Working the Kinks out of the Customer Experience Tune in to hear how Nola Bliss Massage Therapy owner Sara has scaled from her solo operation to over 20 massage therapists.
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Behind the Review host and Yelp's Small Business Expert, Emily Washcovick, shares a look at this week's episode of the podcast.
When you're in the business of relaxation, like Nola Bliss Massage in New Orleans, it's assumed the entire experience will be, well, relaxing. However, if your front end customer experience is lacking, your clients might walk away more stressed than when they started.
Sara Albee, owner of Nola Bliss Massage, has figured out how to make her clients relaxed from the moment they begin booking an appointment.
"The number one thing we do is provide great massages and great service. But then the second component is communicating with our clients and providing that great service in all of our communication. And we have found, especially just over time, more and more people want to book and communicate online," said Sara.
"They want an easy and quick experience. We love our online booking system. It is so easy to use, simple and fast. They can book at two in the morning in their pajamas, which actually a lot of people do. And it's also very simple—it is very user-friendly."
By using an intuitive booking engine, Sara has won a lot of her clients over before they've stepped in the door of her business. But that excellent customer service has to extend past the door, and for Sara, that means making more room in her therapists' schedules, which goes against the practices of most massage businesses.
"We really create an environment for the therapists to do their best work. We do full 60-, full 90-minute massages. They have 30-minute gaps between each client, which we have learned over time, really allows them the opportunity to connect with their clients. First of all, have the time with the client and feel empowered to really tailor that massage. And they really get to talk with the client and find out what's going on, where sometimes if you don't have the time, you just can't do that."
Yelp reviewer Swati S. noticed that attention to client needs immediately, from the moment she walked in the door and was reassured the business was practicing safe COVID protocols, something that was on her list of "must haves" when looking for a new massage therapist.
"During the pandemic, I really needed massages. I missed getting them. So I was trying to find some place that I felt was safe, following COVID precautions. And I wanted one in the city. I think I read it was a woman-owned place, and it was LGBQT friendly, and I'm all for supporting women-owned places. So I think just from looking on Yelp, I found it," Swati said.
Another non-negotiable business practice for Swati was clear diversity and inclusion. They may seem like the latest buzzwords in business practice, but they really mean something, and customers are paying attention.
"I'm a woman of color. My family is of Indian descent, and my parents immigrated here over 55 years ago," Swati said. "We need to support those smaller minority owned businesses, whether they're women or people of color or just minorities in some other way. And so a massage salon like this that really is woman owned, caters to minorities. I was like, you know what? They're thoughtful. They're conscientious. They're not just oblivious to the concerns of their other clients. So they will hopefully be respectful of me."
For Sara, running a business in New Orleans means her staff should be just as diverse and vibrant as the city in which they live.
"It's also important for us to have a team that reflects the city we live in, whether that is race, sexual orientation, or religion. We really create an environment that is inclusive to everybody, as far as clients as well, so they feel comfortable," Sara said.
"You know, we are in the south, and we do a lot of couples massages. So we still get questions sometimes from gay and lesbian couples to make sure that we're welcoming and to make sure that that's okay. And we really try to express that it is a welcoming and comfortable environment and we see people of all backgrounds, of all sexual orientations, genders."
She's clear though that in addition to hiring a diverse staff, she hires the very best in the business, and then supports them further with training and opportunities to learn.
That support extends to the reviews garnered by Nola Bliss. If a therapist is mentioned directly in a positive review, Sara uses that to honor and reward that employee for work well done.
"So one thing that we do is we acknowledge our therapists when they get a great review. We send them the review and just say, great job. But we also have a wall of fame up in our office that has some of the great reviews that different therapists have gotten. And we love to do that and just share the positive feedback that they get," said Sara.
In turn, Nola Bliss is rewarded with excellent therapists and great reviews from people like Swati.
"New Orleans is a town of small mom-and-pop businesses. We're not a heavy chain industry town, and I love living here. I want to see my community thrive. I believe in the power of community," said Swati. "And I also like to support women-owned businesses. If I can highlight that and give a shout out to someone trying to be brave and make a difference and do something good, then that makes me feel good. And if they survive, it's to my benefit because I want to keep going to that business."
And in the end, for Swati, it's about making sure she recognizes her favorite businesses.
"I think that business will speak for itself, but you've got to highlight the people who are hidden gems and give them all the love you can because everybody needs a helping hand somewhere. Or they don't need it, but they can benefit from it. And why can't I pay it forward?"
The lessons Sara has learned from building Nola Bliss—from a single therapist practice thirteen years ago to one with a team of 20 massage therapists doing 250 or more massages a week—can be applied to any small business:
- It's ok to go against the grain of your industry. If you're doing something really, really well, people will notice. Nola Bliss does massages only, no other spa treatments, and books services with longer breaks for her therapists.
- Use reviews to build employee morale by highlighting their mentions. Sara created a wall of honor to recognize excellent service by her team of massage therapists.
- Make it easy to use your business. Nola Bliss uses an easy, password-free online booking software which also includes great client communication tools.
- Diversity and inclusion matter. Your business and employees should be a real reflection of your city and your neighborhood.
Listen to the episode below to hear directly from Sara and Swati, and subscribe to Behind the Review for more from new business owners and reviewers every Thursday.