The Disaster Beauty Spa Experience

One chilly October evening, I headed out of town for a bit of pampering (or so I thought). A client had generously sent me a gift certificate to the spa of my choice and after doing a bit of online homework, I settled on a “top medical spa” that was a 30 mile drive from my house and boasted anti-aging treatments with a “celebrity following.” I was skeptical, but the before and after pictures on their website were the best on the web (note the power of proof) and with all the late nights I’ve been working, I could do with a miracle fix for my skin.

The problems with this place started even before I hopped in my car. There were a couple of not too favorable reviews which I had not paid that much attention to (I was hooked by their photos) and when I called to book my appointment I was advised by the curt receptionist that all appointments require a mandatory initial consult of $200.

Huh? Nothing on their website mentioned anything about having to first book a consult before a treatment. “The fee is halved if you book your treatment immediately after – the owner is the best skin guru in the state” she reassured me.

OK, fair enough, but then make sure your website carries a consistent message. Not feeling warm and fuzzy about this place so far, I still went ahead and booked the appointment.

When I arrived, the spa was in a surprising location – not quite the high end location they made out to be on their website. The spa itself felt cramped and over cluttered to me. Another red flag.

I was ushered into a shoebox sized room surrounded by glaring lights and mirrors (make no mistake you could see every mark, line and blemish on my skin.)

In less than 10 seconds (a record for me), one of the hardest and most manipulative up-sells I’ve ever witnessed began.

It went something like this:

“Gosh, you have some lines in your forehead, you should really be getting Botox there.”

Huh? I’d never noticed them before but I sure did now.

She then proceeded to put my skin under an even harsher lamp and a magnifier pointing out, inch my inch, everywhere I had issues. The list was so long that by the time the ordeal was over I felt like the only proper thing to do was wear a paper bag over my head anytime I’m in public.

Then, she came in for the kill.

They could custom tailor a specific program to address my clearing lacking skin for a series of weekly treatments that would cost me a mere $10,000.

I excused myself and couldn’t get out of the place fast enough. I don’t care if they are miracle workers, the way they conduct their business is entirely unethical in my view.

As an advertising copywriter, I am well aware of the power that lies in marketing and how the right words can compel someone to take action, or not. Understanding these psychological triggers and what compels people to buy is how I make my living. It’s also the reason why I refuse to accept a private client whose products and services I don’t 100% believe in and know people would be much better off by having. I have said no to casinos, tobacco companies and financial advisors who didn’t dare invest their own money in the funds they bought for their clients.

I choose to use my marketing powers for good.

This company chose to use its powers for bad: by employing sales techniques that were blatantly manipulative and highly pressured.

While outwardly this company seems to be successful, it’s only a matter of time before this will catch up with them, regardless of how good the before and after photos on their website are.

Here are the key points from this experience to apply to any business or practice:

1) Be consistent: Build a Relationship First
My entire experience with this medical spa was reminiscent of the early 2000’s -when hard sales pitches were still tolerated. I guess no one had told them that the rules of marketing have changed. It’s about building a relationship FIRST, which this business was colossally terrible at. Now, granted not many businesses really understand how to do this properly, but if you know nothing, the one thing there is no excuse for is to not care. In this economy, the company who can build the strongest relationship with their clients or patients, is the business that wins.