Live Spa Staff Training

Spa Startups: They’re ba-aack!

The recession may have battered the spa industry and shut down many facilities, but we’re finally seeing a resurgence in startups–many of whom aren’t even using the “S” word (that would be “spa”) to describe themselves. “Wellness” is a watchword for many of these next-generation businesses, but other trends inspiring spa entrepreneurs include co-working and organic lifestyles.

Few would-be spa owners understand just how much capital they’ll need to invest to get their new spa up and running–and to nurture it through its first 18 months, the critical make-or-break period. The pressure from competition is usually underestimated in new spa business plans, and these businesses can crash quickly if spa entrepreneurs are over-optimistic and under-funded.

At the high end of the market, spa guests are seeking a new approach to luxury that’s based on authentic experiences rather than over-the-top opulence. That doesn’t always translate into a strong demand for esoteric services, though. The services that guests say that they are interested in and the ones that they actually purchase (especially on a regular basis) can be very different. Creating an appealing but unique menu is a must. It’s expensive to educate the marketplace.

Whether they’re in an urban setting or a remote one, one of the biggest impediments to new spas’ growth is finding enough talented therapists. A solid in-house training program is critical to success in every market. Not only does it improve therapist quality, it aids in employee retention: spa workers value education very highly. Lower employee turnover pays off big in customer satisfaction and pure bottom-line profit.

While there are still spas for sale–a great way to fast track a startup and reduce project cost–many of them are not listed with business brokers and identifying them can take a special approach. Sometimes a would-be spa developer is too deeply in love with their particular vision to recognize a fabulous opportunity in a distressed business. Differentiating a “distressed” business  from a “toxic” one is critical.

To help this wave of entrepreneurs avoid the pitfalls of developing a spa or wellness business, a new one-day Spa Startup Workshop is being offered on Saturday, October 3, immediately prior to the Wynne Business Spa Director’s Management Intensive (October 4-6) in Philadelphia’s Historic District.

For more information about the seminars, visit our management seminars page or call 610.368.6660.

Tuition details, including earlybird and multiple registrant discounts.




Spa Workplace Wellness

6 Ways Spas Don’t Practice Workplace Wellness

This year’s Global Wellness Institute Summit in Mexico City will highlight Workplace Wellness as a key issue. Spas are all about wellness, right? We’re exemplars, right?

The reality is, a spa is a mentally and physically demanding environment that is built on the profit-challenged business model of selling services. Right there, you know that employee well-being may not be at the top of the list of priorities for spas. Here are six ways spas don’t walk their wellness talk:

1.  Spas who treat their workers as “independent contractors” instead of employees. Do you really espouse wellness when your therapists don’t qualify for worker’s compensation insurance if they get injured at your place of business? This is also one of the key reasons the playing field is not level in the spa industry: unfair competition from companies who misclassify their workers to save money.

2. Overworking your team. Whether your employees work at your front desk or in a treatment room, good people are hard to find. Many spas are burning out their A Players due to staffing challenges.

  • Watch out for estheticians who are super-skilled and in heavy demand with services like lash extensions or waxing, which involve a lot of repetitive motion. The same holds true for your deep-tissue massage aces. Make sure that their schedules have a variety of activities. Body treatments are a good way to add variety to the massage therapists’ schedule.
  • Set a limit of five massages per shift, even if the therapist wants to do more, while estheticians can perform up to seven facial treatments.
  • Provide the breaks required by law (and common sense)
  • I’m not a fan of the 50 minute “hour” as I think it contributes to injury and burnout, not to mention unrealistic expectations on the part of clients as to what can and should be accomplished in a treatment session. Provide 15 minutes’ breakdown/setup time between each full-session service. Yes, it reduces your earning capacity, but it also reduces burnout and injury (both of which can destroy earning capacity when good workers get sidelined.)
  • Don’t enable or ask employees to work while injured or sick.

3.  Using the wrong /cheap equipment. Yes, it’s more expensive, (but it’ll only hurt for a minute.)

  • Use treatment beds and tables with hydraulic lifts and buy equipment that is expressly designed for the service you’re providing, rather than improvising. Companies like Living Earth Crafts are continuously innovating new designs.
  • Keep your equipment in good repair. It’s no coincidence that one of the key indicators of employee satisfaction in the famous Gallup 12 employee engagement survey is having the “materials and equipment you need to do your work right”.

4. Not providing continuous education in body mechanics and workplace safety. Yes, massage therapists learn a bit about this in school. Do they practice it? With a few exceptions, no. Your other workers, including estheticians, nail techs and front line personnel have equally serious ergonomic challenges.

