Thursday, September 24, 2009

Customer Service Gets Personal

(I'm going out a bit on a ledge to discuss this current topic, but I'm going to trust my audience.)

There are many kinds of spas in the Boston area, and I've been to a variety. There are some that do hair and facials, some that offer massages and waxing services, some that just do manicures and pedicures. And there are super-upscale spas and those that specialize.

For those times that I've saved up and wanted the ultimate luxury treatment, I splurge on Exhale. It's expensive, but you get a lot. I love the changing room, with its steam room, sunflower showerheads, and how they provide all the necessities so you don't have to bring your own brush, hairspray, or mouthwash. The surroundings are gorgeous and relaxing, and the staff is fantastic. Recently, I had a massage and facial there, which I booked through their online system. This required using a credit card to pay in advance and I put in a new card, since the old one they had in the system for me had expired. I actually paid with a gift certificate, and they promised to refund my card, and called me on Monday to tell me that they did.

Two weeks later, I still couldn't see the refund and I called back. It turned out that the system had refunded my expired card, since it was the first one in the system. They apologized profusely, told me that they would fix the problem immediately. They took down the number of my new card, so that they could get the refund back where it belonged, and they would investigate why an expired card number still worked in the system. That was Tuesday.

Two weeks ago, I went to Elizabeth Grady (Financial District location) for a bikini wax. (This is the "going out on a ledge" part. I'm normally not keen to share stories about personal grooming in public.) I go to this spa for waxing and the occasional facial because it's cheaper than others, and they offer speedy service. (Think of this as the McDonald's of spas.) The space is clinically clean, and mostly white, and it reminds me of Dunkin' Donuts except for the pseudo-Asian Zen Muzak and lack of donuts. I usually have the same woman, Sandra, for all of my services. Sandra is lovely. She did my wedding makeup, and she's pleasant and provides consistent, good service. Waxing can be very painful, and she does a lovely job. However, on this particular Friday, I did not get Sandra. I got Kaitlyn, who was brand new. This was the worst wax I have ever had in my life. There is some pain inherent in getting waxed, but well, this was far more than what the job called for. I don't want to go into too many details (since I don't want to reveal everything on the internet) but in the end, I was sore for three days after, she took off the hair I asked her not to touch, and she left a lot of hair where I wanted none. I have never before needed to scream during a waxing process, but then there is a first time for everything.

It has taken me two weeks of calling Elizabeth Grady to get a resolution. I asked for a refund. The answer was no. I asked for a gift certificate for a free service next time (with Sandra). The answer was no. I called today while on my lunchtime stroll and was told by Diane, the manager, that "I can't just give away free services, because I'd be giving away thousands of dollars in free services." This really just made me wonder how many people ask for refunds because of bad services. Or how many people Kaitlyn had seen since she started. She put me on the phone with the regional VP who happened to be in the office that day, who told me I'd have to come in and "prove" that I had had such an awful service. How lovely! I have to essentially drop my pants to get any recognition!

And yet, because I was really mad, and wanted restitution, I went. I humiliated myself and took off my trousers and showed them the damage. They offered to have one of the senior aestheticians fix the parts where the hair had been left on, and she did. (She did do a nice job, with just about no pain at all.) But that was it. No refund, no "I'm sorry for your services," not even a discount towards future services.

Of course, like any good blogger, I decided to put this out on the internet, so hopefully people will be aware that Elizabeth Grady does not handle complaints well. That they do not give refunds or future discounts, or even real apologies. But it gets better!

Exhale called me tonight when I got home to let me know that they had contacted their tech people, canceled the refund to my old card, and put it back on my new card and told me I should see it show up in 5 to 10 business days. Courtney apologized for all the trouble, and thanked me for being a good customer. And on a lark, I asked her about Exhale's policy on complaints.

I told her my story about Elizabeth Grady and how they had refused to help me, and asked her, if that had happened at her spa, what would she have done? Her answer was to tell me of a recent customer who hadn't been happy with a massage, and she gave the woman a discount on her massage and a gift certificate for a free massage in the future. That is what I call service! In fact, Courtney was a smart, savvy business woman, and she told me that they have excellent waxing services at Exhale, and if I would like to come in for my next one, she would comp the service for me.

