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Working the Kinks Out of the Customer Experience

Episode 71

061622-podcast nola bliss

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Nola Bliss Massage Therapy starts making clients comfortable before they even walk in the door with its easy-to-use, online booking system. Once they’re inside, the client-forward service continues with truly personalized service for each guest, plus a staff that reflects the diverse New Orleans neighborhood. Tune in to hear what keeps reviewer Swati coming back and how owner Sara has scaled from her solo operation to over 20 massage therapists.

On the Yelp Blog: Read more about Sara’s three tips for putting comfort into the customer experience.

EMILY: I’m Emily Washcovick, Yelp’s Small Business Expert. Every episode I pick one review on Yelp and talk to the entrepreneur and the reviewer about the story and business lessons behind it.

SWATI: During the pandemic, I really needed massages. I missed getting them. So I was trying to find someplace that I felt was safe—following COVID precautions, was not crazy, and wasn’t telling me to go see a chiropractor or giving me other medical advice. 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.

EMILY: I think we can all agree with Swati S., an Elite Yelp reviewer in New Orleans—after the last few years, we could all use a good massage (or 10.) But Swati’s regular massage therapist had moved out of her neighborhood to one less convenient for her, which was no help to her tired and aching muscles.

Her Yelp search directed her to Nola Bliss Massage in the Central Business District, or CBD, just south of the famous French Quarter. Massages are very personal, and finding a therapist who understands you and your particular needs can be tricky.

Let’s listen to Swati’s review to see if Nola Bliss hit the mark for her.

SWATI: Super safe, especially to come here during COVID season. And it’s very discreet and private and my therapist was just awesome. I wish I knew all the words to describe it, but trust me, this is a unique find in the CBD of New Orleans or the warehouse district, wherever it’s on the border of all the above.

Parking is easy on the street. And my massage therapist was amazing. I’m blanking on her name right now, but when I remember I will edit this post. My therapist let me know that they have 10 people who work there and they do wear masks. And everybody’s meticulous about COVID prevention.

I also loved that I paid in the room with a portable credit card machine. Modern technology is awesome. The most important thing to know is that there’s no other massage place like this in  this neighborhood of New Orleans, and this is just a phenomenal place. After having had three massages this month, this was the third one and it was the best one.

Odessa is her name. And she is awesome. And the website is super easy to use to book your services. One of the better booking engines I have used as a customer.

That’s true. You can go online and it’s really easy to use their online engine to book. It’s actually even easier than writing a review, to be honest. It’s super easy.

EMILY: I love that she mentioned the booking engine used by Nola Bliss in her review. In this digital world, great service starts long before a customer walks in your door. Between review sites like Yelp and your online presence, it’s likely your customers have familiarized themselves with your business before choosing to shop. Using the latest technology ups the chances of taking someone from casually checking out your reviews to becoming a real customer. It shortens the time between “maybe” and “yes.”

Sara Albie, owner of Nola Bliss Massage, is in the business of making people feel better, and she understands it’s not just about the massage.

SARA: The number one thing we do is provide great massage 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.

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. There’s no login so that you don’t have to remember a password, which for me is also very helpful.

If I go and book something, I always try to rack my brain for that password for this different system. So it is very user-friendly, and we love it, and it’s very simplified. They can choose the therapist or male or female. They can look at the schedule, they can pop on there and at work and look at the schedule and see, ‘Oh this became available. Maybe I’ll want that one.’ Or they don’t find something. Then they can pop in an hour later. We really love our booking system and  it allows that fast and quick experience that clients really want.

EMILY: If you’re curious, Nola Bliss uses Mangomint salon and spa booking software. Using software to streamline your customer communication and booking is a fantastic way to engage potential customers and start their experience with your business on a good note—but it can’t end there. That great experience has to extend throughout the entire appointment, which in the case of Nola Bliss Massage, means taking more time between appointments. Some may see this as a missed opportunity for more revenue or clients in a day. But at Nola Bliss they know the breathing room between appointments helps deepen the relationship with clients so they feel taken care of and not rushed.