  • Include some education about ergonomics and working safely in every meeting.
  • Remind your team about body mechanics in your daily “huddle”, with a helpful hint, a new stretch, or a “group massage” before they go on the floor.
  • Identify your best body mechanics role models and hire them to coach their co-workers.
  • Retrofit work stations to make them more ergonomically sound.
  • Bring in outside educators to keep the safety message fresh and engaging.
  • Save Your Hands is the authoritative book and an outstanding program for all team members. They can even train a member of your team to be an Injury-prevention coach.

5. Not providing resources and tools for self-care.

  • Help staff members warm up hands and arms by providing a warm paraffin dip prior to their shift and ice packs to reduce inflammation following their shift.
  • Require that employees are on site 30 minutes prior to their first service
  • Enable them to purchase your great spa products at a deep discount, to encourage them to practice what they preach.

6. Not providing enough (high quality) support Spa employees shouldn’t be stressed out at work: their stress will translate into unhappy guests. But equipment breakdowns, communications mishaps, supply shortages and other operations “fails” create a stressful workplace. Think you can skimp on your support staff, designate “managers” who spend their day in the treatment room, or share your bad mood at work because you’re the boss? Think again.

Workplace wellness is a crucial issue in creating a well world, and it starts with us!

To learn more about ways to keep employees happy and engaged, visit us at Morale challenge? Trying to create a healthier team?  Contact us at or call 610.368.6660.

World Class Spa Structure

The Second Ingredient of World Class CX: Structure

We’ve been talking about Core Values, the nutrients that “feed” your company’s customer experience. Now it’s time to move up and actually construct a system that can consistently deliver great experiences.

We’ve all heard about the road to hell and what it’s paved with. If your organization is all about the core values but you have no systems or processes, no structure, no architecture, you’ll fail. If you’re values-driven but structure-impoverished, despite your incredible niceness, people will get mad at you and flame you on Yelp.

One of the reasons I love living in Santa Cruz, California, is that it’s a community where people really wear their values on their sleeve. We are awash in good vibes and good intentions. But it’s not been a great place to go out to dinner.

What do I mean by that? Feather, my server, smiles a lot and greats me with genuine warmth. The organic food I’ll be enjoying this evening was sustainably grown nearby. But poor Feather she doesn’t have the training or systems in place to support her success. They’re out of the very thing on the menu I want most. My dinner order isn’t quite right, or the food comes out cold because the place is slammed and there aren’t enough servers on. The restroom is adrift in paper towels and doesn’t appear to have been tidied up by anyone over the course of the busy evening.

Recently my husband and I dined at a local institution that I hadn’t visited in a couple of years, the Shadowbrook. The Shadowbrook is the sort of lovely, landmark, touristic restaurant where you go for your prom, or take the out of town relatives (the ones you like.) It sits on the banks of a beautiful creek just beyond the beach in the charming village of Capitola. It is enclosed by verdant gardens and trickling streams. A friendly neighborhood cat is always there to greet you as you step into a little funicular railway car to take you down the very steep hill into this magical grotto. Got the picture?

These places are generally lousy. They rest on their laurels (or in the case of the Shadowbrook, their giant tree ferns.) In most of these pretty-face tourist traps, food quality is ho-hum. The service is jaded. The prices are high.

As we were being seated, the hostess asked us if we were celebrating a special occasion. Later we heard other diners being asked this question as well. This, my friends, is evidence of a “system.” The Shadowbrook understands that its guests come there for special occasions–not because there isn’t time to make dinner on Friday night. By understanding your special occasion, they accomplish two things: they identify special needs (birthday cake and candle) and they honor the special-ness of your visit, making you feel good. Over the years, they have learned that it makes sense to ask about your occasion. And now it is incorporated into the process and into your “journey” as a customer.

They are fully aware that they are in the business of creating memories. In fact, the Shadowbrook is a finely tuned memory-creation machine. Step aboard, and your work is done. They have it under control. You are not anxiously gazing around the dining room trying to get a server’s attention or asking to have your water refilled. That’s because they have a powerful system, a Ferrari engine of hospitality.

My husband and I had an exceptional dining experience that night. You would never have known this restaurant had been there since the late 1940’s. They fully grasped the significance of our visit and made the evening a special occasion for two. They were doing something that in our Selvice course we call “making it fresh daily.”

To that end, the service was crisp but never rote. The waiter was immaculately attired. He was professional. He was warms and personable but did not try to become our best friend. The busser was every bit as careful, thorough and professional. There was a sense of pride in the way they carried themselves and communicated.

How? These folks had been trained. That’s an element of structure that is too often overlooked. If you think your team members can just “learn by doing,” think again. Formal training is essential to success, and the “throw them in the water” school of training has been debunked by research.

