by Amy Roberts

How to Understand Your Clients: Part 2, 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 second part in this series explaining the system and how it works in your massage therapy business. Click here to read part 1.

Part 4. How
Knowledge of how your client buys pays off in several ways.

  • Therapists can design special offers to meet the exact needs of their clients. 
  • Therapists can influence the bread winners of the family at crucial steps of the buying process. 
  • Therapists can lay the groundwork for repeat business.

To reveal this point, I’ll explain your clients’ buying methods in a visual process. The decision to have a massage usually starts when a client has a desire or problem that your treatment might satisfy or solve. The decision to actually pay for a massage is usually made when something happens to a client or her routine and she starts to seek an approval for getting a massage. This can include asking about or discussing massage with a spouse, friend, massage therapist or another trusted practitioner, such as a chiropractor. This is the first process of your clients buying your massage.

People are diverse. Every client pursues a buying process of her own. Buying processes depend on the significance of the massage to the client and other circumstances. Although buying processes are not identical, some steps are common to most clients. Therapists need to know these critical steps in order to affect the outcome of the buying decision.

Sharp therapists look into things that affect their clients’ buying habits—but for each important customer, the buying process should be worked out individually.

For example, Pete is going through a change in lifestyle and someone gives him a 10-minute neck and shoulder massage. This has now caused Pete to recognize the need for a massage, but lack of knowledge about what to look for and fear of going to the wrong massage therapist may stop him from actually getting a massage.

The process continues for Pete; however, if your advertisements and guaranteed benefits are made known to Pete, this will cause him to act. Despite money worries and uncertainty about his future needs, Pete proceeds to compare other massage therapists’ offers. 

At this search and evaluation stage, testimonials from present satisfied customers are especially influential. Make sure your current clients are satisfied and happily recommend you; however, if you do not return phone calls or lack a professional image, clients like Pete will not make the appointment with you.

Once Pete compares your offering to the offers of other massage therapists in the area and chooses you, he will then make an appointment. If he is happy with his session, he will make recommendations to others and give you repeated, regular business.

Therapists can create new clients like Pete by influencing potential clients to their service. Focused advertisements help entice your potential clients to call you and ask for your service. Creative therapists overcome clients’ objections and doubts, leading them to schedule an appointment at the time of the call. Following up with your clients after their massage treatment will also keep your clients satisfied. Referrals usually follow.

Sometimes, you can attract clients during an emergency situation. Therapists who stand ready to supply massage during unexpected situations are apt to gain preference when these people decide to call for an appointment right then and there.

So know that before your clients call you to make an appointment, they have compared you to other massage therapists and made their purchasing decision. It is most important for therapists to know what their clients want and to guarantee results. If you cannot offer them a solution to their problem prior to the first initial contact, your potential clients will skip past you and find another practitioner. The massage therapist who offers them exactly what they want and need will win the client.

Part 5. Where
A large number of studies have come forward showing the diverse measure for deciding where to shop. Most research on the subject agrees that store location is a major consideration. Stores usually draw most of their patronage from their surrounding neighborhood.

Savvy store managers make a special effort to understand the shopping-related motivations and preferences of local residents. New managers of fast-food units, for example, canvass nearby dwellings and introduce themselves to households. Some supermarkets maintain consumer advisory boards to elicit suggestions and reactions. Other means of communication with customers include informal conversations at the store and suggestion boxes with interviews and awards.

Incidentally, complaints are an excellent guide for making store policies more amenable to customers. Personnel should be instructed to thank patrons for their comments. Prompt consideration, followed by a personal letter from the store manager, is highly desirable.

Location is extremely important to “captive” buyers. Exclusively franchised utilities, shops in isolated hotels and cafeterias or automatic vending machines in factories are examples. At the opposite extreme, shoppers escape spatial restrictions by buying from mail-order firms or telephone solicitors.

Other patronage influences vary. They depend on the type of product, type of store and the characteristics of the consumer. The offered assortments’ perceived quality, depth and breadth certainly are important, along with price. This does not imply that all goods have to be top quality or all prices low. Perceptions are decisive.

If quality seems high, some customers infer prices are too high regardless of the facts. The important point is to understand customers and to provide what causes them to buy. For example, assurance of repair service weighs heavily with the worrier type of customer. A convenience-minded buyer is concerned with parking space or delivery service.

Of course, shoppers must be told that wanted goods and services are available. Advertising helps disseminate this information, as does a store’s reputation for consistent policies of satisfying its customers.

