This Time It's Personal
Improve Your Client Journey Through Customization
By Jamison Stoike

WHETHER CAUSED BY the digital revolution, the COVID-19 pandemic or the dawn of a new decade, more spa-goers than ever are asking for uniquely tailored spa experiences, from personalized treatments to fully customized spa packages. Pulse spoke to spa leaders to find out what is driving the trend and how your spa can take advantage of the opportunities afforded by customization and personalization.

Crazy for Customization
The upheaval caused by COVID-19 has changed the way that people around the world view themselves, their health and their lifestyles. Ask any spa director about market demand right now and you’ll hear the same thing: people are crazy for spa. In fact, many spas currently report that the only thing keeping them from smashing any and all revenue records is the industry’s profound staffing shortage, as the COVID-19 pandemic has only deepened what was already an acute labor problem felt around the United States and the world.

A greater appreciation for a customized approach to wellness is at the heart of this renewed interest in living healthier, longer lives; that is, spa-goers are coming to spas not just seeking spa experiences, but customized, bespoke spa experiences. In a study of consumer attitudes towards wellness released earlier this year, McKinsey & Company found that “a substantial majority of consumers around the world say they prioritize personalization now more than they did two or three years ago.” In the U.S., more than 88 percent of consumers value personalization more than before; McKinsey & Company also report that customers in Brazil and China are particularly willing to trade privacy for greater personalization.

It’s hard not to see consumers’ growing valuation of custom experiences as connected to the wearable technology boom. In a world where everyone has a Fitbit or Apple Watch that constantly tracks their personal health in order to make personalized recommendations, why wouldn’t consumers expect other wellness experiences to also be tailored to them?

It’s not that simple, however. Laura Martinez, director of spa at the Four Seasons at the Surf Club, views a proclivity for custom spa experiences as a reaction against technology. “We’re so connected and virtual in so many ways,” says Martinez, “but at the end of the day, people still need that physical connection.” Viewed this way, the increasingly digital world in which we live is precisely why consumers are craving physical treatments now more than ever. Todd Shaw, Chief Experience Officer of FountainLife— an integrated platform for healthcare and wellness—sees these increases as the product of existing organic trends within the industry. “I think we’re all just sick and tired of being sick and tired,” Shaw says. “My parents’ generation is trying to stay as healthy as long as they can, my generation is trying to be healthier, and the younger generation is making even healthier decisions. It’s this movement that’s happening organically.” Part of that, adds Shaw, is the realization of how much harm has been done by choices we now know to be deleterious to one’s health, such as smoking or consuming added sugar: the knowledge of our past sins inspires us to be better in the future.

Diverse Approaches, One Goal
Many spas have offered custom experiences for years, while others have started offering them only recently. Yet virtually all spas are now trying to offer more customized, personalized, or bespoke spa experiences with the same goal in mind: a transformative experience for the spa-goer.

In the past, hotel spas in particular often resisted offering customized services out of a desire to present clients with a standardized high-quality experience that they could rely on from location to location. "Many years ago, when spas started opening inside of resorts,” says Cecilia Hercik, director of spa and wellness at Sea Island Resort, “we were so focused on consistency and protocols that we did not allow our providers to use their whole toolbox. Now, I think many spa directors have realized that service providers can create very unique, personalized services.”

The picture is different now at Sea Island, which recently launched a variety of self-guided journeys that allow spa-goers to chart their own path through the spa’s facilities. Sea Island’s four self-guided journeys are designed to draw attention to the spa’s communal facilities—including a cascading waterfall pool, an aromatherapy area, and a sound therapy area—some of which may be confusing for customers to find or use without specific direction. Each guest receives a laminated waterproof “menu” that they can carry around which outlines the self-guided journey for them. Through this clever use of spa facilities, Sea Island Resort was able to add an experience that feels tailored to each customer without having to invest significant capital or manpower in its implementation.

Further down the Atlantic coast, Martinez at the Four Seasons at the Surf Club creates custom experiences during the treatment itself through engaged conversations throughout the customer journey. “At the end of the day, it’s really about listening to our guests’ needs and being interested,” Martinez says. The spa uses every touchpoint—the initial booking call, the in-person check-in, the conversation with the provider before the service begins—to ask smart questions and listen closely to the answers.