The food was terrific, too. Better than it even needed to be. Very fresh, lots of local-ness, and perfectly cooked. We left impressed, despite the hefty check, as the cat saw us off at the top of the hill. (I really don’t know how they get the cats to do this.)

Structure is about making the intangible tangible. It’s the Body to your Core Values Soul. It holds things together. It makes things happen. Consistently.

Structure is about doing it the right way, again and again. Its purpose is not to create a brilliant, one-of-a-kind improvised performance. (But it may feel that way when it’s done exceptionally well, as in great theatre.)

How does Structure manifest itself?

  • People Plan
    • Organizational structure
    • Consistent hiring process
    • Job descriptions and performance standards
    • Appraisal and Coaching
  • Codified Standards
    • Processes
    • Protocols
  • Communication Plan
    • Documentation
    • Meetings
    • Training
    • Reviews
  • Information System
    • Software
    • Hardware
  • Physical Structure
    • The design and flow of the physical plant
    • Experience flow, Salesflow or merchandising

Structure is like the iceberg of CX. 90% of it is invisible to the customer–or should be.

There are plenty of companies that are structure-centric and values-impoverished. Any left-brain driven outfit is going to be about structure. Medical offices are All. About. Structure. These are businesses that are keen on instructing their customers on the rules. These are the businesses where you, the customer, are expected to conform to the system, not the other way around. These are the companies where you hear the laborious grinding of gears as service is slowly extruded from the machine.

So now we have Core Values and we have Structure. Any company that masters these two elements must have reached the World Class CX level, right?

Not quite. Our Shadowbrook meal had a little something extra. My next blog will talk about that ineffable, above-and-beyond level, where CX starts to look a lot like Art.

Gift Card Accounting Processes

Gift Card Accounting Best Practices with Lisa Starr

Have plans for all the money you received for selling gift cards over the holiday sales season? Not so fast, it’s not your money yet. . . 

The gift card phenomenon began in the US about 30 years ago, and has continued its upward trajectory ever since, topping $124b (that’s BILLION!) in volume in 2014. Salons and spas are popular gift card destinations, and why not? You can have plenty of sweaters, but never too many experiences. As an industry, we’ve had a long learning curve in how to market gift cards, and much has changed from a legal perspective. In the beginning, we sold paper gift certificates that said “massage” on them; clients would stuff them in a drawer and show up to redeem them 3+ years later. Even though there may have been 2 price increases in between, they would still get their massages, at the old price. Unless your salon decided to enforce the one-year expiration, in which case you got to keep the money, but lost the potential client, who vowed never to do business with you. Now many states have amended their laws so that certificates never expire, and most businesses have moved from paper to plastic digital gift cards, but the model of a business receiving cash up front for a service yet to be delivered is still going strong.  

I can remember when this craze really set in, in the late 80’s. We couldn’t sell gift certificates fast enough, renting extra computers and hiring holiday help to manage the long lines of purchasers during the month of December. It felt like winning the lottery, and after the dust settled, we would figure out how to best spend all of this cash; new carpeting, an updated piece of equipment, bonuses for the staff, the list was always growing. We knew it wasn’t really our money, but we also knew that a significant portion of those gift certificates would never be redeemed, so it felt safe. That is, until our weekly gift card redemption rate approached 50% of business, and August rolled around, creating a cash scramble to meet payroll.  

The lesson is gift card revenues are not your money; they’re an indication of likelihood that someone will do business with you in the future. But not a promise. And when that gift recipient comes in to enjoy their Relaxation Massage or Scalp Treatment and Hairstyling, the gift card is just another payment method. As a consultant, I see a lot of income statements, and I am surprised how often I see gift card sales listed under revenue, where they don’t belong. Let’s examine some of the accounting implications. 

According to GAAP (Generally Accepted Accounting Principles) which are followed by most qualified accountants and bookkeepers, gift card & certificate sales should be recorded as a liability on your balance sheet, and don’t show up on your income statement at all. The cash generated from the sales of gift cards should be put into an escrow account, separate from your regular bank account, and can be drawn upon as the gift cards are redeemed. This is similar to what should happen in the sales of series or packages, also. 

Some accountants may handle this differently, especially if your salon business is operating on a “Cash” rather than “Accrual” accounting method. According to Monte Zwang, Principal of Wellness Capital Management, who handles accounting services for spas and salons, some CPA’s will leave gift certificate sales on the income statement of a Cash accounting business to more easily determine the net sold vs. redeemed revenue. Says Zwang, “I actually prefer to leave it on the balance sheet, even for Cash basis, so owners do not look at it as operating cash. If gift cards are recorded under revenue, as opposed to a Current Liability, you can’t look at your P&L and see how profitable you are. Sales is the money you are entitled to after you provide a service or sell a product. You will be overstating your sales if you record Gift Certificates as anything other than a Current Liability.”  

