In private practice we wear all the hats. Not only are you the massage therapist but also the marketing executive, operations manager and custodial arts expert. It takes quite a bit of finesse to do all of these jobs well, especially if you don't have additional training or experience to inform your decisions. Keeping that in mind, one of the most frustrating and confounding situations you will face is clients asking for discounts and special treatment. What do you do?
First, let's think about it from the client perspective. Why do people ask for discounts?
1- It could be due to finances and budgeting. The cost of a massage treatment, while less expensive than any other healthcare appointment, is still a considerable amount of money. Your client may ask for a discount if they decide they cannot afford your service rate.
2- People in the free market are savvy. They know that often times asking means receiving. They expect that the squeaky wheel gets the grease. They may ask for a discount just to see if they can get one. Because why not?
3- Pressure from a client's partner may result in them trying to negotiate the rate. Perhaps spending $100 on massage is within their financial capability but their partner doesn't understand the necessity and thinks it's frivolous.
4- Clients who spend a lot of money, have been seeing you regularly for years or who have a dual client-friendship relationship with you may feel less shy asking for special treatment. You may have offered them discounts in the past, or extended promotional offers past the deadlines. Whatever the specific circumstances, the therapist-client relationship is the issue.
5- Clients might feel dissatisfied with some aspect of their service or experience while in your care. Hopefully they never have to ask because you'll know if something went wrong and offer the discount, but sometimes the client will be the one to bring it to your attention.
Now that you understand their point of view, what do you do when your client asks you for a discount?
The first thing is not to panic, act shocked/offended or automatically say yes or no. You're a professional business person and there is a professional business way to respond.
Here you go in 5 steps:
1- Find out why your client is asking for a discount with an open question:
"Why are you asking for a discount?"
2- Let your client know that you understand where they're coming from.
"I understand that money is tight right now."
"I hear what you're saying about your partner not understanding how important this is for you."
"It sounds like the noises of the office were really disruptive."
3- Decide if you are going to give them a discount or not. You see, sometimes it makes sense from a business perspective to give a client a discount. That's up to you. Keep in mind that doing it once might make it seem automatic the next time they ask. I suggest giving discounts at the client's request when they are unhappy with something related to the massage or experience in your facility. Otherwise, resist the people-pleasing temptation to reduce the value of your work.
4- Help your client understand your perspective. Share your side but not too much. You want them to know where you're coming from as a business person, but don't make it overly personal.
"As a therapist, I am honored that you want to work with me. I set my prices at this rate as part of my business budgeting. I charge all my clients the same rate so that it's fair for everyone, including me."
5- Help your client deal with their objection to your pricing and drop their request for a discount. Sometimes people get hung up on 10% or $20 here and there when in the bigger scheme of things those amounts are trivial. Help them see the value in the work that you provide.
"Since money is tight right now, instead of getting treatment once a month, we could set your appointments to every six weeks."
"Can you talk to your partner to help them understand how important this work is to you, and how you feel about your body and your life?"
"I offer prepaid package treatment plans that will help you save money over time. You can pay with credit card or use Paypal's six month interest free financing option."
"Even though my prices are higher than some other places, I have more experience with.... and offer...."
It's important to realize that not giving a requested discount may mean that the client takes a break from treatment or leaves you for a lower priced provider. Take a deep breath and realize that it's okay to let a client go. It's okay that they made a request and it's okay that you said no. What they decide to do as a result is their decision and has nothing to do with you and your value as a therapist or a human being. Even if it's a long time client. Even if it's a friend. It's okay.
Part of being a successful business person is staying focused on your goals. Balancing policies with customer service isn't easy. However, you can commit to your own success and maintain your boundaries around money. You'll see your massage practice does not depend on one or two clients but on the solid foundation of the business itself.