At some point in their career, massage therapists will encounter a client who is unimpressed with the overall client experience. This displeasure could be with the actual session or a situation that took place outside of the treatment room. Understand how to handle a bad customer experience.

Massage therapists rely heavily on word-of-mouth marketing.

Positive and negative reviews can significantly influence the decision of a prospective new client.

With the potential for a negative experience to gain viral attention, one bad review can have damaging affects on a small or growing business. Because of this, it is imperative to establish a system to recover from poor service.

At some point in their career, massage therapists will encounter a client who is unimpressed with the overall client experience.

This displeasure could be with the actual session or a situation that took place outside of the treatment room. Regardless of where or how the breakdown in service occurred, the responsibility to make things right falls on everyone.

Recognizing a Bad Customer Experience

Ideally, signs of a poor experience will be noticeable before the client exits the building. When clients are unhappy with their service, they rarely speak up. Be aware of non-verbal cues.

The client’s demeanor after a session may be significantly different from when they first arrived. A client that seems bubbly and overly excited upon arrival may be less than eager to speak or may force a smile just to be polite during check out.

This is a sign that a client may not have enjoyed their session.

A client may appear irritable and annoyed with the front of house, but visibly relax and engage with the service provider. This is a sign that a client may have had a poor experience outside of the treatment room.

It is important to pay attention to these nonverbal signs a client might display.

If the client appears unhappy, keep in mind that your own nonverbal cues are being interpreted as well.

The possibility of being misinterpreted as being rude, uninterested or disingenuous is higher when the situation is emotionally charged. The wrong interpretation can have negative consequences as well.

How To Address A Bad Customer Experience

If a client is visibly unhappy, initiate a dialogue. Begin by asking the client if they enjoyed their service.

Many times the client will respond with, “fine,” “OK,” or a less-than-enthused “It was good.” Responses like these are an indication to probe further.

Remember, word-of-mouth and positive reviews strongly influence purchasing decisions. Not many people are excited to try a place described as “OK.”

Next, ask the client what could be done better.

By specifically asking for an example does two things. It identifies the main source of the client’s issue and the client feels like they are heard.

Give the client permission to speak freely about what they didn’t like. This is not the time to become defensive or prove them wrong. Take time to listen intently. Chances are their complaint has merit.

Many clients who are wiling to discuss their poor experience are also willing to provide suggestions for improvement. Specifically ask how the problem can be resolved.

Clients come from all walks of life. They provide new and creative ways to improve upon service.

That client could be an expert in customer relations or a training specialist with an abundance of knowledge that could prove useful. Take those recommendations to seriously.

If the issue cannot be resolved immediately, offer to follow-up and follow through. Following up with a disgruntled client shows their business is valued and appreciated. It also increases the chances that they will return for another chance to make things right.

Gain Trust Through Transparency and Honesty

Making mistakes is human. The goal may be to have a business that runs smoothly and without error, but as long as there is a human element, no business will be perfect.

When things go wrong and service suffers, the first place to look is a breakdown in systems. The reality is poor service is just as likely to happen simply due to having a bad day. A service provider may have rolled out of bed too late. A client may have been mistakenly double-booked.

Sometimes a gentle reminder that the service being provided is delivered by human hands is all that’s needed.

This is easy to forget when everything leading up to the hands on service is void of visible human contact.

Although the client books an appointment online, someone had to input the service menu and create the description. While appointment reminders are sent automatically, a person still needed to type and schedule them.

Sometimes all it takes to make things right is to admit the mistake was due to human error or a differing preference.

There are times poor experiences are due to lack of communication.

For example, the client could be upset that a session didn’t begin on time and they were cut short. The client may not have arrived until the start of the appointment time. A client who does not receive frequent massage may not have known to arrive 10-15 minutes early.

Upon review, it is discovered that the client was never made aware that they should arrive early. The best way to recover would be to apologize, validate their complaint and accept the blame.

It is the responsibility of the business to communicate this to all clients. Assuming clients should just know is unreasonable and unrealistic.

If the client is unhappy with the skill level or technique of the service they received, offer a referral to a different provider who may be a better fit or invite them back for another session. (And note that massage therapists  should possess a liability insurance policy that covers many modalities and protects them in case of client accident or injury.)

Referring a client to a different practitioner appears trustworthy and admits the limitations of the skills or techniques.

Inviting them back for a second chance is risky, but could be rewarding for both parties if a simple misunderstanding during intake was the underlying problem.

The key is to be honest in the recommendation.

Service recovery should not be a tool that is only deployed to limit negative public scrutiny or backlash. By taking a proactive approach to diffuse and resolve a problem, both the client and the business benefit.

About the Author

Kamillya Hunter owns Spa Analytics, a business that offers strategic consulting to the massage and spa industry nationwide. She wrote “Is Your Appointment Book Emptier Than You Want It To Be? Retain Clients by Understanding Their 3-Step Journey” for the April 2018 print issue of MASSAGE Magazine.

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