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Massage Today
January, 2012, Vol. 12, Issue 01

When Your Clients Talk, Are You Really Listening?

By Ann Brown, LMT

In Chinese, the word "crisis" is composed of two characters: one for "danger" and one for "opportunity." As a massage therapist, any constructive criticism you receive should be regarded with a similar view.

If you don't pay attention to the criticism, you risk continuing your massage practice in unsatisfactory and damaging ways, but if you do take criticism to mind with a conscious focus on improvement, you change criticism (and crisis) into opportunity.

Consider these two scenarios. You greet Client A as she enters your business. You cover your standard procedure of taking soap notes, covering the basics of what you need to know for today's massage service. Outside, the sounds of nearby construction rise and fall during the course of the treatment, but the client seems unbothered, so you don't mention it. You perform the massage and ask how the client feels when finished. Client A replies "fine," pays for the service, thanks you and leaves.

Client B arrives for her massage. You welcome her and go through the same intake procedure as you did with Client A. Client B says she is suffering from lower back pain and stiffness. During the massage, this session is similarly interrupted by the sound of construction outside your practice. You apologize for the noise when the client looks disturbed. At the end of the massage, you ask how Client B feels. Client B responds that the massage was uncomfortable and she doesn't feel the relief she wanted. She is unhappy with the noise interruption and disappointed with the overall service. You apologize again for the interruption and ask her to wait a day to see how she feels after the massage. She pays for the service and leaves.

As a massage practitioner, which client would you prefer to deal with? If you answered Client A, consider this – Client A never returns to your practice for a repeat visit because her first experience was "fine," but not a stand-out. She didn't complain, but went home and shared with her friends that her massage experience (one that she had been looking forward to for two weeks) was only so-so. While Client B leaves, you know that the experience was not satisfactory, and while no one likes to deal with unhappy clients, you are aware of the issues and have the chance to change that client's opinion of your service and practice.

Client feedback is only as useful as the intention we put into it. If you only ask how the massage was as a glib question, then you miss key opportunities to improve your service and practice and to create loyal clients that return again and again. Taking your interaction from routine to personalized and then showing the client you are listening, not simply asking, can boost your client return rate, improve your entire business model and help you increase revenue.

Before You Begin

Setting the stage for getting useful feedback begins before the massage. I've been to numerous day spas and single practitioners that miss out on capturing information at the start of the massage visit. In my last five massage experiences, the practitioner either didn't ask for anything or simply handed a waiver for me to sign. Many of you do take diligent notes, but as the consumer, I have to wonder – do they want to just give me a massage and say good-bye? Or do they want me to come back?

It doesn't matter if you are a 20-room spa or a one-man show. Your level of professionalism should not be based on your annual gross revenue. Go beyond the basics to show you care and to secure information on how to follow up, post-visit. Ask for clients' birthdays, email addresses, mobile numbers and if they prefer to be contacted via text. Set up ways to check in after the massage and create an ongoing dialogue with the client. Feedback takes on new meaning when it is not collected in a vacuum, but instead is part of your ongoing commitment to stay connected with your clients and respond to their needs.

It's important to note that you should be sensitive to your client when trying to get feedback. If the client is looking for a relaxation experience, too many questions while they are on the massage table will probably be off-putting. Likewise, for Client A, a question of "How was the massage?" immediately after the service was too close and personal to allow the client to provide honest feedback. A short survey emailed to the client after the massage, however, would have provided a safe opportunity for the client to relay important information to you about how she regarded the experience – and it opens up a channel of communication that didn't exist before. Using email allows for some distance, and if you prefer, sending out the survey via a third-party vendor might also help to reinforce your desire for a sincere and open response from the client.

Using Positive Feedback

If you have positive feedback from your clients, congratulations! But even if the response is positive, pay attention to the specifics and make sure you are getting detailed data. Instead of offering a scale of 1 to 5 for satisfaction, consider offering a scale of 1 to 7, so that your data becomes more reflective of the client's temperature concerning your business. The client who marked your spa as "average" on a scale of 1 to 5 may indicate "slightly above average" or "slightly below average" when given the opportunity, giving you better insight into your performance.