As gift cards are redeemed, the supporting funds can be drawn out of the escrow account and put into regular checking, at least to the degree that redemptions outpace new purchases.  Lisa Neufeld, Operations Lead at WCM, adds that “Outstanding liability on the balance sheet goes down, and cash goes up. At the same time, labor costs for performing service shows up on P&L and in the accounting world, you have just used the “matching principle;” matching revenue and expense in the period they actually occurred.” The services and products that are purchased with gift cards are recorded in revenue on the income statement, just like any other sale, so it is entirely possible you won’t see the word “gift card” on your income statement at all.  

You should also be aware of your state’s laws on unclaimed property, or escheat. These laws provide a way for the state to recover some of the money lost if the gift card is not redeemed and a taxable sale recorded. The federal CARD Act, which mostly pertains to the handling of credit cards, is an underlying platform, and each state has their own regulations regarding when and if any unredeemed gift card funds should be transferred to their coffers.  

Obviously, you’ll want to handle your own accounting situation in a manner that is both legal and beneficial for your business. As Zwang says, “Leaving gift card sales on the balance sheet means the Income Statement will be a better tool to see how the business is operating throughout the year. That is what the financial statements are for…to help clients make business decisions on a day-to-day basis: not to make it easy for the CPA to prepare the tax return!” Remember that swelling gift card sales also mean swelling liability on your balance sheet. Should you ever want to sell your spa or salon, any potential buyer will see that liability and want to know where the matching bank account asset is; if it doesn’t exist, your business value just shrunk accordingly. Gift card sales are an important tool to bring in new clients at certain times of year but must be handled properly so keep your salon business healthy. 

Need help with your gift program? We’re here to help. Tell us what’s going on in your company by emailing


World Class Customer Experience The Roots

World Class Customer Experience: The Roots

We believe that there’s a formula for great Customer Experience, or CX. There are three key ingredients. Like any deceptively simple recipe, it’s highly dependent on the “cook.” Like whipped cream, it may have just a couple of ingredients, but it’s still possible to get it completely wrong. The three ingredients we’ll be cooking with are

  • ART

Here are the basic definitions, so you’ll know where we’re going:

Roots are your Core Values. This is what feeds and nourishes your Customer Experience. Without core values that are aligned with creating customer delight, you’ll never achieve that World Class level–the place where your customers are passionately spreading the word about the experience they had with you and looking for any excuse to come visit you and spend their money.

Structure is what you build atop those roots. Structure is everything from the physical structure of your business to its systems and processes. It’s what gives your CX form, and consistency. Core Values provide the nourishment, but Structure is what grows from the Roots.

Art is the creative, above-and-beyond magic of your CX; it’s how you elevate your CX to the World Class level. This is where it blossoms.

So let’s start at the bottom, deep in the “soil” under your organization: ROOTS. Core Values are a business cliché, right? Companies post Core Values, but don’t live them. If you really value a Value, it’s part of your conversation every day. It’s not a slogan or a bullet point in an employee manual. When someone screws up, you talk about the screw-up in terms of how it offends or contradicts a core value. When someone does something amazing, you praise the act in terms of how it supports and expresses a core value. When you do performance appraisals–well, you get the idea. So what are some of the values that support brilliant CX?

  • Respect for others: I would say “duh” but that would be disrespectful.
  • Self respect: No one with low self esteem gives great customer service
  • Empathy: The ability to put yourself in the customer’s shoes is crucial to a great CX
  • Desire to create delight and make others happy
  • Desire to do a good job for the sake of doing a good job
  • Curiosity: Key to problem-solving and digging up the “root cause” of quality issues. Passive people don’t give world class service.
  • Relentlessness: The drive to keep going until you get it right. This is not just patience, it’s doggedness.
  • Honesty: You’re going to make mistakes: a great CX is not just about what happens when things go right.

You can probably think of a couple more values that are specific to your company or your industry. We see the value of transparency showing up a lot these days for tech businesses. Who are Core Values For? Core Values are not about telling your employees how to behave. They are something that everyone in the company has to live by. Even the people running it. This is easier said than done. A lot of folks who run companies have a social style that’s a little different than the folks on their front lines. Yes, I’m talking about you, Mr. and Ms. Type A. This is a source of one of the biggest disconnects in creating world class Customer Experiences. Let’s just call it by its handy nickname: Hypocrisy. You want your employees to bend over backward to delight a customer? You have to bend over backward first. For your employees. It’s not easy to embody World Class Customer Experience on Monday morning at 10:30 a.m. when your coffee is starting to wear off and someone on your team hits you with yet another Issue from operations. But that is precisely what you must do. Because each employee you interact with, regardless of their role or their rank, is a “Carrier” of your CX. Right down to your accounting team (scary, I know.) No one gets a pass when it comes to living and expressing core values.

