Keeping Massage Fresh for Longtime Clients

By Allissa Haines

For many massage businesses, a schedule full of regular clients is a goal. It’s rewarding to work with people who value massage as part of their regular physical and mental health care. And it’s fulfilling to see clients often as they move through various phases of life.

When I was a new therapist, my first pediatric client was a 9-year-old swimmer. I got a little choked up the first time she drove herself to her appointment, and now she comes for a massage whenever she’s visiting home from her job overseas. Along with the warm fuzziness, there can be a downside to a schedule full of clients we’ve known for years: We can get a little bored and stagnant with our massage work, and so can our clients.

As much as we want massage therapy to be a routine, we also want it to be an intentional choice every visit because of the client’s love of the service and our care to always meet the client’s (changing) needs.

Change Isn’t for Everyone

When I added a new move to my massage, it involved a significantly different draping technique—undraping a whole side of the body at once, from the shoulder to the toes. The first time I tried it, the client tensed up right away. I realized my mistake immediately. Now, I always ask if I can try a new move before the massage, demonstrating how I will fold the draping back, and clients love the move.

It was a reminder that some clients like the sameness and predictability of each massage session, so it helps to really know your audience. Clients with anxiety may not appreciate big changes in their typical session. Other clients may love to experience new techniques, but they need to be warned about the change.

Think Small at First

You don’t always have to add something new to freshen up your treatments. Sometimes you can feature a factor more heavily in your marketing and conversations with clients or draw attention to available customizations. Maybe you always have your table heat on low. Asking a client if they would like the table warmer at the beginning of a massage on a colder day helps the client notice it and adds to their experience.

There are so many automatic things we do. Sometimes just telling the client what we’re doing—such as “I’m only using this different lotion on your shoulder because it’s great for residual aches after this more specific work”—will change their perception of the massage experience, making it feel more customized and special.

Upgrade Your Intake

We can get complacent with regular clients. A common SOAP note I got when I worked at a small spa at the beginning of my career was, “Same as always, attention to low back.” But bodies change, and sometimes we fall into such a rut that we need to ask new and different questions to be sure we are fully serving a client. Following are some questions you might ask:

  • Do you have any new aches or pains?
  • Is there anything you are finding harder to do?
  • How has your mobility, daily-activity level changed since XYZ?

I’ve found these questions to be most helpful with maintenance clients who haven’t had major changes (i.e., surgeries) that would need new attention. Even changing the wording of your intake questions can draw out a more useful response. “How are you feeling?” will get a general answer, but “Are there any daily aches or pains bothering you?” can elicit a more specific response to guide your treatment. A changed intake can result in an improved massage treatment.

Try Seasonal Offerings

Seasonal additions to your service menu can bring back some not-so-regular clients to your table and encourage an upgrade with your regulars. Short-term upgrades can be fun and lucrative. It can be simple, like offering a new essential oil blend each season or changing from an oil to a lighter lotion when summer hits. A foot scrub followed by a cooling cream during the summer and a warm pillow under the neck during the winter are both big hits with the right clientele. Allergy season is a great time for lymphatic sinus work.

I don’t love doing detailed foot massage or hot stones. But during the winter in New England, my clients love a mini hot stone foot massage upgrade. I can charge an extra $15–20 for the session, bust out a few small stones and some peppermint foot cream, and clients love it. It’s only offered for one month, so I don’t get bored with it, and the extra income takes the edge off the related cleanup work.

Add a New Move

Regularly adding a new move to your massage session can keep things fresh and extra special for your clients. It’s not necessary to take a week off for a 40-hour education intensive. You can easily pick up new and useful massage techniques from the comfort of your computer screen. When I want to add a spark to my work, I think about the most recent common complaint. Then, I seek out a few related videos online and pick one move—just one—to add to each massage.

Invest in New Equipment

This doesn’t need to be a $3,000 upgrade to a hydraulic table with a knee lift. You can use a new face cradle that puts less pressure on the sinuses. Or, replace your squished, old bolster with a new, cozy, firm knee pillow. A flaxseed pillow is an affordable and easy upgrade. Warm it up and place it under the client’s neck or rest it on the low back.

Switch Up Your Music

There is no shortage of music out there for massage therapists. You can find plenty of sound bath tracks and other soothing tunes. You can also encourage clients to bring in their playlists. Coming up with your own patterns can be fun, too. On rainy days I play jazz, heavy on the Miles Davis. Sleepy winter Saturdays at the office are perfect for Mozart.

Check in about client preferences (new moms have told me that violins sound like babies crying), and choose something new for each client. Your own flow will change, and the massage will feel fresh for both you and your client.

Little Changes Can Benefit Everyone

These occasional adjustments and additions to your massage practice keep the work fresh for your clients, but they can also improve your experience of giving a massage. Everyone benefits when a practitioner feels excited and enthusiastic about their work and the client’s experience.

Allissa Haines is a columnist for Massage & Bodywork magazine. You can read her column, “Blueprint for Success,” in the digital edition at massageandbodyworkdigital.com.

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