Even for those people who were tracking the news, the effect the pandemic has had on every person’s personal and professional lives can be surprising. You can prepare for a crisis and still not be completely prepared for everything that changes, sometimes seemingly overnight. Doors to businesses closing, states issuing shelter-in-place orders and establishing guidelines for social distancing efforts—all of these things, and more, came swiftly as we started to better understand the risks associated with COVID-19 and what we must do to have a chance at controlling its spread.
For everyone, the fast-paced nature of the pandemic and the immedicacy of the responses were jarring. Small business owners, whose margins may already be thin, shuttered with little to no warning. Among those small businesses, however, some of the hardest hit were the professionals—like massage therapists—who perform hands-on work with clients.
What COVID-19 has taught us, and continues to teach us, is that honest and open communication is critical—for both you and your clients. As states reopen, and whether you’re seeing clients now, are preparing to see them soon or are waiting for some time in the future, you can stay meaningfully connected as you and your clients navigate this new business climate together.
When businesses are closed, it’s vital to establish communication channels to connect with clients.
Remember, your clients miss you as much as you miss them. During times of uncertainty, it’s natural to wonder how your clients are going to feel about returning to massage, if they’re going to return, as well as how you will keep yourself safe in a profession where your work is hands-on. According to a 2020 AMTA survey on massage therapy and COVID-19, 72 percent of respon-dents who had a massage within the previous 12 months have a high likelihood of going back to the same massage therapist they saw for their last massage. Massage therapy is needed and wanted by the clients you were working with prior to the pandemic, and they’ll need and want you if you’re back now, when you return and in the future.
Beef up your newsletter campaigns with massage benefits—and include links to gift cards. You might assume that people are not interested in more information, especially when their inboxes are likely fuller now than they were six months ago. The flip side of that caution, however, is that people are in a place where they’re sometimes more in-touch and craving information and connection in a different way, particularly if they’re still not seeing as many people face-to-face.
Now’s the time to continue to remind your clients of the benefits of massage, as well as introduce them to aspects of massage therapy they might not be familiar with. For example, you can share the client handouts from Massage Therapy Journal in which we highlight recent research about the benefits of massage. Or, share articles that outline the benefits of massage for specific conditions, like fibromyalgia, arthritis, shoulder pain, autoimmune disorders and workplace injuries, to name a few. When you send your newsletter, be sure you also include links for gift card purchases so clients can take advantage of recommitting to you and your practice when the benefits of massage therapy are fresh in their minds.
Host a night of virtual education or an “Ask Me Anything.” Think about all the questions you’ve been asked over your years in practice (or invite people to send you questions in advance) and do a brief web chat or video you can post where you answer the questions for your clients.
For example: What’s the difference between Swedish massage and deep tissue? What are some of the ways massage therapy can help with arthritis pain? You can also use this time to update your clients on any of the continuing education you might have taken advantage of recently. Did you learn a self-care technique that’s been particularly effective for maintaining your own health and well-being? Share that with your clients by picking out a few key nuggets of information that will resonate with them. These videos don’t need to be long and are a great opportunity for you to help your clients stay engaged with both you and your practice.
Continue your work together through virtual meetups or brief massage tutorials. No matter if your practice is still closed, or you work with clients who have mobility issues or who are immunocompromised and can’t schedule in-person massage sessions as often, knowing there are people who can benefit from massage but can’t see you now is difficult.
For these clients especially, staying in touch with them more regularly, and in a more tangible way, can be beneficial for you both. For example, if you have clients you see for pain due to arthritis, can you create self-care videos you share on your website or on your Facebook page showcasing some self-massage they might do to keep their pain in check? Or perhaps you want to do biweekly Facebook live or Zoom meetups where you can walk through some self-massage protocols together. (During the alternating weeks, share AMTA Tutorials that cover topics like massage and fibromyalgia, massage and medically fragile clients and self-care, or team up with another local health care provider and combine your content).
