The Client Speaks

What ABMP's National Consumer Survey on Massage Therapy Means to You

By Les Sweeney and Kristin Coverly
[Business Side]

Les Sweeney: Well, Kristin, we have the results from our latest survey of US massage consumers—Harstad Strategic Research’s 2015 National Survey of Adults on Massage Therapy.

Kristin Coverly: I always look forward to these survey results, which probably makes me a geek, but I think we get a lot of really useful information about client behavior from them. So, let’s embrace our inner geeks! Les, what information stands out to you from this survey?

LS: Survey says! Sorry, I always loved Family Feud. My ninth-grade math teacher was on it once. He didn’t do very well.

Use and Openness to Massage Therapy
LS: Kristin, one of the fundamental pieces of the survey is what I call the “head count”: who got massage last year, who didn’t, and then how nonusers feel about massage. The usage rate stayed pretty consistent with prior years—15 percent of American adults received a massage in 2014, which is the same as two years ago. There’s a bit of a different cut at the usage question, however. When you look at the whole universe of respondents, here’s what we got (see the graphic at left). What jumps out at you, Kristin?

KC: Well, I think it would be really easy for therapists to be distracted and disappointed by that orange pie piece telling us that 42 percent of the people surveyed are not open to receiving massage. We could get caught up in thinking we need to spend our time and energy converting every single one of them to massage lovers. But I think it’s smarter to focus on the 58 percent who have had massage or are open to receiving massage—58 percent of the population leaves us a lot of potential clients to work with. Let’s spend our time and energy getting those people in our practice on a regular basis.

LS: I agree wholeheartedly. The quick reaction might be, “Wow, 42 percent of Americans aren’t interested in massage.” But as you illustrated, we can’t worry about people who don’t want to get massage. Therapists need to think about the 3 in 5 people who get a massage, have gotten a massage, or are willing to get a massage. That equates to around 147 million people. The harder part is picking those massage fans out in the crowd.

KC: Right, it would be so helpful if they had “I Heart Massage” stamped on their foreheads! But that’s why targeted marketing messages that educate potential clients on the benefits of your work are so successful at attracting the right clients to your practice. If you can let potential clients who are open to receiving massage know exactly how your work will benefit them—success!

LS: Rather than ask every person you encounter, “Do you like massage?” I think the smart step for therapists is to whittle down their audience by characteristics. In some cases, as we’ve discussed here previously, the logical way to do that is to identify behaviors or traits of your existing client base and focus on growing in those areas. But what’s heartening to me about this data, Kristin, is the big number—147 million potential clients.

KC: I’m curious about the “received a massage, but not in 2014” group. Why didn’t they come back? Here’s how they rated their satisfaction in different areas.
What jumps out at me is that I assumed clients would not return for another session because of the quality of the hands-on work or the professionalism of the therapist, but the satisfaction numbers didn’t start dropping until clients were asked about the physical benefits, health benefits, and value of their massage. It makes sense: if someone doesn’t understand the value of what they just paid for, they’re not going to be in a hurry to pay for it again, right? My guess is they just didn’t fully realize the physical benefits of the work. We, as therapists, need to communicate those benefits more clearly and not assume clients will recognize them on their own. We need to bring awareness to the physical changes that occurred during their session by asking about specific outcomes: Has your range of motion increased? Has your pain decreased? And so on. Giving clients specific information about what your work increased and decreased helps clients realize the value of the session beyond just that one wonderfully relaxing hour.

LS: Here’s a contrarian perspective, Kristin: maybe clients don’t care. Do we believe that teaching clients how their life is improved from a massage will result in more clients getting more frequent massage? Sometimes you don’t want to know if your Cabernet is oaky or about the tannin—sometimes you just want to enjoy a glass of wine. Some people want to know all about their wine, but others just want to have a drink.
You know how I snore when I’m on the massage table sometimes? There are times when I don’t care about the aftereffects; I am a massage client “in the moment”—I know you are an extremely professional, thoroughly knowledgeable therapist, but I just want to zone out! Is that so wrong?

