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Good Tech, Bad Tech

by Jeremy McCarthy
Spa Technology

What to do when technology is both the problem and the solution. Spa Technology

What is the role of technology in spas? This was a question asked to me at a recent conference where I had been talking about the need for “digital detox.” As I had been talking about the negative impacts that technology has on well-being, I’m sure the audience assumed that I would say spas should be tech- free environments. But the answer is not so simple.

It is true that what makes spas special are the non-digital aspects of the experience. Spas are known for being “high touch” rather than “high tech,” which is, increasingly, an appealing part of the experience. I often see “massage therapist” topping the list of careers that cannot be easily replaced by robots. And this is not for lack of trying—the market is regularly producing new mechanical massage solutions—but nothing can replace the feeling of being in the hands of a nurturing healer.

That said, we do already have technology in our spas. Guests must use a telephone to call into the spa to book an appointment. An employee will secure that booking using a computer system. The receptionist uses the computer to receive that guest. The therapist also uses the computer system to know what treatment to deliver. At the end, a payment is processed using another system. Without these technologies, it would be very difficult for us to deliver the right experience to the right guest.

Technology is a necessary part of the experience, but it is also where things often go wrong. In my experience, our guests rarely complain about the time they have with the therapist. The complaints come from the logistics. It took us too long to answer the phone. The booking process was slow. The receptionist couldn’t find my appointment when I arrived. I had to wait on line to check out after my treatment. Too many times, I have seen relaxing spa experiences ruined by clunky checkout procedures.

It seems we not only need technology in our spas, we need better technologies. We need better and easier ways to communicate with guests that match their current communication tools and preferences (e.g., mobile devices, text messages). We need more streamlined systems that allow guests to check in and check out quickly and fluently without delaying or distracting them from the relaxing experience they are having. And we need better ways to get to know our guests and personalize their services.

This is the paradox of technology that affects spa and all businesses in the modern age. We need new technologies to help us solve all the problems that are caused by the current technologies. Technology is the problem and the solution.

The nice thing about this in the spa setting is that the ultimate goal is to deliver an experience that is quintessentially human. For the most part, our goal is to minimize our guests’ time interacting with technology so that they can get to the enjoyable part of the experience, feeling the hands of one of our amazing therapists. When the technology is bad, the guest spends more time with technology (booking, checking in, checking out, payments, etc.). When the technology is good, the guest spends more time enjoying a human experience.

This example from the world of spas may be a good way to think about evaluating the technology paradox in all areas of life. When technology is bad, it causes us to spend more time with technology. When technology is good, it helps us to spend more time being human. Watching a video that inspires you to take up a new sport or brings new ideas to your fitness training can be good. Watching a video that inspires you to keep watching more videos would be bad. An online social network that helps you arrange get-togethers with your friends might be good. An online social network that distracts you from meeting your friends in real life could be bad. Technology is only good when it helps us to be better humans.

JEREMY MCCARTHY is the group director of spa for the Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group. He is the author of The Psychology of Spas & Wellbeing and hosts a blog at psychologyofwellbeing.com

Read more of Jeremy McCarthy's Organic Spa Magazine articles here:

How we become our tools | Vacation Time Travel | Raising Digital Natives | What's Good About Social Media?

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