I once pushed an accountant too far, requiring that she try to get along with her co-workers. I tried to mediate a session to help her with her appalling communications skills. She quit the next day and dropped off her keys at the front desk without saying bye-bye. It was a terrible disruption to our company, but I couldn’t make an exception for even a hard-to-replace person. Just because you have an important job doesn’t mean you are excused from living the company’s core values. In fact, the more important your job, the more visibly you need to embody the core values of the company. That’s why the only way to identify and define your core values is to do it with your team.

Tony Hsieh of Zappos is famous for this; he engaged his entire company in an exercise to identify and distill its core values down to a manageable…ten. I know, it’s a lot. I’m a fan of having three core values, because it really helps if people can remember them. Identifying core values is not about “making up” values that you aspire to. Your Core Values are already in effect. They are part of your brand DNA. If you have not yet started your company, your personal core values will be the jumping off point. A Core Values Discovery process is about unearthing them and naming them in a way that creates clarity for everyone. And don’t worry that your values have to be single words, as has long been the fashion. I think that sometimes leaves a little too much open to interpretation. Of course, a value like Honesty doesn’t need much word-smithing. Here are the three core values of the customer-centric company that I led for thirty years:

1. WOW our customers 100% of the time

2. Build and protect a fun and harmonious work environment

3. Achieve our goals and keep our commitments

I could engage someone in a semantic debate as to whether these are values or directives. But this format worked well for us because –well, it told us how to act.

Motivating Your Team with Core Values. When our clients lament the lack of “motivation” on their team, they’re often talking about the feeling they have that their team members don’t “get” what’s important. Articulating your Core Values is the first step in “motivating” people to create a better Customer Experiences. The best way to motivate your team is to hire people who share your workplace Core Values. They come pre-motivated. Core Values can’t be implanted, but they can be sought out, brought out and given a chance to shine.

Wynne Business facilitates powerful Core Values Discovery Sessions with teams of every size and companies in every life stage, from startup to turnaround. Tell us about your current values quest and we’ll tell you if we think we can help. Send us an email: Next time: Structure and its role in World Class CX

Customer Experience Experts Wanted

Customer Experinece Wanted: #1 In a Series

Customer experience, or “CX” in industry parlance, is the real-world outgrowth of UX, User Experience. While this seems ironic, if not absolutely bass-ackward, the big players in the consumer space figured that if online user experiences were so important, maybe offline user experiences might matter, too.

For decades big business has been paying lip service to customer service. (United Airlines, anyone?) Companies legendary for their customer service, like Nordstrom, Southwest Airlines and Ritz Carlton, were in short supply. That’s why these superstars turn up again and again whenever customer loyalty and customer service are discussed.

Now research has quantified the benefits of improving customer service. In their book Outside In, Kerry Bodine and Harley Manning of Forrester Research document the dawning understanding on the part of Fortune 500 companies that there really is a competitive advantage and when you deliver superior customer service.

This is why, when I enter Wells Fargo Bank today, I feel like I’m entering the set of a musical entitled The Happiest Bank in the World. I am greeted with smiles and hellos, walking through a veritable gauntlet of friendly, well-groomed folks. Even the security guy brought my dog some water on our last visit. When I visit the branch, which is increasingly seldom, I look for my business banking specialist Gustavo so I can say hello. It’s a little bewildering, how happy they all are–after all, it’s a bank–but it has done wonders for my perception of the Wells Fargo brand.

I co-founded one of the country’s first day spas, Preston Wynne, and operated it for thirty years. I recently hung up my spa spurs, but what got me up in the morning for those 360 months was the opportunity and challenge of creating customer delight.

For every minute of that company’s existence, it has been about delivering memorable and satisfying “CX.” (Not even I can resist the allure of this bite size acronym.)

Our mission statement was short and sweet: “Do everything in our power to enable our guests to feel absolutely wonderful, whether they’re calling us on the phone or visiting us for the day.”

Easier said than done, we know. Even with 50 employees, infusing that idea into everyone’s behavior every minute of every day was a work in progress. It is something akin to a spiritual practice–the work is never actually done. We fail in new ways constantly, learn from that, and refine our approach, including customer service protocols, over and over.

