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NO FIVE STARS FOR THIS SPA

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Any health and beauty experience, let alone one of London’s most exclusive, five-star, widely acclaimed day spas, is supposed to leave you in a deep state of relaxation and feeling more beautiful in every single way - mind, body and soul.  Unfortunately, I left my birthday spa day feeling disappointed and even a little resentful. Not the effect that this big-name spa and products company was trying to achieve, I’d hazard!

Set in a hotel near the Thames, all the big picture ingredients were there: stunning raw materials, fireplaces, beautiful art, furniture and spaces, mood lighting, wonderful aromas and some truly excellent treatments. But it’s the little things that can turn great to good, and good to so-so. This spa tripped up on lots and lots of little details, which cumulatively detracted from what should have been – and certainly cost! – a five-star experience.

Trip one: a spa is supposed to take you away from the world, provide a respite from everyday stresses and strains: the couple (in their bathing suits) frantically swiping away on their smartphones next to me in full view of the staff and the ‘please don’t use your mobile phones’ signs, slightly detracted from this.

Trip two: a spa experience is supposed to be tailored to your personal wellbeing and individual needs. They mixed up my check in with a Miss Sarah Jones and the fact that it was my birthday went straight over the staff’s heads (despite it being noted at booking and mentioned by my husband several times to the staff). A complimentary gesture costs almost nothing in the great scheme of things, but makes you feel special. Its omission costs considerably more in lost brand loyalty and advocacy.

Trip three: the treatment and service seemed almost clinical in execution and done by rote. Everyone on the staff seemed very young and I wondered if it was almost a lack of maturity or knowledge and confidence in their skills to go ‘off-script’ and tailor things slightly differently, rather than sounding as though they were reciting from their training brochure.

Trips four, five and six: not enough space to get changed in private; beautifully designed lounging areas right next to and exposed to the main walkways; requesting payment the minute you entered the reception area to leave, despite the fact it’s already been paid for…

It really brought home to me, just how luxury – as a category and as an experience - absolutely relies upon smoothing out all the potentially irritating little details. Time is precious, particularly at the high end, and basic execution and beautiful design can only go so far: it’s how you are talked to, how you are made to feel special, how your needs are anticipated and understood, that elevate things to the extraordinary and worthy of the five-star price tag.

Jay Rayner recently reviewed Smith and Wollensky in the Guardian and skewered the US steak house for resting on its expense account laurels for business. It occurred to me that my spa might also have suffered from a similar syndrome. Hotel-based spas know that many, if not most, of their guests are there incidentally, often booked in by their PA on concierge company recommendation, just likely to want a quick, post-travel perk me up massage or manicure. Footfall is almost guaranteed. There is just less ownability of the spa guests and this can’t not have an impact on the kind of relationships that the staff try – or not! – to build. The lesson to me is that this is shortsighted. No matter who the guest is or how long they stay there, every customer is a possible brand advocate, particularly when the spa also retails its products elsewhere. Instead, the customer service by numbers left me not outright angry, but firmly disappointed.  Three stars.