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Ep 314 - Lessons Learned: Communication and Customer Service

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In this episode of The ABMP Podcast, Kristin shares some of the lessons she has learned as a massage therapist, while Darren shares what he’s learned as a client, why communication plays a major role in the client/therapist relationship, and how customer service weaves its way into every aspect of a session.

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Author Bio


Darren Buford is senior director of communications and editor-in-chief for ABMP. He is editor of Massage & Bodywork magazine and has worked for ABMP for 22 years, and been involved in journalism at the association, trade, and consumer levels for 24 years. He has served as board member and president of the Western Publishing Association, as well as board member for Association Media & Publishing. Contact him at

Kristin Coverly, LMT is a massage therapist, educator, and the director of professional education at ABMP. She loves creating continuing education courses, events, and resources to support massage therapists and bodyworkers as they enhance their lives and practices. Contact her at







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Full Transcript

0:00:00.2 Kristin Coverly: Thanks to the support of generous sponsors and all the folks who paid it forward, Healwell, is excited to announce its offering its online symposium within reach, the quest for information and research for 50% off. That's $160 for two incredible days of education and engagement that will transform the way you relate to not only research but all information, join us February 25th and 26th for this highly interactive virtual symposium, Learn more at Are you ready to thrive in 2023? Join the free five-day thrive challenge so you could achieve what you're aiming for this year, the biggest road blocks holding many therapists back right now are consistent client numbers, time balance, and knowing exactly what to do next when the world still feels a little crazy in this free challenge, you'll discover the solutions and get a head start to thrive in your best year yet, go to to join now. 


0:01:23.3 Darren Buford: I'm Darren Buford. 


0:01:24.7 KC: And I'm Kristin Coverly. 


0:01:25.5 DB: And welcome to the ABMP podcast, a podcast where we speak with the massage and bodywork profession. Hello, Kristin. How are you today?  


0:01:32.2 KC: Darren? I'm great, how are you?  


0:01:34.2 DB: I'm doing very well. Kristin, you and I receive a lot of body work and you give a lot of body work, so what better topic than today's what I've learned being a client and... 


0:01:47.5 KC: What I've learned from clients... 


0:01:49.5 DB: The purpose of today's podcast is to let our listeners know the things from each of our perspectives of giving and receiving body work that might help our listeners, I.e., body workers improve their practices and connect better with clients. Kristin. Why don't you go first?  


0:02:05.3 KC: Okay, I'm excited to talk about this, and I wanna preface everything I'm gonna say today by saying it was really hard to choose only three lessons that I've learned from clients because let's be honest, practitioners, we learn so many valuable and really beautiful lessons from clients every day, and so I have been in practice for 22 years. Many of my clients, I started working with my first year or two into practice, so we have had a therapeutic relationship for almost 20 years together and that is really special, and you can't help but learn lessons constantly from those type of relationships. So I had to set some criteria, we all know I'm gonna really organize this much more than probably needed... 


0:02:48.8 DB: Yes. Yes you are. 


0:02:50.0 KC: Yes, I am, but so I had to give some criteria for how am I gonna choose only three lessons that I've learned from my incredible clients, so I decided that I'm going to choose things that happen throughout my practice that I still think about to this day, important and that were also lessons that not only impacted the way that I work with clients and run my practice, but also really had an impact on my life as well, so... Boiled them down to three. My first one, I'm gonna call kindness gone wrong. This happened my first year of practice, and came into massage therapy so excited to work with clients and help them and be kind and generous, and so I had a client, I did not have another client scheduled after. We were in this session, they had multiple areas that they wanted addressed, and I was really getting involved in those areas, and plus trying to do a full body session, and as we all know as practitioners, it's hard to do a full body session with multiple areas of focus in a 60-minute session, so I thought to myself as I was working on the body and time was ticking by, I'm like, wow, I don't have a client scheduled after. I have this time available, I am just going to give extra time during this session and isn't that beautiful? And isn't that kind? And don't, I feel great about that. 


0:04:17.0 KC: And let me tell you, Darren, let me tell you, listeners that kindness and great warm-fuzzy feeling lasted until I came back into the room after I had left and my client had got ready, I came back in and I saw the stress and panic on their face because I didn't have a client scheduled after them, but they certainly had something else scheduled after the appointment. 


0:04:36.3 DB: Oh, no. [laughter] 


0:04:38.4 KC: Yes. Oh, no. And now my going over 10 minutes had put them in a tight spot to get to their next thing, and so that was a huge, very impactful. Very important lesson in communication, right? So communicate over-communicate, communicate again, that was what I took away from that session like, yes, come from all the kindness, come from a place of giving, but you can't just do that unilaterally, you can't make these decisions, you are in a relationship to people, so communicate, say "Hey, I've got extra time. Could you go extra 10 minutes," something like that. And then, of course, there's a whole another lesson about giving extra time when they only book a 60-minute session, that's another lesson for another day, maybe another pod. But yeah, so that was really impactful because again, you're doing everything, you're coming from the best place, and then all that hard felt goodness was immediately switched into stress and panic, and so you know great lesson to learn, just be sure everyone's on the same page, talk about everything and of course, that goes for all aspects of the session, your session plan, what you're gonna work on, where you're gonna focus, so it was just a great reminder in communication... 