When feedback does reveal highly rated service and performance, note where your strengths are and what areas that the client appears to value the most. How can you improve your service offering or boost value to the client, as determined from feedback? For example, if you see that clients are consistently rating your technique and skill as high, but the facility is average, how can you improve the environment? Or vice versa?

Positive feedback is a great marketing opportunity. Where can you post testimonials from your cheerleaders? Put positive comments front and center from those that love you. Ask your VIP clients if you can share their comments on your web site and/or Facebook page, for example. Use your biggest advocates to your full advantage and develop a referral program if you don't already have one. Word-of-mouth advertising, coupled with an incentive to bring a friend, is golden! Keep up your communication regarding your referral program: Send out reminders to your clients so they don't forget the reward for making a referral.

Responding and Putting Negative Feedback to Work

In the opening scenarios, Client B immediately expressed her unhappiness to you. The first thing to remember is to listen to the client. Do not get defensive, but focus on respecting their opinion. Keep in mind the Golden Rule: How would you want to be treated as the client? Understand the value of the service you have offered. For most clients, they've looked forward to their massage appointment, so it's not just an issue of parting with money for an experience that didn't satisfy. The level of disappointment rises when the client has eagerly been anticipating the massage and carved out time for the appointment. One option for handling the situation, which some clients will demand, is to not charge the client for the treatment. The client goes away unsatisfied with the experience, but satisfied in the fact that she didn't have to pay for it.

Another option for handling the situation would have been to apologize to the client and offer a return visit at half-price or no charge, depending upon the situation. With this move, you both appease the client and create an opportunity to redeem yourself. When the client comes back and has a better experience, then you have likely turned someone who would have spread a negative impression of your business into a positive supporter. The case may arise, however, where you know you will be unable to satisfy a client. If their physical needs require a specialized skill, for example, you know that a return visit will not satisfy. Realize the importance of referrals and have a network ready. If the client will benefit from rolfing, know who to send them to. Focus on your strengths and communicate to the client where your expertise and skill lies, but also share the message that your number one concern is their health and wellness. When you are unable to provide the service they need, recommend who can. Your openness and focus on wellness should solidify your position and positive reputation in the client's mind.

If you receive negative feedback via a survey, a hand-written note goes a long way to ensure the client that you take their comments seriously and want to address their concerns. If the case warrants it, make a phone call to the client to show your dedication to creating a more positive experience. Make no excuses, but apologize and commit to righting the situation with an incentive to come back for another treatment within 60 days. Always, review your performance honestly after getting hard feedback. How could you have handled the situation better to avoid disappointing the guest? In the scenarios offered, a phone call prior to the treatments would have made the guests aware of the construction noise and given the opportunity to reschedule, if desired. You may also need to look at your intake questions. Are you asking the right questions to give you a clear picture of the guest's needs and expectations? The more you know, the more you can satisfy.

Good or Bad, Stay Diligent

A true commitment to improving your practice starts with creating a dialogue with, and listening to, your clients. Set up a system for monitoring feedback, responding and analyzing the overall data. Look at and respond to negative feedback as soon as possible, but also make a point to once a month and once a quarter look at the bigger picture of your performance. Some good questions to consider:

  • Do you see a dip or a rise in satisfaction in the current quarter, as compared to previous? What accounts for the change?
  • What can you capitalize on, or what do you need to adjust in your practice?
  • What do clients find as most valuable from your services? What marketing strategy can you plan from that information?
  • Where are your clients coming from? How many are repeat customers?

Collecting feedback but then setting it aside without really looking at it is an incredible waste of opportunity. Your clients are talking, so pay attention to what they have to say and focus on how to create a systematic approach to improving your business.


Ann Brown, a licensed massage therapist, is a member of the International Spa Association's board of directors and serves as spa director at Spa Shiki at The Lodge of Four Seasons in Lake Ozark, Mo. She also provides management consulting services through Spa Insight Consulting.

 

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