Sara: 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. In most places they do 50-minute hours and 80-minute hour and a half. And the therapist has 10 minutes to flip that client. That is basically time to get the table ready. Maybe they can run and use the bathroom.

Where we have found that those 30 minute gaps really allow the time to connect with the therapist. Customer service is really important as well and building that rapport between client and therapist—and especially over the past six years as we’ve grown, really learning what systems we have in place that allow the therapist to do the best work. 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.

EMILY: Unlike other massage or spa businesses, Sara has chosen to focus on one thing, and doing it well, which is also contrary to the massage industry norms. But it’s working for Nola Bliss.

SARA: We’re an independent massage studio where we focus on excellent massage therapy. We are not a salon, we’re not a big hotel spa. And we differ from chains and franchises where you get the standardized service. We customize all of the massages. We hire the best therapists and empower them to tailor each massage to the individual client.

We do offer the Ashiatsu bar therapy, where we have bars in the ceiling for balance and support. Ashiatsu is a deep tissue technique where the therapist uses their feet, but you use the bars overhead just for balance and support. It’s still a very specific massage, and they can massage the arms, the neck, the legs, the back. People that love deep tissue love it. And we are also a training center for Ashiatsu. So I am an Ashiatsu trainer. I train massage therapists from around the country, as well as the Nola Bliss therapists. People can choose that massage that’s our specialty or the traditional massage by hand, which we do a lot of.

We don’t have Swedish, deep tissue, sports massage, et cetera. We tailor each massage to the individual client to what they need, where they want to focus on how they like their pressure.

EMILY: Sara started Nola Bliss 13 years ago as her own massage therapy practice. It has since grown to a team of 20 massage therapists doing 250-300 massages per week. And in that growth period, something Sara has done is keep the ‘menu’ simple. Clients decide on the service based on time, and then the elevated customer service comes in when the therapist customizes the massage to the style and intensity of their client’s choosing.

While it’s normal for people to develop a favorite massage therapist and want to go back to them again and again, at Nola Bliss, many customers go with various therapists—even our reviewer Swati. The beauty of Nola Bliss’s online scheduling system is that you can drill down by a therapist you like or a day/time that’s best for you and secure what you need.

SARA: They can choose whatever therapist they want to choose. So if they know they want to see a specific therapist, then they can just click on their name and see their schedule really easily and book with them. Or same as if they want a female therapist or a male therapist.

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. 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, and genders. We have many clients in the LGBTQ community as well.

We also try to reflect that diversity. We hire very good therapists, offer training, and help them to grow into the therapist that they can be. So they’re all great, but there will probably be one that matches with different people or one that matches with each client.

But sometimes I think clients also appreciate—just like Swati seems like she appreciates that you can come and get a massage from any of the therapists, and it’s going to be a great service.

EMILY: I don’t think I can say that enough: Your small business and its employees should be a reflection of your city and your neighborhood. Customers like Swati are paying attention to how your business fosters an inclusive environment.

SWATI: I’m a woman of color. My family is of Indian descent and my parents immigrated here over 55 years ago. We need to support those smaller, minority-owned businesses, whether they’re women or people of color, or just minorities in some other way.

I may not be politically correct to say this, but the big white man can not win every time. And that’s all I have to say on that. I am here and I’m here to stay, and you will be reckoned with. And that’s how I looked at those big box chains. 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.’

EMILY: So many customers are searching and spending with intent today, looking to spend their money to prop up businesses run by people they want to support.


EMILY: Communication, which is so key to successful business models, is a two-way street, and when your customer is talking, you as a business owner need to listen.

SARA: So people want to communicate online, so we have a lot of different ways people can message us: Yelp messaging, through our website they can message an email, or they can call. And we’re very responsive.  People want that responsiveness, or even if they don’t expect it, they really appreciate it. That helps us create that rapport with them from the very beginning

EMILY: And likewise for our consumers out there, whether it’s with a massage therapist or a server, you have to advocate for yourself to some extent to get the service you want.

Swati didn’t hit on Nola Bliss right away. She went through a bigger search and ended up disappointed with a therapist who just didn’t listen.

