True Spa

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When I pay for a spa membership – which I happily did at the SK-II Boutique Spa and Essentia Spa at the Hilton – I have certain expectations. The calibre of the customer service is just as important to me as the quality of its treatments, and the very last thing I want from my spa is stress. If I’ve invested in membership, I should be able to book my preferred appointment effortlessly. On that day, I should be shown in with minimal waiting time – ideally no more than ten minutes. I also expect fresh, hygienic amenities – clean slippers, a fresh robe, pristine towels and new bed linen – and professional therapists who do the job with skill, if not artistry.


TIMOTHY MCEVENUE

Those aren’t particularly high expectations – certainly not for a spa in a five-star Orchard Road location that asks you to fork out close to $1,000 for a package. Enter True Spa at Ngee Ann City. It operates across 12,000 sq ft on the 16th floor, with 20 massage rooms, five VIP suites and ten facial rooms. When it opened some three years ago, I was impressed. I judged the book by its cover and made a snap conclusion. True Spa must be the real deal.

That’s why I was shocked to find the 50 negative comments about True Spa on this website over the last year. Most were about the customer service – how hard it was to book a session, how unhelpful the staff is, how nobody picks up the phone. I’d even heard there was a pending lawsuit by a group of angry customers. Were these real or part of a smear campaign? I wanted to find out.

I called the Ngee Ann City outlet more than five times a day (12 rings each time) for four consecutive days. Nobody picked up. With no other option, I called the True Spa outlet at Cuppage Terrace and only waited seven rings before someone picked up. I identified myself as someone who wants to come in for a massage. I asked what massage they would recommend and whether I could make an appointment. The receptionist was unable to respond and passed me to a True Spa agent. He recommended the one-hour Balinese Sports Massage for $161 (the price for non-members) and booked my appointment for the time I requested the following day. Mission accomplished, after a fashion.

The True Spa premises at Cuppage Terrace are not as impressive as the Ngee Ann City outlet. It’s supposedly larger with 15,000 sq ft, but it pales in comparison to the sleek 16th-floor location of Ngee Ann City. I was asked to fill out a form and was then led to a dark room, where a therapist announced she would give me a 30- minute back massage. ‘No, no. This is not a free trial. I am paying for the Balinese Sports Massage,’ I said, so she left and another rather chatty therapist took her place. ‘Sorry for the delay. I was still taking my lunch, and they said I should hurry and give you your massage.’

Not the warmest welcome, but to be fair, once she piped down and settled into her work, she gave a pretty deft deep-tissue massage. Afterwards, I got a cup of watery, lukewarm tea, and someone came to ask if I would be interested in signing up for an $800 package. Sure, the agent was a tad pushy, but that’s to be expected. The massage itself wasn’t the best I’d ever had, but it was far from the worst. Still unable to get through to the Ngee Ann City outlet, I spoke to a few True Spa package holders. One of them, Ina, signed up for an $800++ package in September, and since then has only had two sessions. ‘Not,’ she adds drily, ‘for lack of trying.’ She tells me that getting through to the Ngee Ann City outlet is ‘virtually impossible’. She even tried to walk in but was turned away as they were completely booked. She got her two sessions by having her agent book them.

‘Unfortunately, I can’t do that any more, because he no longer works there and the person he referred me to has not been as helpful.’ As to the quality of the two sessions she did have, Ina has no complaints. ‘The therapists at Ngee Ann City are excellent, if you can ever get a session.’ Beth, a mother of two, paid for a $190-a-month True Spa package on her credit card, entitling her to 72 body massages and 72 foot massages over three years. If she splits this with her husband, they should each be able to have one foot and body massage a month. So far they have each had four massages, for which they fought tooth and nail to book. And though they had to wait for a while, they didn’t mind biding their time on the wet floor in the steam room.

‘I love massages, so the package made sense. But I didn’t expect booking to be this hard. Nobody answers and they keep trying to push us to the Cuppage Terrace outlet, which is less convenient for me,’ Beth says. The couple did end up going to Cuppage Terrace for their last two sessions and were not pleased. ‘If you’re on the wet floor waiting for the massage, you have to get dressed again to go into the treatment room, which is a hassle.’

Like Ina, Beth finds no fault with the therapists. ‘But it shouldn’t be this hard to book when you have a package. We should be able to get a session at the outlet we joined.’ Asked for their reaction, a representative of the True Spa management says: ‘Disgruntled customers are part and parcel of running a service-oriented business and are unavoidable. Complaints are taken seriously and investigated, and we are committed to finding a solution. In cases where we are at fault, we take it as an opportunity for us to improve. However, we do acknowledge the fact that there will always be members who will never be happy with anything we do.’

The management recommends booking sessions a rather ridiculous ‘two weeks in advance’, as though it’s easy to plan this far ahead. Not to mention you need the luxury of someone to pick up the phone. When asked about the alleged lawsuit, their response was, as expected, legally sound. ‘As the members have consulted a lawyer, it will be inappropriate for us to comment. We have engaged our lawyers who will respond in court if the need arises.’

This is a competitive industry, and a player trades on mediocrity if it lets itself off the hook that easily. True Spa does itself a grave disservice if it plans to stay this blasé instead of stepping up and improving customer service. At the very least, they should answer the phone. I’m on the phone right now, and I’m still waiting. Maybe I should just buy a package from a spa that’s interested in talking to me. Noelle de Jesus

 

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Venue name: True Spa
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