Why mystery guesting a spa?

A well rounded, experienced, passionate Spa Manager knows her business and best practises, leads and trusts her staff, can identify her guests needs.

A well managed spa offers clean and safe facilities, high end products, outstanding services, added value.

Not much to add to that, and I am sure everyone agrees with me.


Let me quickly bring back to your attention the Gap Model (after Parasuraman/Zeithaml/Berry), that I had already discussed in my article Mind the Gap – how to avoid gaps in services.

Yet even when applying my above statement about the spa manager and her great spa – those gaps can still occur:

mystery guesting a spa

1st Gap: Expected service vs. rendered service: 

The customer expects something different to receive and evaluates the service that has actually been rendered in a negative way.

Let me give you an example: I have once booked a foot reflexology and have received a foot massage. Although the foot massage was nice and would have made for a good experience, I was disappointed, as I had not received what I had expected, which was a foot reflexology. I evaluated the service based on previous experience on receiving foot reflexology.

2nd Gap: Expected service vs. rendered service:

Does the business actually offer its core services to the customer, or does the business offer services that management thinks are expected by the customer?
I recently participated in a water gymnastics session in a thermal spa that was very disappointing. The website communicated this service as an outstanding service rendered on a daily basis, one of their added values. The service however was pathetic and did clearly not lie within the companies core competencies. To me, this is a good example of “the business offers services that management thinks are expected by the customer yet do not lie within the competencies”.

3rd Gap: Service Creation and customer oriented communication

Services are not described correctly, or not completely communicated. Communication to the customer through various channels is inconsistent.

I have once booked a ‘full body massage’ of 50 minutes. it was described as ‘relaxing massage for the entire body’. In fact, only the back of the legs, my back and arms were massaged.

4th Gap: Service Creation and Implementation

The described and communicated service is not implemented in this way, shortcuts are taken: I have once experienced a facial treatment in a wellness hotel, where the beautician left the room during the face mask instead of providing the promised hand massage.

Or the outcome is not as expected: the solution to a problem (stress – relaxation) has to be provided as promised, for example a ‘relaxing’ treatment has to leave the guest relaxed.

5th Gap: Service Implementation and Perception of Management

Does executive management / the spa manager think that all of her therapists perform all treatments as expected?

All to often I hear the words “but I told them…” by spa managers when talking about lack of implementation. Unfortunately spa managers can rarely take sufficient time to perform quality checks themselves, or the business cannot or does not want to afford using up valuable therapist time for internal quality control. 

There are a couple of ways of counteracting those gaps, and one of them is mystery guesting.

Nope, mystery guesting is not merely allowing the test guest to use the facilities and services free of charge, having a great time relaxing in lovely treatments, sipping champagne from the spa bistro bar, and asking for extras.



Why mystery guesting a spa?

Mystery guesting is nothing else but quality control like in any manufacturing business. When producing a consumer good, the manufacturer has to quality check the production just as much, applying one of a variety of Quality Management Systems.

Mystery Guesting is part of QMS

And mystery guesting is just that applied to the service industry.

Mystery guests are the eyes and ears of real guests and can identify the spa’s customer service behaviour.

Outstanding or lacking performance of spa staff members can then be addressed by rewards, or training, or coaching, or development.

The mystery guest is a well trained professional, who has typically worked in the spa herself, knowing the trade inside out.

She can provide independent and professional feedback based on best practises and experience.

She can identify areas that are consistent and well functioning. She can identify areas for improvement and make suggestions.

How does mystery guesting work?

Typically management contacts a consultant to arrange for a mystery check. 

The mystery guest visits the spa unexpected like any other guest:

  • she visits the website
  • has email and phone contact
  • makes a reservation
  • performs the actual visit (has treatment/s and uses all available facilities)
  • pays her bill at check out
  • receives any post-visit communication

All facts and findings are typically put on record in a questionnaire that can produce a numerical benchmark value.

mystery guesting a spa

The questionnaire is then presented to and discussed with management. A result of this presentation can be that management decides for further measures, such as engaging a coach, or consultant, or trainer, to address issues that arose. 

When to ask for mystery checks?

There is no best time or schedule for mystery guesting a hotel or spa, however I recommend at least one mystery check per year, if not two. Actually over time, findings of the checks become more valuable, as they become historical benchmark data (qualitative and quantitative) to the company.

Reasons for mystery guesting can be:

  • regular annual checks are QMS tools and produce data
  • on spec checks can confirm or rebut suspicions (such as theft or breach of conduct by staff)

Complaints are a gift

Jawad Khan says: “…89% of customers are likely to abandon a service provider after experiencing poor customer service…”

And here are Julie Pankey’s Top 5 Reasons Spa Clients Don’t Return

Reason #1 Booking Process

Reason #2 Unprofessional/Rude Staff

Reason #3 Failure to Meet Expectations

Reason #4 Not Anticipating Needs

Reason #5 Unclean Facility

Complaints are a gift, and so should the feedback of a mystery guest be considered. Mistakes resulting in poor experiences can happen, we are all human. Yet do not allow your guests to abandon your spa, give yourself a second chance to do better in the future instead!

Anja Eva Keller Spa & Wellness Consulting


If you are interested in mystery guesting, please feel free to drop me an email to anja@talkwellness.at, I am happy to talk to you.