Great CX begins with great people. Our strategy was to hire people with personality attributes that not only enabled them to create a superior CX but literally compelled them to do it, as described in the customer service best-seller Who’s Your Gladys? How to Turn Even the Most Difficult Customer into Your Biggest Fan, where we were profiled along with service legends like Thai airlines.

The most important characteristics:

  • empathy
  • positive outlook (glass half full)
  • resilience
  • sense of humor
  • good self esteem

How do you figure out if the person who’s applying for a job with your company possesses these traits?

  • Interview the holy heck out of them (and ask the right sort of questions)
  • Expose them to lots of different people in your organization and get their take
  • Have them do a paid audition for a few days
  • Check references. Good people have fans who are willing to sing their praises.
  • “Hire slow and fire fast,” recognizing that if it’s not a honeymoon to begin with, it never, ever gets better.

One shortcut to finding the right customer care specialists is to use a social-style categories, such as DISC or Myers-Briggs. We made use of a system that classifies people as either relationship-driven or results-driven. (Guess who gives better customer service?) Then those subsets are broken down as risk-takers (who don’t really care what others think of them) and those who are risk averse (who fear rejection.)

The best social style for customer care is the Amiable style (relationship driven/risk averse.) Next best is Expressive (relationship driven/risk-taking) though they’re better salespeople and tend to make more mistakes when using systems or following protocols. Someone who’s halfway between the two is ideal. Too much fear of rejection can turn an employee into a puddle when facing an angry customer.

Next blog: Three ingredients of world class CX

Creating Delight Making Magic At The Spa

Making Art, Creating Delight: The Top Tier of Customer Experience

It’s time to talk about the final component of World Class CX: Art. The dessert. The frills. The fun stuff.

You can’t have a successful business without these first two ingredients:

1. Core Values: the “soul” of the business, what you stand for, your commitment to your customers

2. Structure: the “body” of the business: its muscles, sinew and circulatory system. The stuff that holds it together and makes it work.

Only when these foundational layers are securely in place can we turn our attention to the final layer, Art.

Art could also be called Magic. And magic happens when you anticipate a customer’s unspoken needs. Things they themselves may not realize they want or need. This is true whether your business is a highbrow spa or a local-color brewpub.

If you’re not psychic, the way that this happens is that you pay close attention to what your guests want and need, and you codify that as part of your system. So that when customer number ten thousand walks through the door, you dazzle her with small touches that elevate the CX to art.

Art is all relative. A friend and I were comparing notes about the warm blankets provided at the outpatient surgical center we’d recently visited. You’d think we’d visited the St. Regis.

Art is the level of CX where we “exceed expectations.”

As such, Art is a fragile flower. It only grows if it is fed by Core Values and protected by solid Structure. A lot of businesses want to skip right to Art, because it’s fun, the dress-up part of “playing store.” A lot of businesses think that Art means spending a lot of money decorating your restaurant or hiring pretty people. However, you can’t exceed expectations if you haven’t even met them in the first place. (No, you don’t get to skip to the head of the class because of your shagreen banquettes.)

We’ve all been in gorgeous retailers, where every effort and expense has been expended to dazzle you–yet it falls flat. You’re not greeted warmly. The staff doesn’t know their inventory. You walk out without making a purchase. Art, schmart.

Maybe it’s the new restaurant with the marquee-name chef, million dollar kitchen and the spectacular hostesses helming the podium. You eat there once and, though you can’t fault them for anything, you just don’t see a reason to return.

Art isn’t just for the high end–though it’s essential if you’re going to compete in the stratosphere. Art doesn’t have to be expensive. It’s not just about fountains or new signage or expensive floor coverings. In fact, much of what turns into Art in your CX is human-generated. And a lot of it is discovered accidentally.

Artful CX is generated by:

  • freshness
  • creativity
  • thoughtfulness
  • anticipation
  • ease
  • exploration
  • refreshment
  • authenticity

But if we are to make this tangible, let’s identify some of the best artful touches:

  • A sincere and prompt greeting
  • Remembering a customer’s name
  • Remembering a customer’s preferences
  • Acknowledging special events in a customer’s life
  • Hand-written thank you notes (or a phone call saying “Hey, we’ve missed you.”)
  • Invitations to special events
  • Regular “refreshment” of the environment, displays, menus
  • Staff members whose appearance expresses the brand
  • Opportunities to personalize and customize our experience
  • Immaculate facilities

If that list doesn’t look dazzling, there’s a reason. The best “magic” is human-scaled.

You can already tell that Art is a much more elusive quality than the two components we’ve already discussed. Not every business manages to get here. Not every business can provide its employees the freedom to create art…because art isn’t made with cookie cutters.