Occasional promotions inject some excitement into the tedium of shopping. Some clients like to socialize, which can absorb much of an employee’s time and may even annoy other buyers. Nevertheless, personnel should be friendly and helpful. Also influential, for some customers, is the apparent socioeconomic level of other shoppers.

Personal affinity for other customers or for salespeople is a decisive factor in the success of party selling (for example, household goods) and in-home selling (cosmetics). The choice of where to buy items requiring major outlays (securities and insurance) often revolves around from whom to buy.

In selecting a retail store, many customers consider physical features. Layouts can invite or repel patronage. Motorists who are in a hurry, for instance, are apt to use a gas station at which business can be transacted quickly. Altogether, buyers perceive a mix of tangible and intangible factors that comprise a store’s atmosphere. Accordingly, they either do or don’t feel comfortable about shopping there.

To the casual observer, all supermarkets seem more or less alike, but store managers can regulate many of the aforementioned variables and, thereby, affect where shoppers buy. According to recent studies in several American cities, household buyers perceive supermarkets in their neighborhood as sufficiently different to determine their patronage preference. The four main types of supermarkets offer:

  • High quality at commensurate prices,
  • Lowest price level in the area, 
  • Swift completion, and 
  • Friendly atmosphere.

Each can profit by appealing to a different segment of buyers, which is the topic of the next section.

Part 6. Who
Identification of customers and prospects makes effective targeting possible. Small business owners pride themselves on knowing their customers personally. In the industrial field, understanding of each major customer and buying influence is essential. When dealing with a large number of customers, however, individual familiarity is not feasible; mass merchandisers and others in this situation group their customers, whose reactions to offerings are similar, into segments. They then design a separate appropriate marketing program for each segment.

Strategies vary. A small firm might prosper by concentrating its resources on one segment. Because customers are volatile, the specializing firm is vulnerable to sudden change in its target segment’s patronage; therefore, some companies address several segments simultaneously. Although expensive, a strategy of employing different tactics for different segments can be quite profitable.

One basis for segmentation is geographic. Retail customers are apt to live or work in the store’s vicinity. Industrial buyers tend to concentrate regionally, as do users of services. Intensive cultivation of local potential customers can be efficient and lucrative. Personal knowledge of local buyers and a shared community spirit help cement relations with these customers.

Segmentation is an art. Whatever the basis, each identified segment should have sufficient purchasing power to make a special effort commercially worthwhile. Accessibility is vital. How can the segment be reached? Are advertisements, telephone solicitations or personal visits efficient? How about trade shows or personal contacts? The ideal segment is stable in purchase needs and loyalty, helping you fend off competition.

Besides segmentation, understanding of customers also requires insight into their buying roles. The buyer for a one-person household or one-person business is the initiator of the order, the decider and the user. Even in this case, however, some outsiders are influential.

In larger households or businesses, these buying roles are usually played by separate individuals. It helps to know who activates (requisitions) purchases, who exerts influence, who decides what and where to buy, who uses the product and their purchasing criteria. You can then tailor and target your offerings to satisfy each major participant in the buying process.

As has been shown, understanding of customers enables a seller to increase sales. This same understanding can equally serve to reduce costs. Higher sales at lower costs inevitably boost profits.

A small firm that understands its customers can buy or produce exactly what they want—and nothing else. The firm’s sales effort is efficient because it builds on why its customers want to buy, not on why others buy or why the vendor wants to sell.

Merchandise can be ready when customers need it. Thus, a knowledgeable seller avoids unnecessary inventory costs or penalties for late delivery. Understanding how customers buy allows a seller to employ promotional media, appeals and timing for maximum effectiveness.

Transportation costs are lowered by shipping merchandise to where it is needed. Knowledge of who comprises suitable segments and the separate buying roles can reduce the waste of soliciting unqualified or uninterested people.

Part 7. Customers are dynamic
The best source for you to learn about customers is your personal interaction with them. At work, social and civic activities, as well as chance encounters, people talk and reveal their attitudes and motivation. Listen to your customers. You can also keep abreast of purchasing patterns by observing competitors’ practices and by asking sales personnel who is buying what and where.

Articles in business and trade newspapers and magazines give information on products, trends, marketing, finance and the economy. Trade directories, the Yellow Pages and brokers’ direct-mail lists identify who buyers are, and most industries have associations and specialized marketing research that provide insights for understanding customers.

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.