Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Power of 100

5 x 5 x 4 is an equation I like to share with aspiring spa professionals, and the people who hire them. This formula represents the foundation of a successful practice as a spa professional, be it esthetician or massage therapist: five days, five clients per day, four weeks per month = 100 regular clients.

For the sharp-eyed among you, that missing .33 weeks per month offsets the impact of time away from the job, paid and unpaid, here calculated as "only" four weeks a year—a conservative sum: see my earlier blog on the surprising pitfalls of sales budgeting.

This formula is the lifeblood of spas who cater to a repeat clientele: day spas, medical spas, and urban hotel spas whose regular guests include locals and business travelers. It is an unapologetically simplistic formula, but as a rule of thumb it works pretty well. At about 100 “regular request” clients, a spa professional reaches stability and success. Their practice isn’t full to bursting, which means there is additional earning potential. But they’re productive and prosperous.

Why is this number important? Because very few spa professionals actually have or use specific performance goals, which is the best way to gauge progress. If you knew that you needed to secure 100 happy and loyal clients, averaging a visit every month (some will come more often, some less) how do you behave? How do you prioritize your day?

For serious professionals, your thinking changes from the passive “what’s on my schedule today?” to the active “where are my clients—past, present, and future—right now, and how can I get them, and keep them, on my schedule?”

If you know you need 100 regular clients, you build a roster, quite literally—as in, you write them down and make notes about them, like any self respecting sales professional would. You record the names and preferences and needs of regulars-to-be and cultivate them—and their referrals--with tender loving care. This is not simply about chatting Mrs. Henderson up during her visits and asking after the daughter at USC. It’s about consciously creating a spa care program so beneficial to Mrs. Henderson that she wouldn’t seriously consider going elsewhere for her treatments. Even if someone hands her a gift certificate. Which they will.

The first time I won the gift certificate acid test against another spa’s unwitting, anonymous esthetician was 1985. The new guest came in out of social duty to the girlfriend who’d given her a gift certificate to my spa. She began by telling me in friendly but firm terms that she really liked “the girl” who had been giving her facial treatments. Whenever someone uses this vaguely anachronistic, pink-collar phrase, which I still hear around spas, I know we’ve got a new client in the making. It tells me that “The Girl” is simply a beautician, performing what we used to call “beauty operations” in the no-frills school I attended in the early 80’s. “The Guy,” her male counterpart, may be a masseur, (a term always uttered with uncertainty and awkwardness, and usually with the wrong gender) whose skill set is not quite something we’d describe as massage therapy. All snobbery aside, these folks may be well-intentioned and committed, in their own way, to the work. They are skilled enough to deliver a service that encourages a customer to return.

But customers fall into the hands of a truly committed professional, the scales fall from their eyes. The customer turns into a client. They adhere. That is, if the professional cultivates them properly. Making sure a client “sticks” to you requires a simple process. Commitment cannot just be to the craft (“I love being an esthetician!”) but to collecting and tending clients (“I love taking care of my clients.”)

Back to my gift certificate client. At the end of our hour together, she said with genuine surprise, “You know, I really like The Girl who gives me my facials. But we usually talk about our kids and our husbands. I learned so much today.” And at my invitation, she promptly rescheduled, coming for treatments with me for many years, until she moved from the area to retire. Her teenage daughter became a regular guest as well. I never forgot the lesson she taught me that day—and her comments became the basis of two of the principles of Selvice, the Wynne Business sales and service philosophy: “Create Compelling Solutions” and “Make it Fresh Daily.”

Most customers enjoy friendly banter with their service provider, but they don’t need to pay us $100 an hour and more for friendship (we hope.) Still, a client who has never experienced a game-changing treatment—the astonishingly effective massage, the transporting facial--may not even know that such a possibility exists. Value is created when we solve big problems for our clients: we unfreeze the frozen shoulder, we clear the erupting skin, or we elevate their self esteem through our graciousness, respect, warmth and unflagging attention. These are compelling benefits, valuable ones, and they bring the clients back to us. Even when times are tough.

Once we’ve made progress on the initial set of problems, the ones they “present” with, we can’t go onto autopilot. There are always other interesting issues to mine and improvements to make. You’ve got their trust and confidence now; it’s time to expand the scope of the program and introduce them to outcomes and benefits they may not have known existed. Like explorers, the best spa therapists continuously seek new ways to create value for the guest—we make it fresh daily, treating them with the same focus that we would the new guest, each time we see them. A great spa treatment program is a bit of a never-ending story, with new and wonderful benefits that continuously unfold. This requires that spa therapists keep eyes and ears open and don’t become one-trick ponies. The industry is full of reasonably skilled folks that stopped learning the day they left school. They (or their clients) eventually wither away from boredom.