In the upper stratospheres of the marketplace, Luxury Consultants are making it harder to be magical. There is a lot of heavy-handed engineering of artful experiences these days, in the five-star world. While we appreciate the effort, it often feels just like that: effort. The creation of faux “rituals” is one trend that can be downright embarrassing. (Quasi-indigenous faux rituals are the worst.)

So where do you look for inspiration? The biggest focus groups in the world: online review sites like Yelp and Trip Advisor. Sure, there is a lot of information there about what annoys people who visit you and your competitors. But just as important, there is a lot of information there about what delights people, much of it small and affordable stuff.

Art isn’t made once and then permitted to gather dust. Art is “made fresh daily,” over and over. That takes energy, effort, and leadership. It takes good examples. It also requires supporting risk-taking by your front line and supervisory employees.

Many good Systems begin life as Art. When a “delighter” is discovered, it’s often worth codifying as a system. Back to our dinner at Shadowbrook and the question about whether we were celebrating a special occasion. That question was probably discovered by an on-the-ball server, who shared the idea with others, until it eventually became part of the System. Yet it still functions as Art, creating opportunities to delight guests, who feel that our needs have been anticipated.

Roots, Structure, and Art: put these three components together effectively and you’ll have a supply of loyal customers that lasts as long as you’re willing to Make it Fresh Daily.


Discovering The Heartbeat Of Your Small Business

Discovering the heartbeat of your small business

Most companies today recognize the need to articulate their core values. Core values provide the compass that guides the business. While business strategies should constantly be evolving, core values, like true North, don’t change. In stormy times of stress and change (hello!) Core Values provide a secure anchor. They can remind us of who we are when we are considering compromising our principles. They can help us focus on what’s truly important. They can help us make decisions and set priorities. They can be used as a touchstone when coaching an employee and a measuring stick when hiring a new team member.

But where do Core Values come from? Jim Collins is one of the world’s experts on the importance of core values in organizations, having researched them extensively for his books “Good to Great” and “Built to Last.” He writes “… you cannot “set” organizational values, you can only discover them. Nor can you “install” new core values into people. Core values are not something people “buy in” to. People must be predisposed to holding them. Executives often ask me, “How do we get people to share our core values?” You don’t. Instead, the task is to find people who are already predisposed to sharing your core values. You must attract and then retain these people and let those who aren’t predisposed to sharing your core values go elsewhere. I’ve never encountered an organization, even a global organization composed of people from widely diverse cultures, that could not identify a set of shared values. The key is to start with the individual and proceed to the organization…”

Who should create your core values? Management teams or owners usually initiate the process of clarifying and identifying values, but as Collins points out, this can’t be a top-down activity. If Core Values are simply handed out to the team, they are often ignored or even ridiculed as more silly management-speak, or worse. (As the cynical Dilbert proclaims, “values are a type of emotional illusion common to children, idiots and non-engineers.”) Identifying Core Values is a process of discovery, and for that process to be relevant and resonant in the lives of your team members, it needs to involve as many of them as possible.  Agreeing upon your most cherished Core Values is a ritual that, when properly facilitated, can bring all an organization’s members closer together. Articulating core values is not simply an exercise in word-smithing. Word-smithing is important, but it actually comes last.

How do you identify core values? We like to compare the process of identifying and articulating an organization’s values to diamond mining:

  1. We collect a lot of ore, filled with rough diamonds
  2. Together, we sift through the ore and carefully select the best gems
  3. We polish and cut the best gems
  4. We proudly set and “wear” our gems

How many Core Values are enough? Good management is a lot like parenting, according to business “growth guru” Verne Harnish of Gazelles (  He says, “have a handful of rules and repeat yourself a lot.” That “handful of rules” are your Core Values. Three to five concepts is more than enough for people to remember.

 What if I don’t like the Values my team comes up with? It’s extremely rare to have the Core Values process deliver Values that are different from yours. Why? The people in your company ultimately reflect and agree with your true Core Values—that’s why they’re there. One important reason to work with a facilitator in this exercise is to ensure healthy balance in the Values. For example, when you talk about Core Values with your team, especially teams from hospitality and helping professions, expect the conversation to get fairly animated. Teams that deliver intensive customer service are highly interdependent. Positive interpersonal relationships are crucial to their happiness. Their values tend to focus on interpersonal relationships with one another.

