From the MASSAGE Magazine article, “Spa Success: How to Land a Great Spa Job,” by Steve Capellini, in the February 2010 issue. Article summary: The golden rule for spa employees: “Treat the spa and each of its guests exactly as if you were the owner. This is the most accelerated way to move forward in your spa career. No exceptions. No excuses.” You could give the best massage in the world, understand the inner workings of even the most complex and high-tech hydrotherapy equipment, and have two dozen advanced bodywork certifications under your belt, and yet you still might find yourself in the unemployment line one day, unable to find work at those top spa properties you’ve set your sights on. How could this be?
by Steve Capellini
Because spa guests can be so demanding, you may find yourself at times stretched to the limit of your capacity to stay positive when it comes to meeting those demands. However, it is imperative that you find a way to turn their experience into a positive one, to say “yes to the guest.”
As part of your massage training, you have learned that during physical contact, we share an invisible energy with our clients. Although we cannot see it, we can measure the electricity and warmth that pass between our bodies when we touch. Some people also believe that negative thoughts and emotions can be felt by clients and, thus, affect the massage. Negative thoughts and emotions include judgment, regret, anger and jealousy, among others. At the very least, these emotions will affect your clients when they see the expression on your face and hear the inflection in your voice. Labeling these states “negative” does not make them wrong. However, they are generally not states that spa guests pay a great deal of money to experience. It is part of your job as a professional spa therapist to find a way to give the guest a positive experience, regardless of your personal situation at the time. You may have been in a car accident, had your wallet stolen and broken up with your boyfriend or girlfriend all in the last week, but these issues should not be brought into the treatment room. It is important to note that most guests will be very kind if you bring up personal problems, thus compelling you to share more, creating a cycle of negativity. While it is most appropriate to share concerns and troubles with friends outside of work, spa guests are there for another purpose.
The interactions you have with guests in lounge areas, locker rooms, at the front desk and on the phone should all be tempered by the same professional positivity. If you are passing through a difficult time personally and need time off for truly pressing needs, respectfully request it from the spa director or owner, explaining your situation, rather than risk creating negative situations with guests. Management will appreciate your forthright communication and your concern for the guests’ welfare, and this will translate itself into greater success for you in the spa eventually, even if it means missing a day or two of work in the short term.
It is important to remember that the guest should be the center of attention in the spa, not the therapist. While this may seem obvious, it entails a degree of retraining for some therapists, especially American therapists, who rankle easily at anything that might be termed “subservience.” This is why it has traditionally been difficult for American therapists to work aboard cruise ship spas. There is a distinct division between the serving class and the receiving class aboard a cruise ship. Therapists are not allowed to roam all passenger decks freely, for example, and there is a sublimating of the crew’s desires and needs and freedoms in order to make the guest’s experience more exceptional. While this “class division” is not as overt at most spas as it is on the cruise ships, it is important to remember that there is indeed a division. For those moments of professional interaction in the spa, we are the serving class. If you cannot place yourself even temporarily in this humble stance, you will consistently run into problems.
It is also important to cultivate humility when faced with your own therapeutic limitations. You may find yourself working in a spa one day faced with the temptation to overstep your abilities and knowledge. A guest may ask you to treat a condition or problem for which you are not adequately trained. It is important at that moment to humbly state you are not certified for that type of work, rather than attempting heroics.
Spa therapists also need humility when it comes to following instructions. At times, our independent natures lead us to shrug off directives from our superiors. This is not a good idea. In order for a spa to work smoothly, a certain amount of hierarchy is necessary. Your pride may not like this, thus making it an excellent opportunity to expand the scope of your humility. Relax and breathe into the reality of your boss.
When you become a spa therapist, not only will you have the typical responsibilities you would expect with such a position, such as punctuality, cleanliness, therapeutic integrity and so on, but you will also carry the additional responsibility of playing a type of role model for the guests who come to the spa expecting to be instructed (both verbally and nonverbally) in the arts of healthy living and lifestyle. You will, in a sense, be responsible for being a certain kind of person. This does not mean you cannot simply be yourself. But at least while you are on the job, you will need to maintain an awareness that you are representing the spa and, beyond that, the spa lifestyle.
Any habits, behaviors or attitudes you display that run counter to this spa lifestyle may cause unease or even confusion amongst guests. For example, a therapist who arrives for a massage or spa therapy appointment with the smell of cigarettes on his clothes, hair or breath can completely break the charming spell cast by an attractive facility.
You will also be responsible to your immediate supervisor and, beyond that, to the spa directors, owners and perhaps even shareholders, if it is a public company. Thus, when you are working in a spa, you are part of a larger structure than you may not have experienced before, unless you have previously worked in a corporate environment.
Spa directors and owners love it when their therapists exhibit a mature desire for continuous improvement in their professional lives. They look closely at how many continuing education classes their therapists have taken, the breadth and depth of the work they offer to the spa’s clientele and their overall commitment to their massage therapy careers. Mature therapists are attractive to employers, and mature in this sense does not mean old or even well-seasoned. It means someone with a long-term perspective, someone who brings knowledge, commitment and passion for their work into the spa, for the betterment for the guests and, one would hope, an improvement in the overall business.