KC: No, of course not. There’s incredible value to giving people the opportunity to zone out (and most of us take snoring as a compliment). But if clients aren’t coming back, we need to address those issues. And, because we’re working with people, everyone’s needs will be unique. That means you need to ask clients what they value and want, and then continue to remind them that what you’re giving them is what they value and want.
What about those people who do come back for massage? What did the survey tell us about the factors that influence how frequently they schedule?

Massage Frequency
LS: I think this question and its answers are really interesting. Here, the surveyors tried to determine what gets people to schedule massage and bodywork more frequently. Sometimes, on these types of questions, I can guess the answers; in this case, some of the answers were all over the place and changed based on which group it came from—those who received massage in 2014, those who had massage before (but not in 2014), and those who hadn’t received massage in the past but are open to the idea.
Here’s a number that might frighten some people: 63 percent of those who got massage in 2014 said they considered “better quality” as an extremely or very important factor in booking more frequently. So does that mean what we’re providing is not good enough?

KC: No, because 87 percent of that same survey group rated their overall satisfaction with their massage session as an 8, 9, or 10 out of 10, so they are happy with the massage they’re getting. That 63 percent result does remind us, though, that we should always be striving to improve the quality of our work with continuing education. What do you think?

LS: My guess is this—people like the massage they receive, but when asked, they’d like it to be even better. That doesn’t mean therapists are failing, but it could go back to your client education view. And I’ll contradict my earlier comment (although I do like to zone out)—the average client may not understand the true benefit of what he is receiving, or the potential benefit. And if that’s the case, that’s on us, not the client.

KC: Right. This is why the in-the-moment conversation about the benefits of the work they just received is so valuable. But, let’s not forget the importance of a follow-up check-in call/text/email a few days after their session to see how they’re feeling and remind them that the benefits of the work extend beyond the day of the session. Doing both can be a powerful communication double whammy to increase clients’ understanding of the value of your work.

LS: We also have a sentiment stating that lower-price massage would be an incentive. My feeling on this is, “Of course it would be!” Rather than running out and lowering prices, however, I think this comes right back to education again. We need to educate clients about the value and long-term benefits of their purchase.

KC: Absolutely! And I recognize that while therapists may agree it’s beneficial to communicate more openly with clients about the value of our work, actually feeling comfortable doing that can be challenging. It would be ideal if clients would just intuitively understand how the work benefits them, how long the benefits can last, and that they’re worth the price. Until that happens, though, this is one of those areas where we need to push through any nervousness about talking about our work, get brave, and practice our message a few times until it becomes easier. The good news is, the more often you have these conversations with clients, the easier they will become.

LS: I also found it interesting that more than 40 percent of people who either had massage prior to 2014, or were open to the idea, said more convenient appointment times would increase their frequency. How would you translate that into an action item for a therapist?

KC: As service-industry providers, we need to work when our clients are available to receive, but that doesn’t mean we’re always going to be available at each client’s ideal time. I’d do a quick survey of current clients, though, to see if they’re happy with the times I’m offering or if different days and times would be better. I’d also look at the new client groups I’m marketing to. If I really want to work with a group that can only receive on evenings or weekends, I need to be available on evenings and weekends. If I can only work during the day, I’d have to shift my marketing efforts to attract client groups that are available to receive at those times. The survey results are a great reminder that as the client makeup of our practice changes, we may need to adjust the way we run our practice.

LS: Kristin, I find these consumer surveys fascinating, and chock-full of good information we can share with readers. In the name of the late, great Richard Dawson, I hereby declare we save a few other survey morsels to share in a future column. Survey says?

KC: Number one answer!

Les Sweeney is ABMP’s president and resident blogger. Contact him at and read his blog on Kristin Coverly,, is the manager of professional development at ABMP and teaches workshops for therapists and instructors across the country. Both are massage therapists with business degrees who care about you and your practice. Want more? Check out their ABMP BizFit video tips on