customer service

Here’s a free thought exercise for you: What words, images, memories, emotions, etc. come up when you hear the phrase “customer service”?

I recently posted this question on social media and here are some of the answers I got:

“I usually laugh at that phrase … I’m a cynical old man and don’t expect much from salespeople.”

“A corporate store with poorly-treated employees forced to smile no matter how rude the customer is.”

 “I brace myself for the worst but hope for the best … most of the people I have worked with tend to say the right things, but then they don’t do what they’re supposed to.”

“[The] image of an empty cash register desk.”

“Headaches, waiting on the phone for an hour…”

When you think about providing good customer service, how does your body (always our most honest voice) react? Do you find yourself curling in just a little, uncomfortable, thinking you need to do whatever the client wants so they won’t leave you? Do you find yourself swelling a little with pride about how fancy and special your customer service is? Do you find your forehead wrinkling a little in confusion because you realize you’re not exactly sure what good customer service for a massage therapist looks like? Or perhaps you’re shrugging your shoulders while you think, “what’s the big deal?”

What Is Customer Service, Exactly?

I believe great customer service isn’t simply things (cushions, hot towels, etc.) or actions (offering a bottle of water, listening attentively, etc.). It’s everything you do, large and small, to create a welcoming and warm experience for your client that makes sense within the context of your practice. It’s visible through the things you offer and the actions you take, yes, but those actions come from how you understand your relationship with your clients.

Like so many things in massage therapy, great customer service comes down to balance, to homeostasis. In studying anatomy, we learn the Oxford Dictionary’s definition of homeostasis: “a relatively stable equilibrium between interdependent elements.” In customer service, homeostasis means they need us and we need them.

We get that “relatively stable equilibrium” when we find the sweet spot between being a doormat (the client’s happiness is all that matters) and a diva (our happiness is all that matters). We are most likely to achieve that equilibrium when we’re taking care of them and taking care of ourselves. Any good relationship, professional or personal, needs to support all the people in the relationship.

We don’t want to be doormats and we don’t want to be divas. Somewhere between these two extremes is the place of great customer service.

Self-Care’s Role in Customer Service

The best customer service comes from a place of groundedness, confidence, compassion and clarity of mission. It’s impossible without good self-care.

Customer service starts with a mindset of hospitality—not servitude. You are inviting your clients into your massage home. Should they feel honored they even got on your schedule? Should you feel grateful they deigned to get on your schedule, fearful that they’ll change their mind? Or do you welcome them knowing you can be good for each other?

You can’t take care of your clients if you aren’t taking care of yourself, in all the ways that matter. Body, finances, spirit, social life, family life, community engagement, all of it. When we invite someone to bring their hurts to us, we are implying a promise: that we will show up ready, willing and able to help with those hurts. If, instead, we show up as a worn-out husk of a human being because we haven’t been taking care of ourselves, we’ve broken our promise. We’ve lied to them. You can’t create a great customer service relationship when you start with a broken promise.

What Are Your Stumbling Blocks?

We’ve probably all got things that are stumbling blocks to that balanced relationship and therefore to great customer service. Despite those licenses hanging proudly on our walls, we are still only human.

Our profession—where it’s our job, literally, to make people happy—naturally draws a good share of people-pleasers. People-pleasers often have trouble setting boundaries, saying no and prioritizing self-care. This makes them more vulnerable to becoming doormats.

Any insecurity you carry about yourself or your skills can be a stumbling block. Insecurity can drive you to become a doormat or a diva. You may try to over-correct for your perceived lack of skills by becoming a doormat. You might also try to hide your insecurity behind a smoke screen of diva-ness (I’m so amazing, they should be grateful for anything I do for them!). It’s tough to create a healthy relationship from a foundation of insecurity.

Clarify Your Mission

A mission statement captures the essence of what motivates you as a massage therapist and the kind of practice you want to have. If you aren’t crystal-clear about your mission, it can be difficult to know how to best manifest good customer service in your specific practice.

The type of practice you have—spa, sports, medical, Eastern medicine, etc.—plays a big role in how you understand your relationship with your clients. It also guides the actions and things you offer your clients. What makes sense for clients of a medical massage practice, for example, might not make sense for clients of a practice focused on energy work.

You didn’t walk into massage therapy as a blank slate when it comes to customer service. Depending on who you respect, grew up with, or your own customer experiences, you have attitudes about customer service that might not work in your world. For example, I could die a happy woman if I never hear the phrase “the customer is always right” again.

Once you understand that customer service is whatever you do to create a hospitable, mutually-supportive relationship with your clients, it’s easier to see that you can manifest good customer service at every point of contact with your client. It isn’t limited to your massage sessions.

Everything You Do Is Customer Service

Customer service begins with your marketing efforts. That’s where clients actually “meet” you first. Is your marketing client-centered? Does it answer the kinds of questions potential clients are asking? Can a person with visual or dexterity challenges easily access your online marketing materials on your website and social media pages? Are the materials legible on all the platforms your potential clients may use?

It’s not unusual to communicate with someone before they come in for their first appointment, usually to answer questions. It might be by phone, email, text or some other channel. How you engage with the person during these conversations establishes your professionalism and the spirit of your practice.

We get excited about manifesting our dream massage space. How does your space affect the customer experience? Is it easy to find? Is there parking or public transportation? Can someone with mobility challenges navigate to and through your space? Are there helpful signs?

Sooner or later there will be a conflict with a client. How do you normally react to conflict? Get defensive and refuse to admit you made a mistake? Get scared and bend over backward to make the client “happy”? Neither approach leads to good customer service. This is when a strong internal awareness of balance, solid policies and sane boundaries will serve you the most.

If you have massage therapists working for you, you can’t just advertise for someone with “good customer service skills.” First of all, who’s going to read that and say, “well, I have terrible customer service skills so I won’t apply”? Second, good customer service doesn’t start with skills; it starts with the therapist’s perspective on their relationship with clients. What can you do to uncover that in your employee interviews?

Focus on Relationships

Great customer service isn’t a bonus we add on top of our awesome massage skills, like the cherry on top of an ice cream sundae. It’s an expression of how we understand our relationship with our clients. You have to value both halves of that relationship if you want to get to a place of great customer service. You can’t do that without (I’m saying it again) robust self-care practices.

Our customer service choices expose who we are and what we truly believe about our relationship with our clients. We are our customer service. Treat that relationship with respect and hospitality, and great customer service will naturally follow.

About the author

Amy Bowers

Kelly Bowers, LMBT (NC 16669), has been writing, teaching and speaking about the business of massage since 2003. Owner of the Healing Arts Business Academy (bowershours.com), she is the co-author of “Between Doormat and Diva: How Massage Therapists Can Find the Sweet Spot Between Service and Servitude” and “Can I Deduct That?” (both, amazon.com) and author of “The Accidental Business Owner” (Handspring Publishing). She can be found on most social media platforms and at healingartsbizacademy.com. She lives and practices in Durham, North Carolina.

[online] Read “Marketing Without the Ick: Practice Confident Massage Promotion,” by Kelly Bowers, at massagemag.com.