As massage therapists, we work on a tight schedule. When clients are late, that schedule can get thrown off, which can lead to running behind and making other clients wait. This causes undo stress for us and inconvenience for those whose appointments are later in the day. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Once upon a time, a coworker and I were waiting for two clients who were enjoying a spa day together. They were in the locker room getting their robes on and were taking forever. Starting late meant we’d have to shorten their services in order to stay on schedule. When my coworker went to the locker room and called their names, they got upset. Obviously, they didn’t want to be rushed but my guess is they didn’t want shorter services either. Their reaction inspired a completely different approach to such situations.
I realized that although letting them know time was getting short was in their best interest, that’s not how they perceived it. They were there to relax and hang out together, and nudging them along didn’t meet that expectation. They saw it as rude and interfering with their experience. From then on, I stopped worrying about getting started on time because what really matters is finishing on time so the next client isn’t affected. It was their time and money, and if they wanted to spend it in the locker room chatting or using their phones, so be it.
Every situation is unique, but I’ve devised some general protocols to prevent late clients in the first place in addition to dealing with them that don’t send me into a frenzy once they leave or sacrifice the experience of clients after them.
- Having a link to the Google map to my office in both confirmation and reminder emails prevents new clients from being late on their first visit. Ideally, they click on the link in the confirmation email to familiarize themselves with my location soon after booking, and again when they get the reminder the day before their appointment to determine how long it will take them to get there so they can plan accordingly.
- I have an incredibly short intake form that takes less than three minutes for most clients to complete, even if they have a lot of medical history. The last thing anyone wants to contend with if they’re running late to their first appointment is lengthy paperwork once they get there. I’ve had other health care providers email intake documents to me ahead of time or seen a link to them on their website. That’s all good when clients are compliant but creates an avoidable problem if they aren’t.
- I book clients thirty minutes apart to build in a little lag time. No matter how punctual someone may be overall, sometimes the unexpected happens. A traffic jam or untimely important call isn’t their fault, so they shouldn’t be penalized for it. They may also have questions or scheduling they want to do before they leave that I want to allow plenty of time for. Since I don’t have a receptionist, these tasks are my responsibility and they take time.
- New client appointments almost always go over because it usually takes a few extra minutes to get to know each other and for them to feel comfortable with me. If I have time available after their appointment, I ask if we can end at the time that would give them a full service. By doing this, I’m respecting their time and mine while giving them all the time they’re paying for. If that isn’t an option, getting clear on their priorities ensures they’ll be satisfied with their massage even if it runs a bit short their first visit.
No matter what measures are in place, some clients are consistently late. As frustrating as this can be, it comes with the territory. Rather than making suggestions to help them be more prompt, I’ve found it’s best to train them once they get there. That way, they get more time on the massage table without interfering with the rest of my schedule.
A typical scenario for my repeat offenders goes something like this:
Me: “No worries. I’m glad you’re here! Why don’t you get comfortable on the table and we can decide what we’re doing today while I apply the oil.”
This minimizes any conversation that will shorten their service even more. It doesn’t make them feel bad and sends a message that I’m committed to giving them as much remaining time as possible so we can get more done. Soon enough, they come in, apologize and head straight for the treatment room.
But what about those clients who are not only late but want to chat first? I do my best to keep the conversation focused on our objectives and keep my answers brief should they ask how I’m doing. Inevitably, these are the people who want a full body massage, which makes our job all the more challenging.
- Having a loose routine to follow for each area of the body lets me select those that will take more time to meet the client’s needs while spending less time on those that just need to be touched in order to feel complete.
- Using slow, deliberate strokes makes the massage feel longer. If I get caught up in an area of concern, I ask if they want to spend more time there or if they want to move on. Letting them call the shots lets me off the hook.
- If an area is taking longer than will allow for a full body massage, I ask if there are places that can be addressed briefly or skipped in order to accomplish extended time there. Most clients understand this and are willing to compromise if they need something problematic worked out. It’s also an opportunity to lengthen the session thirty minutes for an additional fee if we both have the time.
Doing what we can to give clients everything they are paying for is important for growing a practice. I know there is a movement within the industry to charge for results rather than time, much like the way medical appointments are structured. As enlightened as this sounds, there are so many individual variables that I can’t guarantee results. I can guarantee clients will get my highest intentions for as much time as they give me in the practice that I love.
How do you navigate late clients? If you don’t see a comment box below, please click the Leave a comment link to share. Thank you!