Massage & Bodywork

SEPTEMBER | OCTOBER 2020

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In 1909, Harry Gordon Selfridge, the owner and visionary behind Selfridge's department store in London, gave us the phrase, "The customer is always right." In truth, it's not clear whether it was Selfridge or one of his American department store counterparts, John Wanamaker or Marshall Field, but the specific attribution is not nearly as important as the marked shift this phrase represented in the ethos of the seller/customer relationship. Until this point, most such relationships were governed by the much more mercenary "caveat emptor" philosophy. The essence of this approach is simply that the buyer should beware. "You bought it. If it doesn't work, that's on you. Sucker." Selfridge and his contemporaries decided it was time for purveyors of goods and services to take responsibility not only for the quality of what they were selling, but for their own role in the relationship with the people who bought whatever they were selling. MTs ARE SALESPEOPLE TOO As massage therapists, our product may not be sofas or lamps or fancy lingerie, but we are selling a product. Every time a person comes into our clinic or practice or spa or gym, they are buying a product from us. Simply put, they are buying massage therapy. We'll talk later about the incredible rabbit hole of expectations and misunderstandings that inform client understanding of that product. But for now, let's stay here. If you're at all familiar with Massage Therapy as Health Care (Cal's column in Massage & Bodywork), or our other writings, it may seem odd to see us arguing that massage therapists are salespeople, but we are. We are selling a product, just like doctors and nurses and chiropractors and so many others who would likely not relish being referred to in this way. What we sell is not so tangible as a blender or a washing machine, but in order to deconstruct a key limitation in our profession, we have to own our salesperson-hood. It's also important to note that "the customer is always right" was not intended, even by Selfridge, to be interpreted literally. Humans did what we do. We took a nuanced and important concept and we simplified and bastardized it. Here we are today, teaching massage therapists that they have to "give the client what they want," but it's not that simple. The concept that these early-1900s retailers were embracing was one of dedication to helping their customers find the right product for them. This is different from giving them what they tell you they want. If we want to truly understand what a client wants, we have to talk with them. We have to see them and connect with what has actually brought them in. What is the problem? How do you want things to be different? And yes, what do you think will help? CLIENTS MAY BE RIGHT BUT FACTUALLY WRONG When we just do what clients tell us to do, we're not providing good care. We're providing a falsely kind service that is not at all connected to what's in the best interest of either person in the exchange. Before we get much deeper, let's remember that we don't actually want every single client. Some are simply not a good match. Also, some people move through the world feeling somehow gratified by a constant and very personal inability to be happy. There are clients who can't and don't want to be made happy. This isn't your fault. Don't spend your time and resources trying to "change" people or "prove" that you can make them happy. In the years since Selfridge's experiment of customer-centered service, developed countries all around the world have coined their own phrases to support their interpretation of "the customer is always right." The Italians and the Spaniards really nailed it. They both use a phrase that essentially translates to "the customer always has a reason." Beautiful! And so true. This allows for the reality that the customer is so often not right in empirical terms, and that their rightness is not actually important. Clients share factually wrong information with us, or they come with expectations that are formed by misinformation from their relatives or the internet, but that doesn't mean we discount their experience or their needs. They only know what they know or what they think they know. Isn't that true for everybody? LISTEN TO WHAT'S NOT BEING SAID So, if we agree that every client has a reason (and let's also agree that we care about that reason), we will need skills like C h e c k o u t A B M P P o c k e t P a t h o l o g y a t w w w. a b m p . c o m / a b m p - p o c k e t - p a t h o l o g y - a p p . 63

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