Friday, April 5, 2013

The ultimate customer service? Ahhh, the spa, of course.

I just came back from a spring break trip to the spa. It was divine. From the time I pulled the brass handle of the door open to the first foot out of the door 4 hours later, I was in customer service heaven. No surprise to anyone who has ever visited a day spa, the entire experience is built around pampering the paying customer to no end. In a world bent on cracking the code to perfect UX and even more perfect customer service, we need not look any further than our local four or five-star spa. 

It's obviously not something I do every day or even every month, but once a year, I try to set aside time and funds to enjoy a little ultimate spa experience. 

For this trip, I traveled to the Lone Star state to visit the Trellis Spa at the Houstonian; which proved to be both relaxing and exhilarating at the same time, thanks in part to all it's Southern hospitality and larger than life amenities.


Probably my favorite spa is the Grove Park Inn in Asheville, which can only be described in one word; sublime. I visited Grove Park Inn for a maternity massage a few years back and would love to go back and compare the before and after experience. I'm positive it would be delightful. 


And that's the main point here. Customer service can get no better than what we have come to expect at a world-class spa. In a world where both marketers and consumers alike are constantly searching for the next best "surprise and delight" campaign, website, app or store, the spa experience has this baked into the very DNA of what it offers; day in, day out. A key difference between great customer service at a spa compared to great customer service at a regular non-spa business is that greatness is expected at a spa more readily and the same level of superior customer service would be out of place under normal circumstances. Which is quite a conundrum for brands and businesses who claim to put the customer first. 

Sitting at the Houstonian wrapped in a warmed white cotton robe, with fresh muscles and minted cucumber peels on my eyes, I thought about this and came up with four reasons why the spa customer service experience is so difficult to replicate in real life/real business. 

1. It would be too expensive for the business to operate. 
Seriously, one attendant is assigned per visit. They are never rushed. They always smile. They give you  nourishment, beverage, luxurious amenities and above all else, undivided attention. They attend to your every need and if you have a need outside their abilities, they have the ability to convince you that it's not such a need after all. 

2. It would be too expensive for the general consumer to consume in a regular manner. 
I paid more than $300 for two services and spent less than 4 hours in the spa total. I'm happy to be able to do that every once in a while, but would feel quite a bit less fortunate if those same resources would be required for a random jaunt to the mall or quick afternoon out with the girls. 

3. The exclusivity of it all would vanish. 
Let's face it. We are all human. We have expectations but we certainly love surprises. In fact, we seek out adventure in all forms. So if there is no surprise in it all, likely we would become bored and move on. 

4. The spa customer service model is built on a very niche experience and targeting a very pin-pointed audience. If the spa experience also had to accommodate other audience members (think children, pets, angry republicans and men, for instance) likely it would change. I'm kind of teasing here, but it's safe to say that  for the most part, women visit spa's as a group.

The one last characteristic of a spa experience that I can't help but include is the experience from the perspective of the spa & it's staff. There is a code of order, for certain. Consumers pay to relax, so the bottom line is that they WANT to relax. They elect to leave their iPhones in the locker room. They coordinate time away from the office, the kids and daily stress. 

The ultimate goal of a spa is to encourage the deepest form of relaxation, and that's something very precious in our busy, competitive world. The act of relaxing is so very vulnerable and spa staff seem to really understand that. They are trained and paid to aid people in accepting the very best of customer service. In turn, they expect customers to hand over a little of their daily control issues, their anxiety and their trust that they will provide stellar service. Integrity, trust, intimacy and personal comfort are elements that often difficult to find in regular customer service models that aim to deliver products and services in the fastest, most affordable, most convenient manner; sometimes without any human to human interaction at all. 

Daily conveniences require their own supporting customer service models, trust me, I get it. But if you want to experience extraordinary customer service, put your tablet down and head to your nearest spa.