So, as a future MBA, I reflect on the situation. Spas, unlike retail stores, have an extra reason to be dependent on customer satisfaction. Spas provide luxury services, and particularly rely on women customers, who build relationships with certain service providers. In the Boston area, there are a lot of substitutes, and customers have a lot of choices. Because of the current state of the economy, people are spending less on luxuries, like spa services. For an industry that relies on discretionary spending and repeat business in a competitive market, it's important to give the utmost in customer service. It's important to provide the best value for your customers, because they will go somewhere else. In my strategy class this week, value was defined as:


In my experience at Elizabeth Grady, the value has always been low, the outweighing benefit being the convenience of location, and speed of service. And even that edge has been erased by the recent shabby treatment. At Exhale, the benefits include excellent facilities, relaxing environment, complimentary tea, and top of the line service. These are worth far more to me than the higher price tag.

Certainly, Exhale and Elizabeth Grady compete on entirely different value propositions (speed vs. luxury), but in this industry, customer service makes all the difference. I'm not sure how many people I've convinced to go try a service at Exhale, but I hope people will think twice about visiting Elizabeth Grady.

16 responses:

Unknown said...

Wow! That is horrid! I will never, never, ever go to that place! I had a not-so-good experience at Emerge spa on Newbury. To be honest, it wasn't all that bad - I mean, not compared to your story. I wanted a deep tissue massage and the woman just rubbed my back despite my telling her I wanted a deep tissue, and then when I went to check out, the woman there was aloof. I was frustrated and called to complain that if I am paying 150 for a service, I should get what I paid for, and that I should be pampered! Well, I didn't have to say anything more - they said they'd talk to the person, that they'd recommend another person to give me deep tissue massages, and they gave me a $60 dollar gift certificate! I mean, I was surprised because I didn't expect all of that. I wasn't treated badly like you were - they didn't ask me to prove that I didn't get a deep tissue - they just said - we hear you and we want you back. I'm sorry dear! I think you should post this on spa websites, too. Please help people not go to that place! Also, go to the website that informs us of spa week - I think it may be - not sure. Oh, and spa week is coming like in a couple of weeks!

KEHutchinson said...

Great idea about the spa websites. I have always found before with spas that they are interested in keeping you as a customer because they rely so much on repeat business, and many sell on the idea that you will be completely pampered/relaxed/beautified. So it was really astonishing to find a spa that essentially said I was lying about a service and refusing to do anything until I really pushed them.

Anonymous said...

I went to this same location and they did a HORRIBLE job. They left wax on me, I had to go home and shower. The girl also left hair where there shouldnt have been. Gretta Cole (Meredith) does a fantastic job.

reindeergirl said...

ITA! I'm not an MBA (nor do I ever want to be one, not that there's anything wrong with that), but I am a consumer advocate (and a grad student in Indo-European studies). And, I do believe loyalty works both ways. I stayed with the same hair colorist for 17 years, because she was soooo excellent (and, frankly, I was afraid to try anyone else, given the quality of her work). When she closed shop (Carol's Cutting Company, in Porter Square), I stopped having my hair colored.

I agree with the Grady mngr that companies survive on freebies - but they can survive on word of mouth. I was about to cancel my bnak account for poor customer service - until I went to a different branch with the most excellent staff. I will tell my friends to try my bank, at that location.

I don't feel you should have had to go to such an intimate level; for all that trouble, including returning to Grady to make your case, your word should have been good enough. I went to Grady once, some 20 or more years ago, and I was so put off by the push to buy products that I didn't return. Yes, I know, that's a large part of how the chain (and its employees) make money, and everyone has a right to earn a living (within reason, as long as it's not a war crime, or a crime against a vulnerable citizen). But it was overkill. I had the money, I was single and without a family of my own then, but I deigned not to spend there because of the push. At Carol's, she had her own line, never pushed it on us, I bought it anyway (miss you, Carol!).

I agree with christeeny about Gretta Cole. Although the owner has sort of made a cult-of-personality about herself, she does do an excellent job.

You were treated outrageously at Grady. For better or worse, the Web has made word-of-mouth that much easier since the time I went in there, and I hope the managers see this. As for Kaitlyn, I wouldn't want her fired (nor do you say you want that, either), but I hope they give her some more training. I thought there was an apprenticeship before getting licensed as an aesthetician?

KEHutchinson said...

@christeeny I've heard great things about Gretta Cole from a lot of people, I should try them soon.

@reindeergirl You're right, I don't think Katilyn should be fired, but I think it would be better if the company didn't let her do waxing for a while. She yammered a bit about it being her least favorite part of training at the Elizabeth Grady school that she went to, and I'm not surprised.

It's interesting that you bring up the push for products; that's been a sticking point for me over time too. But I was willing to put up with that for the convenience and price, until now.

Trophywife92 said...