Don’t forget that you have clients who would probably be more than happy to support you with payment for this content, and there are platforms, like Patreon (patreon.com), where you can set up reason-ably priced levels of membership that allow you to offer video content about self-care, for example, or DIY massage protocols, partner massage, breathing exercises and relaxation techniques. For clients who regularly come to your practice and need more focused and detailed content, this is one way you can still provide them care and let them help you in meaningful ways.
Continually update your current communication efforts so clients know you’re engaged in your practice. When you’re closed—pandemic or no pandemic—all of the other vehicles you use to communicate with your clients become the face of your practice, so don’t forget to regularly update your Facebook page if you have one, as well as your website. Let clients and potential clients visiting your website or social media for the first time know that you’re still engaged with massage therapy.
For massage therapists in states that have allowed them to make the choice to reopen, helping clients understand both how you will address safety as well as any new expectations or requirements you have in place now that are new will be key to a smooth experience.
Communicate with clients before their appointments. Your clients are bound to have questions and want assurances that you have protocols in place and that you are meeting any new state requirements.
Start communicating with your clients before appointments to remind them of expectations and any new protocols. Revisit your client files and perhaps do some personal outreach to those you know will benefit from massage, like clients who come to you for help managing pain, and make sure they understand what’s changed and have time to prepare for their visit.
Share with clients what they can expect of you and what you expect of them. Clients are going to want to know how the pandemic has affected your practice. Share with them any changes to how you’ll conduct massage sessions in the near-term, as well as what you expect from them for your own safety. For example, how many clients will you be scheduling at one time? What will be the protocol between clients? Do you expect they’ll wash their hands prior to the massage session or use hand sanitizer? Should they come to appointments alone? Will you accept checks and cash, or will they need to pay electronically? Are you going to have specific COVID-19-related health questions clients should be prepared to answer before coming for a massage session? What is your policy on cancellations and rescheduling?
These are just some of the considerations you need to think through in addition to any requirements your state has specifically made, and your clients are going to want to understand you’ve been thoughtful in your approach and have both their safety and your own safety as a top priority.
Update current forms as needed and consider making them available electronically for clients to read and sign prior to an appointment. You’ll want to eliminate as much extra contact as you can and enforce social distancing, so you may want to think about updating your forms to make it easier for your clients to fill them out online prior to coming for their massage session. There’s also the question of if you want to require any additional health information that is currently on your intake forms or health forms that would help you better plan a massage session. This can be done before their appointment as part of a pre-visit workflow.
If electronic intake will be something new for your clients, however, they may need some time to get comfortable with the online environment, so preparing clients early will go a long way in cutting down frustration.
Consider any extra signage you may need to reinforce your commitment to safer practice. If you are in a state where your practice or spa environment is allowed to have more than one client visit at a time, you may need to develop signs that remind people in the waiting room to maintain proper social distance, along with moving chairs to the recommended distance apart.
Additionally, if you have multiple treatment rooms, consider creating signs to help clients navigate their way to where they are expected to be without accidentally opening treatment room doors that are in the process of being cleaned between clients.
Any signage that can help your clients easily navigate your practice while also reinforcing your commitment to safety should be considered.
Frequently remind clients of policies and updates to your practice guidelines. You are used to being in touch with your clients, but especially during the first weeks and months of reopening, you might need to reach out to clients more often to ensure they are aware of any changes both since they last visited and due to any state and/or federal guidelines that might change the way you practice.
Don’t assume your clients have the necessary knowledge or are staying up-to-date themselves. It’s true that you don’t want to overwhelm them, but consider setting automatic email or text reminders for upcoming appointments. Also, doing a daily or weekly update to your website that outlines new policies or changes to old policies is a good idea. These times are going to be challenging in their own way, and you want the experience to be smooth and comfortable for both yourself and your clients. One way to do that is to regularly communicate information across mulitple platforms.
The massage therapy profession—and most especially massage therapists—have seen their way through uncertain times before, and they’ll do it again this time with COVID-19. In today’s envi-ronment, massage therapy is well-known for some of its benefits and you have clients eagerly awaiting your doors to open once again. Maintaining open lines of communication with your clients and anticipating the questions they have will continue to be important now and in the future