MONEY MATTERS
The Psychology of Recommending Homecare
by Dr. Michela Henke-Cilenti, CPLP

I have spent my career helping teams become personally accountable for their psychology when recommending products, homecare or add-ons to clients; to connect more deeply and authentically with the guest every time. This article will share a few of those insights, plus best practices on how you too can lead and coach your teams to seamlessly recommending, every time.

There are two seismic changes I have experienced with my spa clients this year that affect how teams view recommending. Firstly, a shortage of labor and talent continues to tip the power balance toward therapists, allowing comfortable and convenient habits to prevail. Secondly, fiscal pressures, more sophisticated technology and survey techniques have led to hospitality executives weighing employee satisfaction scores and guest satisfaction scores perhaps too heavily, especially since they might not accurately depict reality. Teams subconsciously pick up on the power held by the scores and use that power to control the working environment. Structures, processes and cultures are being shaped around the collection of these scores, which is concerning.

There are two factors that seriously affect guest recommending. One is the huge increase in corporate vulnerability felt by spa directors due to the pressure of maintaining the scores from the previous quarter or year at all costs. The second is that the pursuit of high scores can also be subconsciously used by a spa director to avoid vigorously tackling the continuous conundrum of getting their team to recommend. In other words: you pick your battles, right?

Here are my top two insights on how to reframe the perception of selling:

1. Don’t Treat Upselling as an Integral Part of the Experience

This might sound a little radical, but let’s discuss it. Put simply, insisting that retail is an integrated and expected part of the spa service does not motivate us to action.

What actually happens is the opposite—knowing that you must recommend and sell leads to stress, which then leads to avoidance. This is how it usually goes: first, the therapist knows they should talk about products. Then, stress hormones are released as they feel unauthentic and uncomfortable about up-selling. Next, if they do ask the guest to buy, it is likely that they will be ignored because the therapist didn’t really think the guest would say “yes.” Once this occurs, the therapist might just stop asking. This cycle creates a stifling, negative culture to cope with the reality and subsequent stress and personal pressure of not selling, which can lead to burnout and the creation of tactics that make recommending nearly impossible.

However, by simply reframing the idea of recommending, you can empower and free your team from the pressure of the myth that upselling is part of a single, unified spa-going experience. Instead, view recommending and upselling like this: each guest has two wallets—the one that they booked the treatment with, and the second for all other additional purchases. The spa service, which goes in the first wallet, is a sunk cost. All other additions go into the second wallet. This system means that even if a staff member didn’t upsell—and didn’t use the second wallet—it doesn’t change the fantastic guest-focused behaviors and actions that occurred during the spa service paid for with the first wallet. Focusing on the second wallet is just like flicking a switch—have a go! This model builds confidence and purposefully drives the right actions and words throughout the service, as well as protecting therapists’ self-esteem.

2. Drive Change by Disrupting Equilibrium

Imagine that new recommending behaviors are surrounded by a force field; there are forces pushing to change and forces pushing not to change. The forces that push for a new behavior are mostly logical. The forces that push against change are often emotional, such as fear of rejection, self-doubt or a perceived lack of knowledge. The forces push in opposite directions in perfect equilibrium, often leading to no change.

To make a successful change, you must first identify what forces drive your recommending behaviors and what forces stop those behaviors. Then, it’s simple math: to change your behavior, you must either increase the volume or intensity of the pro-change forces, or eliminate or reduce the volume of the emotional anti-change forces. For example: commission is a force for change, but is it currently strong enough to drive change as-structured? Does it reinforce the right behaviors? Look at your data and interview a representative spread of your team to determine if it is facilitating and reinforcing positive, upselling behaviors.

An example of a force against change could be an informal culture that sends the message to your team that recommending, or upselling, can “make the rest of the team look bad.” While correcting this sort of anti-change force can be challenging, coaching can help. When you coach a team member, you reduce the power and hold of the informal culture by re-focusing them on their own dreams and purpose. When the therapist imagines their dreamed future, it can help eliminate resistance to recommending and spur them to become the person they entered the industry to be.

Use the below format to visualize the future, and then decide which actions are needed to take them from the present to the visualized future. Obstacles are eliminated and the therapist will operate at a higher level. The forces model can be used to coach non-performing therapists, under-performing therapists or therapists that have plateaued in their recommending and upselling. To change the course of your ship, you must acknowledge where you are right now and why you’re there. Fundamental cultural shifts must take place to create an operating climate that nurtures upselling and recommending behavior. Informal cultures that pull against enabling your therapists to be the marvelous healers that they are must be actively managed. Through incredible service and intelligent recommendations, your positive, purposeful work will continue to change guests’ lives.


Dr. Michela Henke-Cilenti is an experienced management and organizational development consultant specializing in behaviors and change, particularly in regard to increasing engagement, creating a culture of recommending and managing team dynamics. You can contact Michela at michelahenkecilenti@gmail.com, or visit michelahenkecilenti.com.