Planning a Spa? Avoid the Pitfalls: Staff Traits That Make or Break

By Gary Henkin President & Founder, WTS International | October 28, 2008

Our previous two installments in this series devoted to spa development focused on the importance of taking appropriate steps to plan, design and prepare the facility for a successful launch. Part I in the series discussed the importance and value of feasibility studies and how best to avoid critical mistakes and pitfalls associated with the design process. Part II addressed the importance of taking a focused approach to the pre-opening process in thinking through, in an orchestrated way, the steps required for a successful launch of the spa. Timeline development, licensing, staffing modules, operating systems, budget and menu development and the importance of retrieving accurate and timely data were but a few of the items highlighted.

In order to ensure that a hotel or resort spa will offer a truly memorable experience while maximizing revenue and potential for a positive bottom line, one item is of critical importance. Perhaps the most important decision that will influence the success or failure of a spa operation is to select staff that will "make a difference". Putting it another way, will guests and other spa patrons remember their experience as one that is delineative and memorable in some way, and one they wish to share with spouses, friends or colleagues? Spas may be beautifully designed and have a wonderful and diverse menu of services; however, if the staff aren't really attuned to their customers, friendly in their demeanor and well trained, the entire spa experience can be ruined before it ever starts. In our view, staff selection and training is the make or break decision for most spas and leisure facilities. Yet, in many cases, not enough time, effort or emphasis is placed on this crucial area.

Placing a premium on the hiring and retention of personnel who share your values, culture and service ethic will reap substantial dividends. Whether your site is a hotel, resort, condo hotel, private club or residential development, sourcing quality personnel and retaining them for the long term can help your business stand out from the crowd and attract loyal repeat visitors.

Finding the Right Fit for the Right Position

Our clients consistently ask, "Where and how do you find qualified spa staff, and what qualities and traits do you seek in the selection process?" In the past, our response skewed more toward the specific qualifications and practical experience candidates brought to the table. Although experience in the work environment is clearly an important factor, it should not be the ultimate criteria in finding the best person for the job. Today, it is even more important to establish what we typically refer to as "core qualities and values," and we recommend that your staff selection traits should embrace and mirror these. Taking a hard look at a candidate's customer service, communication and organizational skills will usually yield better results than just looking at a resume or work experience alone. That said, before you start the solicitation of candidates for the Spa Director position or other key slots, create an organizational chart mapping out each position with roles and responsibilities for each; this will greatly assist your efforts in understanding what the spa will need.

Having a broad base of candidates for open positions allows you to match the right person to the job responsibility and to the site. Such a job "fit" must be present if a relationship between the staff and the hotel or resort is to succeed over time. Each property develops its own personality, and it is important that new employees fit in with existing staff and with the clients they serve. Sometimes, management hires a candidate, but there isn't necessarily a clear fit between the person and the property. There are any number of viable ways to source qualified staff, including advertising in trade publications and associated magazines and periodicals. In addition, the Internet provides a broad means of reaching people in your particular market niche. Attending trade shows, networking with colleagues and establishing relationships with spa industry vendors also produces positive results.

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Guest Service: A Culture of YES

In a recent global consumers report, 97% of the participants said that customer service is a major factor in their loyalty to a brand, and 76% said they view customer service as the true test of how much a company values them. And since there is no industry more reliant on customer satisfaction than the hotel industry, managers must be unrelenting in their determination to hire, train and empower the very best people, and to create a culture of exceptional customer service within their organization. Of course, this begins with hiring the right people. There are people who are naturally service-oriented; people who are warm, empathetic, enthusiastic, pleasant, thoughtful and optimistic; people who take pride in their ability to solve problems for the hotel guests they are serving. Then, those same employees must be empowered to solve problems using their own judgment, without having to track down a manager to do it. This is how seamless problem solving and conflict resolution are achieved in guest service. This willingness to empower employees is part of creating a Culture of Yes within an organization.  The goal is to create an environment in which everyone is striving to say “Yes”, rather than figuring out ways to say, “No”. It is essential that this attitude be instilled in all frontline, customer-facing, employees. Finally, in order to ensure that the hotel can generate a consistent level of performance across a wide variety of situations, management must also put in place well-defined systems and standards, and then educate their employees about them. Every employee must be aware of and responsible for every standard that applies in their department. The April issue of the Hotel Business Review will document what some leading hotels are doing to cultivate and manage guest satisfaction in their operations.