I'm actually surprised to see so many negative comments about a salon that I have had flawless experiences at (with Sandra as well as others). I have gone to Elizabeth Grady for several services including waxing, massage, and microderm abrasion. The staff was not only warm and hospitable, but exceeded customer service standards in most areas. The only complaint that I have ever had with the service at the salon in the financial district was finding a time available during my lunch break (they took awhile to call me back). I have asked Diana (the manager) for specific requests multiple times, such as turning the music down, or turning the A/C up, and I was accommodated every time. I have to wonder, when one person runs into so many difficulties, if they are just a difficult person.
It actually sickens me that there are women, sick, beaten, and assaulted, sleeping on the streets of Boston tonight, and you have the audacity to complain that someone did not wax your private parts perfectly (or apply the right amount of pressure to a deep tissue massage). FIND SOMETHING MORE IMPORTANT TO GET PASSIONATE ABOUT. Be happy you can feed yourselves and your families and stop creating imaginary traumas. If you have the time and resources for this to be a source of angst, you're the lucky ones. PS: what does having an MBA have to do with anything? ;-)

MJ said...

@TrophyWife92 - Having an MBA means that she is aware of how a business is run and how to retain customers, your comment was abit overly snarky for the post's purpose wasn't it? In sum she is saying that she should not have to pay for poor service at a business where service is the main business (ditto to word of mouth). I've had a few poor experiences at waxing places and just 'dealt with it' (paid and left) and I think women are far too often socialized to do that just so we don't seem disagreeable... which is ridiculous if you about it no matter what the service is, no need to make this int a finger waving 'you're so privileged so who cares about you and your interests' kind of argument.

Trophywife92 said...

Okay, well as someone who already has an MBA, and a very successful restaurant, I understand that people will say anything to get something for free. This woman doesnt know what she's talking about. There is a difference between customer service and being taken advantage of. If the service was done incorrectly and the salon offered to fix it (and did so) then you got what you wanted. Why do you feel entitled to freebies? Furthermore, how can you be insulted that the salon asked to take a look at the serice "gone wrong" in order to fix it. If your hair color went wrong the salon would ask you to come in so they could see it. The service was not done to a customers satisfaction, so they asked her to come back in so they could fix it. If the world operated under the premise that everytime you werent satisfied you got something for free, nobody would pay for anything. I think the salon should have fixed the service to the customers standards and made sure she was happy with it (which it sounds like they did). Word of mouth is important, but whats more important is loyal customers who the employees have established trust and rapport with. These are the people who keep you in business by bringing in their friends, their daughters, husbands, and mothers, and letting them see what kind of enviroment and skill keeps them coming back. Elizabeth Grady has these sort of customers, I know because my friends and I are all loyal clients. If this woman came into my reataurant I really wouldnt care if she ever came back, in fact I would hope she wouldnt. This is an excellent example of a customer service nightmare, but not on account of the business.

KEHutchinson said...

@trophywife92 I'm glad that you have had good experiences at EG, and in the past I have had good service as well. I suppose what you're not reading in my story is that this was not a matter of "not completely satisfied" but of actual physical damage (I'm not going to describe it, but it was lasting enough to be visible 2 weeks later).

The point about my MBA is I sometimes blog about connecting my school work to the real world. That was part of what I was doing in the last section.

Best of luck with your restaurant business!

reindeergirl said...


"There is a difference between customer service and being taken advantage of. If the service was done incorrectly and the salon offered to fix it (and did so) then you got what you wanted."

No, customers should not have to return without some kind of compensation for returning for a job poorly done. Doing the job over, which should have been done correctly to begin with, is not enough. It was just by accident of time/appointment that Kate got the aesthetician who didn't like waxing class at school. Heck, I don't like declining verbs from 3,000 years ago, but it's part of my own work, and I do it. You just, as they say, do it.

Like I said earlier, I know businesses can't survive on freebies, but neither can they survive on poorly-trained workers. As a restaurateur, did you not just read the article on Boston dining rooms going under - in part because of poorly-trained servers?

I would say that customer service is going down the toilet - except for my wonderful bank branch and its assistance the other day. No, they didn't give me money, but I received a mini-course in household book-keeping, that alone worth its weight in gold.

The blogger had an unfortunate experience, through no fault of her own. For that, she should be given something, not just a re-do of the original job.

I have to admit, you ladies are BRAVE to get a wax! Had my eyebrows done - once - it terrified me! (And the aesthetician was skilled, in fact.) Unless it's batiking or candle-making, I'm a coward when it comes to wax. But I think EG was pretty nervy to ask the blogger to virtually expose herself to prove the job was poorly done. It's **not** the same as going back and showing a poor hair coloring job. Some things, an establishment has to take one's word on.