SWATI: It recommended three spas. And one, I was already familiar with the one who moved to the French Quarter, exclusively. Another one I tried, I didn’t really want to go back. And that was on the basis of friends recommendations. And then the truth came out that the one person they really liked at that spa wasn’t there anymore.

And I got someone else. When I told her, please don’t go digging deep. You know, it’s been so long since I’ve had a massage. My muscles are in knots. She promptly went and dug deep and I was like… (sound effect here.)

I love Nola Bliss because A, they made you come in, wash your hands, are very meticulous about sanitizing. I didn’t even pick my therapist, but now I’ve discovered two—that our wonderful Odessa was the first one, and I believe the second one is Jen. I should look it up. I can’t remember from the top of my head, but they’re all wonderful. Jen is leaving and she told me some other names.

After I found them, you should know that they sell holiday packages. And if you buy this package between Thanksgiving and Christmas, approximately it is like so much money saved. So I bought a package of 10 or 12, I forget, 90-minute massages. And they were 20% off and I could prepay my tip. So I prepaid 25% and now I just have to walk in and show up.

I’ve used five of them already. I think it’s 10. And I have five left. That was the most incredible deal. Obviously you could buy three months increments or six months increments, depending on what you’re able to afford, because it is a one-time charge on your card. But between Thanksgiving, Christmas, I could swing that large chunk of change. So I was very pleased.

EMILY: Running promotions like those holiday packages can be a really cool way for businesses to generate revenue and create or deepen relationships with their regular customers.

SARA: We really want to encourage people to get regular massage and make regular massage part of their self care. And so once a year, we have this big package sale, and it allows people to come throughout the year, and our locals and regulars love it. We love to provide that incentive to encourage people to make massage a part of their life, whether that’s on a weekly or a monthly basis. We know the benefits of that, and people need encouragement.

EMILY: Promotions also provide businesses an opportunity for their regular customers to engage in more word-of-mouth marketing—in this case by gifting those massage packages to friends and family, who could in turn share their positive experiences about Nola Bliss online.

SARA: Reviews are very important to our business. We are an independent, small business, so we don’t have as much advertising as a franchise or a chain. And we don’t have the automatic business of a hotel spa.

So our online reputation and our actual word-of-mouth reputation is very important and it is how we get most of our clients. We look at reviews a lot. We also take feedback and use that to make changes if we need to make changes, et cetera. But that feedback is an important loop system especially for independent businesses that may not have that stream coming from everyone knowing their name because they’re a franchise or being a big hotel spa where they have sort of natural clients just from the hotel itself.

EMILY: Reviews are definitely impactful for businesses, especially those that can’t spend a ton of money on advertising. And reviewers like Swati love to support and share their favorite local spots.

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 consider it my home. I’ve been here 27 years and I’ve seen amazing restaurants and businesses come and go. I want to see my community thrive. I believe in the power of community.

And I also like to support women-owned businesses. I want to support things that are not just commercial chains, because sometimes you don’t get that individual experience and that’s what sets apart any business. And 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.

I don’t think I write as many reviews as I check in on Yelp and I definitely put in a lot more photos. I hesitate to write a review unless I feel really strongly one way or the other. I almost never like to do a review on just a one-time visit or a one meal visit or one event visit. I really like to have multiple visits and I can honestly say, like Nola Bliss, I think I wrote my review after the first visit, but I’ve now been like five more times.

EMILY: When your business is just opening, earning reviews can be tough. As a massage therapist on her own, there were only so many clients Sara could handle, which meant less opportunity for reviews.

SARA: When I was a sole practitioner, getting those first 20 reviews took me years, and it was very hard or just took me a long time.

And now we have a 5-star rating. I think it’s over 220 reviews on Yelp and then other sites as well. 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.

EMILY: Swati reviews for the same reason: She wants to make sure recognition goes to those who deserve it, and what better way than by writing a Yelp review?

SWATI: I mean, I want to be positive. I don’t want to be negative if I don’t have to. I think that business will speak for itself, but you have 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?

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