There is another type of maturity that is greatly appreciated by spa owners. As you grow in the spa industry and decide you would like to commit yourself for a number of years, perhaps even carving out a lifelong career within the spa world, you will have to make a mature decision to set aside some of the independence that comes with a private practice and some of the lost revenue that comes with working in someone else’s establishment. If you can make this decision without remorse, knowing that along with the drawbacks come many benefits, you will be a pleasure to work with. Too many therapists work in spas, take home a decent paycheck and then complain bitterly that they could be making more on their own. If that is the case, then perhaps it would be best to go out on your own and make more. It is a mature therapist who knows better than to spread the sentiments of remorse and regret amongst co-workers and perhaps even the guests.
It is natural to think about bettering yourself, and you may continue to feel a need to explore other options, even while staying committed to the spa where you presently work. That is fine. What matters most is your attitude. If you are grateful for what the spa is offering you, and you strive in a mature way to demonstrate that gratitude by doing the best work you can, in the most positive way, then everyone— spa owners, directors, guests, and fellow therapists—will find you a joy to work with. One way to help you maintain this mature attitude is to look at your work in the spa from a different viewpoint. The spa is actually offering you something very valuable in exchange for the percentage of income you are “losing” by not treating the clients in your own private practice. What the spa offers you, according to noted spa owner and consultant Peggy Wynne Borgman, is professional career management. This consists of a number of valuable services that many therapists take for granted, such as scheduling, billing, payroll, medical benefits, marketing, rent, supplies and equipment, and more. A spa can take you fresh out of massage school and turn you into a successful, busy massage therapist at absolutely no cost to you. In fact, you will be paid while your career is being developed by these professionals. That is a good deal, and mature therapists realize it.
Your job as a spa therapist will put you in almost constant physical contact with your customers, but in order to be the best spa therapist you can be, you should also connect with your clients in other ways, opening as many avenues of communication as possible. Good communication skills include:
Verbal: Speak clearly and simply when telling guests about the services they are going to receive. They may be nervous or apprehensive or shy, especially if it is their first experience in a spa. It is up to you to put them at ease.
Visual: Look guests directly in the eye when addressing them. This inspires trust. Direct guests’ attention to useful details, such as the location of hooks for hanging robes or clothes, bathrooms, handrails for safely entering tubs, showers, etc.
Tactile: Other moments of shared contact with your guest outside of the treatment room are also important. For example, when you meet your clients, shake hands firmly. A reassuring pat on the shoulder can quell nervousness. Direct guests’ awareness to comforting tactile sensations in the room such as heating pads and soft linens.
Auditory: Remember that each guest has a unique preference for auditory stimulation during massage or spa treatment sessions. One guest’s blissful serenity may be another’s dreary boredom. Do not assume every client will prefer the same music choice or volume. If you have the ability to change either, do so at the guest’s request and also ask him what his preference is at the beginning of the treatment. Also, if you have control over any other auditory influences, such as background noises, try to adjust these for the guest’s comfort. However, be aware that in many spas, the management has set a uniform environment for all guests, and you may not have control over all the details. In this case, it is better to accept the uniform conditions imposed by management and strive to make the guest as comfortable as possible within those parameters.
Olfactory: In your treatment room, you may have some control over the aromas through the use of candles, essential oils and incense, but before you use any of these, you must be given permission by spa management. Then, of course, the guest must have her say-so as well. Communicate with the guest directly regarding any preference in aromas. Some guests love a well-scented treatment space, while others find scents distasteful or might even be allergic.
The invisible: It is best to approach the spa’s clients with a caring, open heart, treating each one as if she were a client in your own private practice, or even a guest in your home. This creates several benefits: first, your own customer-service skills will improve, and this will serve you well for the rest of your professional life; second, spa management and ownership will look favorably upon you, increasing the likelihood of promotion and pay raise; third, the spa’s business and bottom line benefit by increased customer loyalty brought about by your efforts; fourth, and most important, the customer feels deeply cared for, which is the essence of the spa experience.
Rubbing people down, scrubbing them off or wrapping them up are simply the external excuses for the inner connections we make with our guests. The best services and the best interactions occur in an atmosphere of acceptance and heartfelt communication.
In many Asian spas, guests are greeted the traditional way, with palms raised in prayer position for “Namasté.” This image is good to keep in mind when you greet each of your own spa guests. Though it might not be appropriate to raise your hands, you can open your heart and “bless the divine within” each person who enters your treatment room.
Steve Capellini has been working in the spa industry since 1983, first as a massage therapist, then as a trainer, supervisor, consultant and writer. He has trained staffs at several top spas and has taught workshops to massage therapists, estheticians and entrepreneurs across the U.S. and Canada. He has published several books, including Massage Therapy Career Guide and The Complete Spa Book for Massage Therapists, both from Milady, plus Massage for Dummies and The Royal Treatment: How You Can Take Home the Pleasures of the Great Luxury Spas.
The Complete Spa Book for Massage Therapists, written by Steve Capellini, is excerpted with the permission of Milady. Visit www.milady.cengage.com for more information on this title.