Member Perspectives: Communication Celebration
by Josh Corman
Guest communications have always been a critical component of successful spas, and there have never been more ways to keep guests informed about everything that’s new and exciting at the spa—and thereby keep its name firmly near the front of those guests’ minds. The COVID-19 pandemic has placed an even greater emphasis on guest communication, with everything from spa websites to social media to newsletters having been leveraged to make sure guests are as informed as possible about pandemic-related policies and procedures. But now that the pandemic and its corresponding restrictions are loosening their grip on the spa industry, many spas are getting creative with their direct communications as they seek to engage their audiences and emphasize the many benefits of their businesses to a weary world.
A Light Touch
Spas strategizing a communications plan may occasionally agonize over the balance between brand building and overt promotion of their services, but for a spa with a thoroughly established reputation as a celebrated luxury destination like The Wellhouse at Blackberry Farm, a light touch is often the most effective approach. “We don’t do any specials, we don’t do any sales—our marketing is very much focused on the experience of Blackberry, and the reputation,” says Spa Director Kathy Rivard. Instead of aggressively promoting treatment and service offerings in their newsletter, for example, The Wellhouse “speaks to things out there that— especially post-COVID—people are really looking for in their lives, whether it’s bird watching or connecting to nature or mediation, and then getting them to think, ‘What do I need right now, and how can Blackberry give that to me,’ instead of us telling them what they need.”
That doesn’t mean, however, that the spa keeps its menu a secret. Far from it, in fact. But Blackberry Farm’s specialized guest journey, which includes consultations with an onsite concierge to learn about and book services, means that The Wellhouse’s approach requires subtlety. Each week, Rivard meets with the destination’s marketing team to craft spa-related content for Blackberry Farm’s newsletter. “We talk about what we are going to focus on this week, so if our facials are slow, they write a beautiful story around that. It’s not ‘We have a pedicure on sale for 60 dollars,’ it’s creating the story around something I have availability for and guiding [guests] to choose it,” Rivard says.
Of course, another crucial part of getting guests interested in particular services is carefully evaluating guest feedback to determine which services and activities they are being drawn toward at a given moment. At a time when many guests are seeking specifically to escape the stress caused by the pandemic, The Wellhouse has highlighted treatments that address those feelings. “We’re working on a sleep program that would incorporate touches in the room, as well as treatments like meditation yoga, because we’re finding that people are having trouble sleeping,” Rivard explains. “We’re seeing people who haven’t been touched for a year. We’re doing a lot of private mediation—not just because of COVID restrictions but because people want a deeper connection to serenity. People have been so stressed out over [the pandemic], they need to figure out how to bring back that calmness in their life.”
Just like Kathy Rivard, Roma Maxwell recognizes the power of a good story. Maxwell, director of sales & marketing at Rancho La Puerta, says that the ranch’s newsletter is one way that the property continues to weave a compelling narrative for its audience. “It’s really an opportunity for us to put our best foot forward because it serves multiple purposes,” Maxwell says. “[The newsletter] connects with guests who are in between stays, but it also serves to introduce us potentially to new guests. We always want anything that we do to serve a purpose. Whether it’s adding value, whether it’s imparting knowledge, it needs to be useful. As we all know, we can do with less digital clutter in our lives, so when I say that it should serve a purpose, when it arrives in your inbox, we want it to be something that you’re looking forward to engaging with.”
One big reason that the ranch’s guests look forward to receiving its newsletter is that it’s crafted with a focus on authenticity, a concept which Maxwell describes as Rancho La Puerta’s “north star.” The loyalty and brand awareness that the ranch has established over its 80-year existence allows it to avoid intense promotion of its services. “If we stay true to who we are and the authenticity that guides everything we do, we don’t need to go out extremely aggressively to make a sale,” says Maxwell. Instead, she notes, the newsletter serves as an extension of the guests’ on-site experience. “The newsletter is not our most aggressive sales tool. The newsletter is a way to build community, to impart useful knowledge and remind our guests of this wonderful place that
they enjoyed so much.”
This guest-centered approach served Rancho La Puerta well in the early stages of the pandemic, when, as Maxwell puts it, guests “needed to hear from a place that was comforting, a place that they could trust. They needed a sense of balance, peace of mind, hope—messaging that was uplifting in small and meaningful ways. In that time, it was more about serving not only our guests, but the community, humanity at large, because everybody needed ways and useful tips on how to feel connected, how to feel healthier, how to feel less anxious. So we were giving up that information because we felt it served a much higher purpose,” Maxwell says. After the ranch had been reopened for a while, the marketing team shifted gears slightly, highlighting guest testimonials to “convey trust, to convey reassurance and to convey the sheer delight and love of being back at the ranch.”
Ultimately, these shifts in messaging come down to evaluating the relationship a spa has to its audience and determining how the spa can provide guests something they lack. “If you understand [your guests’ pain points], then you know how to offer a solution,” Maxwell says. She also urges spa leaders to keep in mind how savvy customers are, especially when it comes to filtering the endless stream of items that land in their inboxes. “There so much competition out there. Everybody has multiple options, so they’re not going to you if you don’t set yourself apart.”
A One-Stop Shop
At Be Medispa in Lexington, Kentucky, the pandemic gave Dr. Paul Hester and his team an opportunity to evaluate their relationship with their patients and, after doing so, adjust how they communicated in a major way. “We were not upholding the promise of an exceptional patient experience,” says Dr. Hester. “The pandemic allowed us to see this more clearly than ever, as we temporarily lost consistent communication with our patients.” After recognizing that instant access to information was a consistent demand among their guests—and determining that traditional communication channels like email weren’t leading to the levels of engagement and patient service that the spa prides itself on—the spa responded by developing its own customer care app. The app allows the spa to “instantly notify patients of office updates, promotions, fresh digital content and more,” according to Dr. Hester.
Be Medispa’s customer care app allowed the spa to focus on seamless, frictionless messaging and highlight their success with patients. Because, as Dr. Hester says, the spa’s brand is “communicated through reviews, referrals and results,” it was important that any communication tool the spa utilized allowed them to educate patients and address their concerns in a more immediate fashion. The app did exactly that. “Gone are the days of scrolling through your phone three weeks back to find that one email newsletter with promos from your favorite place,” says Dr. Hester. Instead of requiring patients to receive information from multiple touch points, the app concentrated communications in a way that let the spa practice core tenets of good service, responding quickly to questions or inquiries to soothe patient anxiety, fears or concerns before they ever walk through the door.
The convenience of using an all-in-one communication tool like an app is something that Dr. Hester was confident would increase engagement, and his confidence was well placed. Because the app allows patients to contact the spa simply and conveniently, engagement has risen considerably. In part, Dr. Hester chalks this rise up to meeting patients where they are and simplifying the spa’s approach. “Communicate with [your audience] how they communicate with you,” he says. “This will build trust from the first point of contact. Giving your audience multiple ways to receive information and contact you gives your business more opportunity to grow.”
The contrast in approaches between The Wellhouse at Blackberry Farm, Rancho La Puerta and Be Medispa illustrates the reality of effective guest communications in 2021: there are good principles to adhere to but no such thing as a one-size-fits-all approach. Understanding what it is that draws guests to the spa is critical for every business. Beyond that, success will likely come down to how effectively spas can highlight that appeal to their guests based on their unique brand and offerings. As Roma Maxwell puts it, “You have to look at you property, your services, your offerings to seek the experience that you’re then going to communicate. The feedback is right there. It’s from which treatments are being book, which treatments are not—all that stuff. That’s really the fertile soil from which all your communications come.