Dive-In to Data
by Jamison Stoike

Using numbers to drive your decision making? That’s straightforward.

Figuring out how to gather, analyze and incorporate feedback from customers, employees and other spas? That’s a bit more complicated. From constructing a good customer survey to using ideas found in ISPA’s Snapshot Surveys, it might be time to rethink how you deal with qualitative data.

The Art of the Survey

There are two kinds of data:quantitative and qualitative. Quantitative is what one typically thinks of when they think of data: numbers. Quantitative data can tell you your average retail spend per customer, or what percentage of your customers had a great, good, neutral or bad experience. But quantitative data often stops there; you may know that 10 percent of customers had a bad experience, but you may not know why.

That’s where qualitative data comes in. Qualitative data is, essentially, everything else—it’s the stuff you can’t quantify, like a handwritten feedback response from a customer or a comment from an employee. Qualitative data should play an important role in guiding your decision making as a spa leader, and it’s often gathered through surveys and feedback forms. But what makes a good survey? How do you know which questions to ask?

“The first start to crafting any question, quantitative or qualitative, is ‘what is the end goal?’” says Crystal Ducker, ISPA’s VP of Research and Communications. A guest’s time is a precious commodity, and it’s best to only ask them questions if the answers will lead to meaningful, usable qualitative data. “Ask yourself if knowing that data point will change what you do,” adds Ducker.

Once you’ve determined the end goal, the next step in forming a question is to be as specific as possible—a good question is a specific one. For example: imagine you want to know whether your team is properly greeting your guests. Instead of asking “How was your experience today?” on your customer feedback survey, request the following: “Please describe how our staff greeted you at the front desk.”

The phrasing of the latter question hints at the third step in crafting a good qualitative data question: ask the question in a way that encourages description. Ducker suggests “reading the question back to yourself to see if it’s something that you could answer ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ If you can, then you haven’t written an effective question.” The heart of qualitative data lies in the details, so you want your survey-taker to explain their experience or describe something, rather than giving a perfunctory answer.

As for building out the survey itself, feedback cards in your spa can do the trick—but there are more modern and sophisticated ways to poll your customers. There are a variety of online platforms, such as SurveyMonkey, Zoho and Typeform, all of which have free and paid versions available. Your spa’s booking software also likely has a customer feedback system built-in to the software; check with your software provider to learn more about best practices for using it effectively. The type of survey you want to conduct might also determine what kind of software you should use, if any. “Spa software surveys often focus on the guest experience, like ‘how was your therapist?’” Ducker says; this makes them well-suited for generating qualitative data about specific aspects of the spa experience. But if your spa wants to send out a survey to answer more difficult questions—such as ascertaining why your customers go to spas in general—a dedicated survey software may be more appropriate.

While there is enterprise-level software, such as Verint and Qualtrics, for building extremely detailed customer surveys, built-in software or a free online survey tool will likely be sufficient for a typical day spa. Despite being free, an online software like SurveyMonkey is still capable of more advanced survey-building tricks, including skip patterns—that’s where a portion of a survey is hidden if it’s not applicable to the survey taker. Implementing this may sound challenging, but the online softwares are designed to be simple to use, notes Ducker. If you’re using a free software, though, be sure to build a test survey and take it yourself. The survey will likely have ads—some of which are more intrusive than others—and it’s recommended that you make sure the ads’ presentation doesn’t conflict with your brand image before you send it out to guests.

Once the data comes in, be leery of focusing too much on any one comment. It’s particularly easy to dwell on a single bad qualitative comment; to avoid this, try to think of the qualitative data in a more quantitative way. If there are two negative comments out of 120 total submissions, remind yourself that that means 98 percent of your customers had a good experience. Look for patterns in the data, too: while one person mentioning that your spa’s linens felt rough isn’t worth worrying about, ten people saying the same beckons further investigation. If you find a pattern in qualitative data, use it to inform your next survey by asking a specific question: “How did you feel about the linens used throughout your service?”

You can also turn qualitative data into quantitative data by changing the type of question you ask; this is where ranking- and rating-type questions prove handy. Instead of asking, “What was your favorite part of your experience today?” ask them to rank or rate specific components—treatment, hospitality, pre- and post-treatment relaxation, etc.

For spas, you’ll likely want to ask more rating questions than ranking questions; this is because rating questions assign an absolute value to an item, whereas ranking questions assign a relative value to an item. That is, ranking something only tells you how it’s viewed relative to the other items being ranked.

When building a rating scale, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), ISPA’s research partner, suggests using a rating scale with an odd number, such as 1-5. This gives you a true, neutral midpoint: 3. Ducker also advises against using a bigger scale than 1-5, such as 1-7 or 1-9; at that point, the divisions between ratings are too granular. Is there a meaningful difference between an 8 and a 9? Not likely.

Building a good customer survey of any kind means being comfortable with seeking and using qualitative data. Though quantitative data is often easier to use, qualitative data can offer the transformative ideas and insights you need to grow your spa. By focusing on the end goal, asking specific questions and using the right tools, you can rest easy knowing that you’re gathering high-quality qualitative data. By finding creative ways to view qualitative data in a more mathematical way, you’ll avoid the pitfalls of zeroing in on isolated comments or opinions. And by arming yourself with the best data possible, you’ll have the knowledge and evidence you need to lead your spa into 2020 and beyond.

Quick Tips for Building a Customer Survey

Whether you’re creating a one-off survey to send to your mailing list, a new customer feedback form or a general-purpose email follow-up survey, here are some top tips for building a survey that generates meaningful data.

Anonymous? Keep it that way. Clearly state at the front of the survey if it’s anonymous or not. If it is anonymous, it’s important to keep it so—once you lose the survey-taker’s trust, they’ll never respond completely truthfully to one of your surveys again.

Incentives are key. Surveys without incentives will receive fewer responses than those that offer an incentive. Find out what your audience will find valuable—like a chance to win a gift card—and offer it as a reward for taking the survey, if you can.

Keep it short. If it’s a short survey, such as a customer comment card, never have more than two big, open-ended questions. The more open-ended, qualitative questions that you have, the less likely they are to give a high-quality, detailed answer for each—or to even fill out the survey at all.

Member Tip

Find creative uses for your data! One ISPA member spa used the retail purchasing info in their spa booking software to identify purchasing patterns. If a customer purchased a moisturizer that typically lasted three months, the spa would automatically send an email three months after purchase asking the customer to come back in to buy their next bottle.