% of defecting customers describe themselves as “satisfied” or “very satisfied” just before leaving. Yep. Even happy customers will leave you. It’s not enough to be “very satisfying.” You have to be “amazing.”

How? Going above and beyond is the key to everything. Make people feel special, remember their names, offer a little extra with everything — a gift, a glass of champagne, incentives for referrals and return visits, something to say “thank you.” There are spas all over the place. You have to stand out.

That being said, your team is a big part of your success. And your spa staff may be causing issues with retention. We do know that the number one reason people don’t return to a business is because of a bad customer experience, and this is most often due to a sales or service person. This matters even more in the spa and salon business, where almost every interaction is individual and rather more intimate than other settings.

That same study I just mentioned also found that 60% of customers stop dealing with a company because of what they perceive as indifference on the part of salespeople, and that 70% leave a company because of poor service. And customers who feel that a company’s salespeople are exceptional are 10 to 15 times more likely to remain loyal.

No spa director can control for all the potential issues, but you can train your team to be the best there is.

Here are five ways your spa staff might be turning off guests and what you can do about them:

Talking too much or not enough. Service providers should be trained to pay attention to guest cues and to read whether or not conversation is welcome or intrusive. Stony silence from a provider can be perceived as cold and weird, while non-stop chatter can be irritating and cause stress – the opposite of what you’re going for. Employees should be trained to listen for one-word responses that indicate a desire for less talk, or more effusive ones indicating a willingness to engage. While this may seem obvious to some, it’s definitely not to others. Don’t assume your spa staff are all gifted conversationalists and listeners.

Being unresponsive to signals. Along the same lines, many of us have had an experience in which a massage or manicure was too rough, and the therapist didn’t take cues to soften up their touch – or something similar, like we weren’t happy with the way a hairstyle or facial went. Not everyone will tell a service provider their needs in words. Staff has to be able to read people, and if they can’t it’s better to ask than it is to keep ploughing through until it’s too late.

Making personal remarks. A complaint I’ve heard from spa guests in the past is that the service provider made unsolicited comments about their skin or weight. Staff might think this is acceptable because it’s their line of work, but it’s not. My mother used to call this “making personal remarks,” and it’s not appropriate. Make sure your team keeps commentary about people’s bodies and appearances to a minimum. Even compliments can be unwelcome. They make some people uncomfortable. It’s best to avoid the topic altogether except for professional purposes.

Rudeness/lack of attentiveness. Obvious, right? Then how come so many people have stories about being treated rudely by spa staff? Staff talking amongst themselves when they should be paying attention to guests, answering their phones during treatments (yes! It happens!), being unresponsive to a guest’s needs or issues… Your staff must be trained in how to respond to customer needs, from the moment they walk into your business to the moment they leave. People are often paying very well for spa services and they should be able to expect professional and attentive service.

Stinking. It’s not just the customers who have odor issues. Bad breath is surprisingly common, even among massage therapists. And close quarters can make an experience with someone with halitosis a nightmare. Strong body odor can be another issue (I’ve encountered both of these). Almost nobody is going to tell someone else that they smell bad, so we just lie there waiting for it to be over, then run away and never come back. Make sure your staff is well groomed and make it a policy to have breath mints on hand and that everyone brush their teeth after meals.

Finally, send a survey as soon as someone leaves your spa or wellness business soliciting feedback about their experience. Send it while the experience is fresh in their mind, and provide an incentive to fill it out and to return to your place of business.

Like I said, since nobody is going to volunteer the information, the only way to find out if someone is unhappy with their experience is to ask them. Only then can you fix it.


Spa Executive magazine is published by Book4Time, the world’s most innovative spa, salon, wellness, and activity management software. Learn more at

(Image: victor4 / 123RF Stock Photo)

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