We’ve knocked on the door and our new client is ready. Here we go! Since this is the first time we’ve worked together, we have no idea what their preferences are. The number one reason clients report being dissatisfied with a massage is that the therapist didn’t do what they asked for, so the objective is to demystify their desires and deliver. Say something like, “Since this is our first time working together, I have a few more questions for you.”
Ask if they’re comfortable because it’s going to be hard to relax if they’re not. Not everyone likes the face cradle at the same level, the table heated or a bolster. Unless they specifically request posterior neck work, adjust the face cradle to wherever they want it. Ask how the bolster (or pillow under their feet) feels. If it’s cold outside, it’s generally safe to have the table warmer on low so clients aren’t laying down on a cold surface, but ask how it feels and give them permission to request it be turned up or off.
Ask if they want aromatherapy, etc. because they may be sensitive to scents and get a headache from them. Although most clients like essential oils, they’re not for everyone (I’m actually not crazy about lavender, but offer it because so many people like it). Always ask before applying a topical analgesic to enhance deep work or minimize post-massage soreness since their appeal isn’t universal.
Ask about the music and volume. One of my clients hates
flute music and another dislikes ocean waves (yes, honestly). For some clients, getting lost in the music is an important part of their experience, so liking it and being able to hear it is essential.
Give them permission to ask for pressure changes, then check in a couple of minutes into the massage and whenever you feel resistance. If a client indicates that the work is uncomfortable, ask if the pressure feels appropriate. Often, mild discomfort during the session results in a reduction of tension and pain, but if they ask you to lighten up, do. As long as their request isn’t dangerous to them or us, we should be willing to slow down and work more deeply.
Give them permission to direct the work. Just because we know anatomy and common pain patterns doesn’t mean we know EXACTLY where a trouble spot is. Asking clients to tell us where to apply pressure makes our job easier and gives them better results. Even when we think their symptoms are coming from somewhere else, we should work where they feel it’s needed and explain why addressing other areas may be beneficial.
Ask if they want more time on an area before moving on. There’s no prescribed amount of time required for a muscle to release or sensitivity to decline, and leaving a massage wishing more time would have been spent on a problem area is disappointing. There are times when the session plan changes mid massage (more on that next time). Explaining that muscle health improves with regular massage helps clients understand why the initial plan may not address their priorities.
I don’t initiate small talk with questions about where they’re from, their family or their work, which keeps conversation to a minimum. Seemingly innocent inquiries can actually be hurtful, such as if they’ve lost a child or their job, as well as prevent them from relaxing. Of course we respond politely if they ask us those kinds of questions, but make a sincere effort to keep communication focused on the bodywork. Ideally, you’ll have many more sessions together to get to know each other on a more personal level.
The only way to learn how to meet someone’s needs is to ask. My next post will cover how to manage time, handle a session plan switch and conclude the massage. Letting clients control their treatment helps me create a practice that I love!
What questions do you ask new clients to provide the best experience possible? Please share them in the comments. Thank you!