Another popular approach to offer customized spa experiences and tailored treatments combinations is to charge by time, not by service: this is how Tereza Zanchi—a spa with ten locations
in southern Brazil—provides customized treatment packages. A client can book either a 30-, 45-, 60-, 90- or 120-minute session and combine services a la carte. “A customer could do thirty minutes of relaxing shiatsu plus thirty minutes of reflexology, for example,” says Co-Founder and Director Katja Guimaraes. “Charging for the time makes it easy to operate. For a small difference in price, the confusion [of charging by the service] isn’t worth it.”

Building a Business Case
The business benefits of offering customized services are, for the most part, self-evident. Customized experiences lead to happier spa-goers who are more likely to return to the spa time and again. At the same time, the higher price point attached to more customized and personalized experiences also means greater revenues and bigger profit margins. However, there are benefits that are less intuitive. For example, Hercik notes that customized treatments don’t only lead to happier clients: they lead to happier staff, too. Allowing service providers to use their full range of skills to customize services on-the-fly reignites their passion. “The excitement you see on the providers—they went to school with that inspiration, you know? That’s why they became a service provider: they had a gift and a passion. Sometimes we clip their wings a little bit too much.”

On the other hand, there are challenges to offering customized services. Staffing is a major obstacle for many spas. In order to coordinate customized packages that bridge fitness, massage, esthetics and more, “you need a qualified individual that understands different areas of the spa,” says Hercik. While that person can be the spa director or spa manager, taking the lead on customizing treatments can be too time-consuming to be practical. Timing can also be a sticking point, according to Martinez. “Looking at the provider’s perspective, timing is hard,” she says. “How much time do they need to listen to the guest? Some guests open up really quickly. Others, not so much.” Training staff on human psychology and how to ask effective questions can help overcome the timing challenge, but costs both time and money on the front end. Behind the scenes, managing back bar inventory is also made more difficult by customized treatments: it’s harder to anticipate product use when offering custom treatments rather than treatments with set protocols.

Todd Shaw speaks to ways that customization adds to the burden of responsibility, too. This is especially true for FountainLife, which works with a client on a total healthcare evaluation that includes traditional medicine as well as spa, wellness and fitness. “Right now, a doctor can feel comfortable because they’re playing within the standards that have been approved,” says Shaw. At Fountain- Life, which uses advanced diagnostics in order to proactively measure and improve health, they don’t have the luxury of convention, and this adds to their responsibility. While the stakes at a spa might be different, the paradigm is the same. In providing a customized experience, service providers have to feel comfortable and confident in stepping away from standardized protocols; in doing this, they take even more of the spa-goer’s happiness into their own hands.

Getting Started
None of those challenges are insurmountable, though; says Martinez, “At the end of the day, all of this is worth it when you see the guest blown away by their experience.” If your spa wants to implement new ways to customize treatments, there are small but smart ways to start doing so.

One way is to offer a single custom treatment that is sold only in one time length. Allow your service providers to use any methodologies and products that they feel will benefit the client’s needs at the time of service. “When we create a customized massage or facial, I send it to my providers and I say, ‘No protocols, use your whole toolbox and do whatever is necessary,” says Hercik. This allows your spa to offer a customized experience at very little additional cost by eliminating the need to spend time guiding a client to book the correct service at the time of reservation. Hercik adds, “I think sometimes we overthink it by trying to find too many wellness counselors when the practitioner can do all that for you.” Echoing Hercik’s advice, Martinez adds that you could also start even smaller by offering an exclusive customized experience to only your spa’s most frequent customers.

If you’re hesitant to begin offering fully customized services, you can still make the spa experience more unique by personalizing your services; while the methodologies might be standardized, smaller aspects—like aromatherapy oils, beverage choice, etc.—can be altered to suit a client’s specific preferences. It’s especially impressive if your spa remembers these preferences, says Shaw, by actually attaching them to a client’s profile in your spa booking software. “When my hairstylist says, ‘I know how Todd likes his hair,’ that’s arrogance. Where are the notes?” Shaw adds. “What if my hairstylist said, “Last time we did a one on the sides, a two faded up, and we had a one-and-a-half inch fade on the top. Is that still working for you?’ I’d be amazed! That’s the idea of personalization— it doesn’t have to be crazy. Just show people that you care about the details.”

The Right Questions
Effective customization begins with asking clients the right questions, whether on the phone at the time of booking, at check-in when they complete intake questionnaires, or in the treatment room. Laura Martinez’s team at the Four Seasons Hotel and Residences at Surf Club have found the following questions to be simple, but effective, ways to get the heart of why clients come to the spa—and, therefore, how you can tailor your treatments to give them that “Wow” experience every time:
1. What is your goal for today?
2. How would you like to feel when you leave?