I used to go through a ritual before I saw my last client of the day: I would clean, detail and re-set my treatment room as I would for the first client, misting it with some lavender and peppermint, smoothing the sheets with extra care, re-energizing the space. I never wanted a guest to feel that I gave anything less for my final client of the day than my first. I never allowed myself to get loose and lazy and overly casual, as some service providers tend to do when the end of the day is in sight.

In times as challenging as these, spas must once again get serious about benefits. Chocolate treatments and Margarita scrubs will still probably find a place on resort spa menus, but I’d be willing to bet that there is not much in the way of a steady “chocolate clientele.” (Forgive me if I’m wrong, devoted chocolate therapists.) Compelling value is about healing, pure and simple. That is the watchword for clientele building in this brave new year.

The sales profesional you see four times a year when she is in town for her company’s quarterly business review should be called, coddled, cultivated as if she lived ten minutes down the road. The client who lives ten minutes down the road should feel like family. (Well, an idealized form of family: one of the great charms of spa visits is that you are treated far better in our establishments than you ever would be by your spouse, your offspring, or any actual members of your family.) This is just as much a part of the job as understanding how to release tension in a client’s SCM or properly extract millia.

The spa therapist who is loathe to pick up the phone and check on a new client within a couple of days of their first visit will never amass the magic 100. The great irony of the trade is that many spa therapists are actually very shy individuals who are happiest interacting with silent, prone people whose eyes are shut. Take them out of the treatment room and ask them to have a conversation with a guest and they blink like owls in daylight, shifting awkwardly in the open and itching to return to the safety of their dim caves. The challenge is that the work of client-building happens, not just during the treatment, but in those conversations and interactions before and after the service.

To get your 100, you have to ask for it. This is what we call in Selvice “Extend the Invitation,” and it’s the bit everyone thinks they can omit if they’re good enough. Not true. I’ve seen modestly talented individuals enjoy great careers because they obey this law, and great talents fail spectacularly because they think (or hope) they are exempt.

Spa operators can help bridge this gap by providing, at critical touchpoints, superior customer service professionals, but counting on this as your primary strategy is risky. While you will always have gems, support teams are famously understaffed and turn over more quickly than other departments. As a 25 year spa operator I wish this weren’t so, but it seems to be one of those natural laws of the industry that we “work around”. The one reliable strategy is teamwork, lots of coaching (much of it positive—catching people doing things right), and a willingness to make clientele-building, if that’s your business model, a non-negotiable behavior.

But here is the most encouraging part of the Law of 100. If we assume a spa professional is at work 50 weeks a year (which is the basic agreement, though we know we usually fall short) they simply have to retain two clients a week to collect their 100 clients in the course of just one year.

Ask just about any spa therapist if they think they can hang onto two of the people they see in a week—that is, reschedule them before they leave--maybe even sell them a series--and most of them will say that this is reasonable and probably doable. As a point of pride, it’s hard for anyone with even a modicum of self confidence to admit otherwise. In fact, it’s tantamount to saying “fire me now!” for someone to bemoan the difficulty of snagging two return clients each week.

For your part, as a spa operator, you can provide a nice incentive for the guest to reschedule before leaving. Having a bit of “bait” in the form of an upgrade--please, no discounts, unless for a series purchase--bolsters the spa therapist’s confidence. It’s a conversation starter. It makes them feel better about their invitation.

The flood of new clients that follows the holiday gift season next month will provide plenty of guests who may not, like my long-ago client, even know they’re in the market for a new massage therapist or esthetician. It will also deliver people who have never even had a spa service at all. These prospects all have needs, concerns, hopes, frustrations. They don’t know what we can do for them. It’s our job to gently winnow those needs out and provide compelling solutions.

Don’t tell me she’s simply here to “relax,” and that’s why you didn’t attempt to reschedule her! Why does she need to relax? Did you find out? Do you know exactly what “relax” means to her? People spend tremendous amounts of money to “relax.” (See: Hawaii—a place she may not be going this January.)

Two per week. A lovely, bite-sized goal that will set your therapists on the road to 5 x 5 x 4 and their first 100.

There is an especially happy epilogue to my gift-poached client tale. Not long ago I was on an industry tour of the Wynn Spa in Las Vegas (the only thing I have that Steve Wynn doesn’t is an “e” at the end of my name.) As we entered the beautiful facility, I was introduced to the lead esthetician, a lovely young lady who looked awfully familiar. She recognized me as her and her mother’s long-ago esthetician. Not only had that day led to a long and happy client relationship, the facial treatmeants that she received had also sparked the daughter’s interest in a spa career.

The only thing more rewarding than creating a new client is creating a new spa professional from a client. That’s a gift that keeps on giving.

1 comment: said...

Wonderful Peggy! You hit it right on the head. The need for creating regulars is a true art form that many too quickly dismiss as the spa owners job, not realizing the power is there in their own hands.