We are living in an unprecedented time. The job outlook for massage therapists over the next several years is above average due to a perfect storm of increased public awareness, greater acceptance, and higher demand for massage. While this presents a golden opportunity for us, we may be missing out.

Most massage training programs provide excellent instruction on technique, anatomy, and physiology. What many neglect to teach is how to provide clients with an exceptional experience they’ll want again and again. There may be an assumption that this knowledge is innate or perhaps it’s excluded because it’s not part of licensure exams. But here’s a reality check: although most clients expect their massage therapist to have a working knowledge of the body and be competent in the delivery of a safe and effective massage, that’s only part of what they’re paying for.

The proliferation of massage companies has raised the bar for client expectations. Simply knowing your stuff doesn’t set you apart from the countless choices so many consumers have now. What will make you stand out is creating an experience clients can’t get just anywhere. The foundation for such an experience is exceptional communication before, during, and after their massage.

CREATE CLEAR EXPECTATIONS

The closer our expectations are to our experience, the more likely it is that we’ll want to repeat it. Our communication with clients begins before they ever set foot in our treatment room. We are being sized up every time someone sees our website, checks out our Facebook page, picks up our business card or brochure, hears our voice mail greeting, or meets us in person for the first time. This initial impression is made in less than ten seconds, so we need to make the most of it.

Being crystal clear about what we do and the results clients can expect from working with us minimizes disappointment at that introductory visit. I realize there are endless variables when it comes to working with unique individuals, but we need to be able to convey what will change for them by receiving a massage from us. If you’re struggling to pin that down, ask your existing clients how they would describe the benefits of your services. Then use that messaging consistently across all of your marketing.

BE UNFORGETTABLE

Once someone has decided to book an appointment, make it easy for them to do so and hard for them to miss it. More and more people are taking advantage of the convenience of online scheduling because it eliminates phone and email tag (a major frustration with being unavailable to answer the phone when we’re in session). The objection to online scheduling I see most from practitioners is not being able to screen or have a consultation prior to booking. These programs can be set up to delay booking to accommodate either of those. Once you’re notified of a new client appointment, you can reach out to schedule a phone interview if that’s how you operate your practice. You can include a link to schedule the call in their confirmation email, send them a personal email, or call them to set it up.

Besides the convenience of booking with online scheduling, clients will automatically receive an appointment reminder via email (and text, should your software offer it and they opt in). Reminder messages reduce missed appointments. Including all the appointment details (day, date, and time), plus directions, ensures first-time visitors will get to their appointment on time. I include a link to my Google maps location in all automated reminder emails and have my address included in automated texts. I also mention to park in back and enter under the awning to provide a landmark and minimize confusion since my office building has two entrances. This kind of specific communication makes clients confident they’ve made a good choice prior to receiving our work.

MAKE INTAKE MEANINGFUL, NOT MENIAL

Doing an effective and efficient intake serves four main purposes: to build rapport, learn why they are seeking our help, uncover any contraindications, and establish their expectations. With so much to accomplish, it can be hard to keep it brief. As important as collecting this information is, it’s not why clients book with us. They want to be spending their time with you receiving a massage, not doing paperwork and being interviewed.

Try customizing your intake form to a single side of one page (mine is half a page). Consider what personal information is truly necessary in addition to data collected prior to their arrival. Having a checklist of conditions that may be contraindicated for them and for you (such as a contagious skin condition) makes completion quicker. Combining conditions that have similar causes (like heart attack and stroke) on the same line streamlines the list.

Stick with the most common conditions that may require caution and use umbrella terms rather than every possibility (contagious disease vs. an extensive list). That way, we can get the specifics only if they apply rather than giving overall healthy individuals more to weed through. Save the deeper investigation for the section inquiring about what medications and supplements they’re taking. As you review those, ask what each one is for to uncover more information without making the form tedious for the client.

Once you’ve determined that massage is safe and appropriate, ask how they want to feel when they leave compared to how they feel now. This helps cut through to their real reasons for being there. Here’s where we get to educate them about realistic outcomes for a single session and why it may take multiple visits to reach their goals. If they have several things they want addressed, ask them what their priority is that day.

Giving two options empowers clients and makes it easier to meet their expectations. Depending on the type of work you do and the length of the session, a general choice to offer is (1) a full body massage with a few extra minutes spent on one or two problem areas or (2) a more focused approach. I’ve been surprised many times by someone who talks about a shoulder injury at length but opts for a full body massage, or says they want to relax but chooses to skip their legs entirely in favor of extended work on their back. When they’ve made their choice, explain what you’ll be doing in detail and ask how that sounds so they can agree to the treatment plan or clarify their needs. Following this process gets you both on the same page and increases the likelihood that they will be pleased with the massage they get.

Now that a treatment plan has been made, it’s time to leave the room so they can get ready. Explain how much they should undress, where to put their clothes, and how they should be positioned under the top sheet to avoid any misunderstanding. Ask if they have any questions before you leave them alone to get on the table. When you return to begin the actual massage, a new communication phase will begin. We explore that in part two.


Cath Cox has been a licensed massage therapist in Colorado since 1999 and is the creator of the Booked and Busy in 90 Days System™. Her mission is to heal the world by inspiring independent massage therapists to build thriving practices of their own so they can work authentically for as long as they desire. She currently provides ashiatsu barefoot deep tissue massage exclusively in her private practice. You can learn more about Cath and her journey at bookedandbusy.com.