Here's to great days at the spa for all of you. ~~Sigh~~ Maybe when I finish my doctorate I'll be able to afford spas again!

Unknown said...

"TrophyWife" ... Really? I think the handle says it all.

Msmiserie said...

TrophyWife is being a bit confrontational, but she raises a very interesting point about how businesses need to budget for little extras and mistake corrections. It must be hard these days to offer comps and maintain a client base when the economy has gone so sour.
Kate, in your experience, how have the businesses you've run or worked for managed this? Any good war stories about creative budgeting

KEHutchinson said...

@Msmiserie good question! I have always worked in education, where if the "service" isn't right, the restitution is usually a grade or an extension; although in fundraising it would simply mean no gift. I've been thinking about this all day.

I think if I were a spa owner, I would be definitely competing on customer service, and I would want to make an allowance for a refund and/or discounting, free services for complaints. I've been tossing over the idea this afternoon at creating a score sheet for this: say we're talking about waxing. If I have 5 estheticians who do waxing, I'd score them based on customer feedback, years of experience, training, and seniority. Then I would think about the "risk" that each one would make a mistake (a la Kaitlyn). I would weight the scores, multiply the risk factor by their hourly service wage (or perhaps the average number of services performed in a week) and use that as a budget baseline of funds to set aside for potential "damage funding." Very rough schematic, but I think you get the idea.

How about you? War stories?

Unknown said...

My friends and I go to this location and they are amazing. The staff is always friendly and my waxing is painless. This is the first negative thing I have heard about Elizabeth Grady.
I own a clothing store and from years of experience I have learned about handling customer complaints. Complaints needs to be handled on and individual basis. There are alot of people out there looking for a quick "freebie". After reading this article is it clear that you are one of these people. You complained to a second spa until you got what you wanted. If they didn't give you a free handout were you going to attempt somewhere else?
Also, you named the girl's name who you were unahppy with. That was beyond pathetic. It has always been my rule that if I am unhappy with a service anywhere then I just don't go back. I could never imagine attempting to destroy a person's reputation over something so minor. It is clear that you have a massive amount of time on your hands. How lucky would women be if their biggest problem was a bad wax? What is the next title of your article going to be? My Life Is Over, I Got A Bad Haircut.
Good luck to you when you are faced with real problems!

Swinokur said...

I am amazed at the attacks on Kate! Geesh, she was simply commenting about a bad experience. To the people who said they owned a store and think people are all out to get freebies, please post your store name/location so I can make sure never to go near it.

Certainly there are some people out just to get something for free. But if your attitude is geared toward those people, you're missing the boat. Talk about guilty until proven innocent.

Kate's point was very simple and as an intelligent business owner, I get it completely. If you're competing in an industry like spas, you need to have a high level of customer service. I have never been to a spa or gotten a way (thankfully), but I do know how to handle customers. Quite frankly, I've found it pretty easy to keep customers happy. Just treat them the way you would want to. Yep, you'll end up giving stuff away to people who are just out to get them, but you'll gain so many more loyal customers that will FAR outweigh your costs.

There is a ton of competition for all industries. Why in the world would you ever want to go to a place that treats you that way.

BTW, you don't always have to give away stuff for free or give future discounts. In this case, I would hazard a guess that if the management apologized and really took the time to hear Kate's complaint, that would have gone a long way toward solving this. If they had done that and offered to fix it free of charge, I would bet Kate would have been satisfied. But by demanding proof and creating an adversarial relationship right away, they killed any chance of a happy resolution.

J91a said...

I worked alongside Kate in an office for a number of months and we became friends. I know her character not only to be that of someone who is not looking for freebies all over town, but perfectly capable of discerning the difference between a bad wax and profound human suffering.

To stay on-topic, I believe what she is trying to accomplish here is to shed light on the topic of customer service, a topic in dire need of being addressed particularly in the Boston area.

When I first came to Boston 20 years ago, the rudeness of customer service people here was a culture shock for me. It was even worse for my Oregonian roommate, who had worked as a bankteller in Eugene. Oregon has always had a very strong and accommodating customer service culture, forged out of what has always been a weak economy. He informed me that it was the only edge Oregon businesses had by which to compete with each other.

Given the weak economy now, it seems Boston and cities all over the US are in the same boat, and yet the customer service culture here in general has continued to be rather gruff. Worth taking a look at.

Not only does blogging seem to me to be a perfectly appropriate, useful, and powerful word of mouth tool regarding individual businesses and customer experiences there, but also a perfectly appropriate forum for discussing the topic of customer service in general.

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