The facilitator ensures that all stakeholders are strongly supported by at least one of the Core Values: employees, customers, and ownership all have slightly different needs and agendas. The “kumbaya” values of your team may not acknowledge the necessity of making money, for example. An easy way to describe this is to think about the “three relationships” each team member experiences in the organization:

  1. Relationships with co-workers
  2. Relationships with customers
  3. Relationship with the business

Rather than establish these limitations at the beginning, we try to encourage a very unstructured discovery of personal values as they relate to work. Too many rules early in the process can restrict the free flow of conversation and ideas. Instead ask

  • What’s important to you at work?
  • Why do you work here?
  • What’s usually happening when you’re having fun at work?
  • What do you like most about your coworkers?
  • What do you like most/least about the organization?
  • What behavior do you think expresses a true professional?

If you’d like help articulating and capturing your company’s core values, we’d be happy to help. Contact us at, subject: Core Values! And we’ll figure out if it’s something you can do yourself or if you might need to have your process facilitated by an expert. Either way, prepare to see your team in a whole new light. And prepare to keep that light burning bright for a long time!


Groupon, Groupoff

Spa directors speak the word “Groupon” with the same distaste that they once reserved for “Yelp.”

I don’t think the barrage of social media discount ideas will stop anytime soon. And, as ever, there are great ideas to be gleaned from companies that we love to hate.

First of all, the Groupon “concept” is much too easy to rip off, so competitors are pecking away at Groupon, and dissapating the marketing energy across a zillion little discount operations. I think that’s a good thing–there’s potentially some “discount fatigue” happening out there.

We know the hardcore discount shopper will never tire of Groupon and its ilk. And your core, loyal customer of a spa may wander…once…and return after they experience the hot mess that spas become when they’re inundated with hardcore coupon action.

It’s not just customers who experience offer fatigue. The employees of spas that are accepting coupons are requiring their teams to accept discounted compensation. That might work once in awhile, but as a lifestyle, it drives away good staff. Even when employees are allowed to opt out, a spa that’s groveling to Groupon is not a paragon of team spirit.

Groupon’s simplistic nature makes it an easy target for another competitor: you and me. A colleague forwarded me a brilliant promotion (the link is no longer valid) from the Intercontinental Spa in San Francisco. Sexy: a 55% discount on Valentines gift certificates. The actual offer is $20 for $45 worth of spa services.

Of course, an entry level hour massage at this very nice hotel spa is going to run $120. That $45 gift certificate can only be used once, and you can only buy one. (And actually, you have to be new, or having a service for the first time.)

So the come-hither 55% discount is there in the e mail subject line, and the offer is irresistible, but to get a $120 spa treatment, you’re going to spend some serious coin: $95. The $20 you paid for your $45 certificate, plus the $75 balance after that $45 is deducted.

But wait, there’s more!

The Intercontinental didn’t have to pay a company to sell its services at a discount, so in the end they’ve simply discounted by 21%–provided the guest only enjoys one hour long service on that visit. If the same guest enjoyed two services the effective discount drops further.

No, they probably don’t have thousands and thousands of discount-mad people on their e mail list to send this offer to. But I’m guessing they have more than enough to accomplish their marketing goal.

Happy Valentine’s Day, indeed.

The Transforming Power Of Hospitality In Business

Welcoming Your Guests

How to welcome your spa, salon and hotel guests so they are happy to revisit.

“Being Right is the Booby Prize”

That’s a direct quote from my friend Holly Stiel, who has been a guru in the world of hotel and spa concierges for years. Far from being just good advice for “hospitalitarians,” these are words to live by.

In Santa Barbara last Sunday night, I arrived at a restaurant. The host was all smiles until it was revealed that our party of six did not have a reservation. It was a cold, post-holiday evening but the little cafe on State Street was busy.

He explained with a weird, tense smile, that we would be fortunate indeed if there was a way to fit us in. Could he recommend another restaurant for us, I asked, not wanting to participate in the song-and-dance.

Turns out there was a way to get us in! A miracle.

So as he seated us, he made sure we knew how lucky we were. He told us exactly that, with the same taut smile.

This restaurant owner won the Booby Prize. By making sure we knew we were “wrong” (assuming there would be a table for us as walk-ins) he had hoped to school us (my restaurant is very popular, and you, Ms. would-be Guest, are being incredibly presumptuous sashaying in here with your party of six!) Instead, he lost my future business.

Being Right is something most of us aspire to and we pursue it, instinctively. His response is one of the most common hospitality “being rights” I see. Hosts and hostesses at restaurants do it all the time. But the gentleman could have acted more like an “agent” rather than a “gatekeeper.”  These are expressions coined by Danny Meyer, the great restauranteur, in his book Setting the Table, the Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business. (Yes, you’ve heard me recommend it before.)

What if he’d simply welcomed us with, “We’d love to get you in. Thank you for coming tonight. Give me a moment and I’ll see what I can do.”

I would have continued my twenty-year tradition of dining there.