by Amy Roberts

How to Understand Your Clients: Part 1, MASSAGE MagazineIf you are a massage therapist who is serious about increasing your number of clients, then you know understanding what your clients want is the most important thing to knowing how to increase client numbers in your practice. This series explains how you can profit from understanding your clients—a key detail for succeeding in the massage industry. 

Typically, a single trading therapist knows customers more personally than if she worked at a day spa, for example. From here, understanding your clients can be built if you follow a system (yes, there is a system for getting to know your clients). The system is simple, yet incredibly effective.

You must know:

  • What their names are;
  • What they want;
  • Why they want it;
  • When they want it;
  • How they want it;
  • Where they want it; and
  • Who they want to give it to them.

The following is the first part in this series explaining the system and how it works in your massage therapy business.

1. What
Understanding what your clients want starts with the realization that they purchase benefits. You must understand this: Your clients buy a benefit when they see you. When I go for a massage, I don’t pay for a massage; instead, I pay for loose shoulders so that I can continue to work on the computer to bring you better information. In order to do that, I need to be creative, draw on my experiences and turn that into a document.

In a world outside massage, in a supermarket for example, we don’t select toothpaste because of the sake of toothpaste; we buy it because it helps prevent tooth decay. The other features of the toothpaste might be a pleasant taste, fresh mouth and bright teeth.

You need to know for what your clients want your massage.

You must find out, from their point of view, what your clients are buying. (Note: The important phrase here was “from their point of view.”) The name of the school you went to or what your qualification is means as little to them as the brand of toothpaste in the supermarket. They want to know the toothpaste gives them something. This may mean driving satisfaction, comfort or reliability on the road. Whatever it is, they get something from it.
Your massage is just the same. They want your massage to give them something, so they can achieve something else. You have to know what that is, from their point of view. Understanding your clients enables you to provide what they seek: satisfaction.

Massage therapy produces benefits for which your potential clients are willing to pay. Successful massage therapists understand the reason for their clients’ buying decisions.

2. Why
Now here we dig a little deeper into your clients’ minds. The massage therapists who have success in their business understand why their clients come to them and massage them accordingly.

A client may want your massage because she wants the solution to a particular problem, and she also wants to feel as if she received good value for her money. Everyone wants to feel they received more for their money. Unfortunately, you can’t change this, so just work with it and use it to your advantage. It doesn’t mean undercutting your massage treatment; it means making sure you provide great value. 

Remember that when a client chooses a massage therapist, minor factors win. Alongside your great marketing, smaller things may be the deciding factors for choosing you and not the other therapist down the road. This explains the motivation of the client who chose a massage therapist because she liked the room or the smell of the oil burning. The point is: pay attention to details, as they may be crucial to your clients.

Often the best clues are the customers’ actions. Smart therapists respect their clients but pay special attention to what their clients do. One thing to be mindful of is why a client came to you after leaving one of your competitors. It’s not just luck; there is a reason.  Successful therapists take note of what their competition offers and clients’ reactions to it.

Asking those clients who have come from other therapists why they chose you may also reveal some reasons. It may be a special offer you advertised, or was it something else? Find out. It will give you a better position strategically.

While doing this, be mindful to retain regular clients. For instance, a specialty technique, such as foot reflexology, may be used to increase clients at one-time special prices. This move may disturb your regular clients, so be careful to continue to cater exclusively to their needs. Make sure this new treatment you just learned does not interfere with what you already provide for your loyal clients.

Understanding your clients includes awareness of the time of their massage purchase and how they incorporate it into their life. Watch this carefully, as this leads to my next point about when they call you for the first appointment.

3. When
Clients buy often when a problem reaches a crescendo. This means when they have reached a point where they can no longer put up with the pain, stiffness or other symptoms associated with muscle and joint pain. Your clients buying patterns can often be used to determine what type of massage they want.

Another deciding factor when clients come to you for the first time is some major life change. It can actually work both ways: It can cause them to come to you, or cease treatment for a while. The following purchase occasions in the adult life cycle are typical:

  • Marriage, separation, divorce
  • Acquisition of a home
  • Change in employment or career
  • Graduate study; running for office
  • Health care, injury, illness
  • Pregnancy, nurture of children
  • Children enter school; graduate
  • Children leave home (for college or permanently)
  • Move to another area
  • Vacations; major social activities
  • Permanent retirement from work
  • Death of a family member

Smart therapists keep track of such key events and gain a head start on gaining new clients. Keeping a track of your clients’ birthdays and anniversaries are crucial. Seasonal factors include recurring holidays and weather changes. (I always had more new clients during seasonal changes.)

A few other things that will influence your clients to making that all-important purchase decision include the start of the school year, special deals or price concessions, and an improvement in education of what massage can do for them, which leads to “buyer’s confidence.” (This is why your marketing abilities will make or break your massage business.)

In saying this, it’s really important to keep a closed eye on these changing factors for your clients. It’s important to make sure a diary or list of these changes is always in front of you, so you can keep up with them, not the other way around. I would suggest keeping a calendar and writing on it when seasonal changes are, as well as major events, birthdays, holidays and other events that are equally important.

Many clients have time for massage only during the evenings and on weekends. Because people work full time, this need has intensified. Perceptive massage therapists adjust their hours, staffing and availability to customers’ convenience of paying.

For example, Lucy, the Bowen therapist, works until 8 p.m. to suit her most-loyal clients who can only come after hours. As a result, she takes time off during the day so she can have extra time at night.

She also knows that more people carry credit cards, and they want to claim the treatment on their health insurance. So to keep up with the loyal clients’ needs, she registers as a health-service provider through her association and gets herself an electronic machine that takes credit card payments. Because this costs her a $4 fee every time she does this, she knows she’ll need to charge more to cover the cost. In order to charge more, she knows she’ll have to offer more.

So instead of charging an extra $4 to clients who pay with a credit card, she simply gives everyone who comes for massage a free bottle of 125-milliliter spring water to add to the value.

For the water, Lucy made a deal with the water company to buy the water in bulk, so it only costs her $1 per bottle, instead of the usual retail fee of $2 per bottle. While she increases her fees, she is also giving more value to the client.

To review, Lucy is charged $5 for water and a credit card transaction. Because the client feels as if she is being looked after with the water, Lucy is then able to charge more for giving more.

Lucy also knows that she sees more clients on payday. Thus, knowing when people have more money and, as a result, make an appointment for massage to help with relaxation is a precious part of understanding your clients’ buying habits.

Although the massage may be concluded in an hour, most of these purchase decisions actually entail a drawn-out process.

This process will be described in the next section, which analyzes how customers buy.

Read part 2 here.

Amy Roberts is a massage therapist and massage therapy business coach. Her Web sites, and teach massage therapists around the world how to get more clients quickly and easily, and keep them coming back. Roberts has regular business video tutorials available on her marketing Web site.