0:05:49.9 KC: Capital C. Communication, so curious, Darren as a client, has anything like that ever happened to you. Has a practitioner gone long and that's impacted you or anything like that?  


0:06:01.9 DB: That's a really interesting question, I don't know. I guess since I'm a really tie pay person. 




0:06:10.1 DB: I'm probably built in that extra time... How about this? I've definitely had the reverse shortened sessions. 


0:06:19.6 KC: Oh no. 


0:06:20.0 DB: Yeah. Where I was like, Wow, I thought it was 60 minutes. And it wasn't. Yeah, yeah. 


0:06:28.3 KC: Did you say something? Or how did you handle that?  


0:06:30.3 DB: I didn't, I didn't go back, which is a theme that probably I can speak to as a client, you know?  


0:06:37.7 KC: Mm-hmm. 


0:06:38.6 DB: There's a lot of things you know, you have that kind of chance to connect and if something goes wrong, there's a good chance... There's a power differential there, and you know, I've given you my service, and I feel like if it's not exceeded that there's a really good chance that I might not come back, you might get one more chance, but I'm gonna feel super uncomfortable telling you that to be honest. 


0:06:57.7 KC: Yeah. Yeah. 


0:07:00.0 DB: I mean, how often has this happened in our regular lives, in multiple businesses and anything we do. 


0:07:04.8 KC: Absolutely. Oh, that's so hard. And we all know that the very first thing the client does after you leave the room is look at the clock, I mean, it's just instinct as a human being. 


0:07:13.2 DB: A hundred percent. Yep. 


0:07:15.1 KC: You can't help it. You just can't help yourself. Oh, I'm sorry to hear that. Yeah, so my lesson of communication would really have helped that practitioner as well, but it also goes into all aspects of life in every relationship, the importance of communicating, the importance of not assuming the importance of checking in with the other person to see what's best for both of you. 


0:07:35.9 DB: Kristin, did you say communicate?  


0:07:38.4 KC: You know, I did. I did say communicate. 


0:07:38.9 DB: 'Cause that's my number one thing. 




0:07:41.9 DB: You know what? Actually you mentioned that I really like that you brought this up about somebody going over, but not telling me, because what did happen about two weeks ago is the practitioner warned me that they were running late, now immediately I had a like "Man come on you should be better. Come on, come on. What's going on. You should be on time." But it was... I don't know what was going on in that person's life. I did know that they had a client that had run over late, I know that it affected the client after me because this person's practitioner had multiple clients lined up in a row, but I appreciated that communication. That was a big deal, and you know what? It didn't happen the next time. So I just chalked it up to like, circumstances, something happened. I don't know what it is, it's fine as 15 minutes late, but you're right, I definitely opened my phone and I was like, oh, she wasn't kidding, this is 15 minutes over... Okay, alright. 


0:08:29.3 KC: Yeah. Yeah. 


0:08:30.9 DB: So the thing I've learned from being a client is that I really love great communication from a massage therapist, and I mean from the second I walk in the door of your practice to the second I leave, I need the warm welcome, I need the really thorough intake, I need instruction. 


0:08:49.7 DB: I need you to tell me every single time to dress to my level of comfort. Never forget that. That's really, really key. I need to know that you're interested and curious because of the intake about what injuries I've had or what medications I'm taking, it's elevating the level that you're taking this seriously, that I'm taking this seriously, that there may be a contra-indication there that I'm not aware of. I want you to tell me what to expect from the massage today that I've chosen. I want you to confirm the style I've chosen. Ask me if it's the first time I've had massage or that type of massage. If not, explain what to expect. Compare it to something I've had, those are such valuable things, it helps me relax going into it, make sure you ask me if I've got any questions. That's really important. Good communication is not communicating during the Relaxation massage, you can check in lightly, super appreciate that on the flip side, good communication and massage for something like pain resolution. Talk a lot. Explain to me what's happening, explain to me exactly the body part, the muscle that you're working on and why that's important, especially if it's not connected to the area of pain, that could be a gap of knowledge lack, I may not know why you're doing that. 


0:10:08.5 DB: Allow me room to correct myself as the massage is going on. "Oh, I forgot to tell you about that elbow... Oh no, that, I'm pretty sure that toe's broken." Oh my God, I've had that for so long. I'm not gonna remember that probably until you get to that area. Right. Good communication is about checking in about the music, the temperature, the blankets, it's just confirming... It's my session, good communications about trying something new, but asking me beforehand, I very much might appreciate your curiosity to try something new during the session, allow room for me to change something too... Ooh that hurts? Oh, deeper work, please. Cold room, music bad, scent bad. Noo. [laughter] 


0:10:51.3 KC: Caveman and client now. 


0:10:54.1 DB: Caveman. That's right, and remember, I already mentioned it earlier, I understand that if I have chosen to remove all of my clothing, that's scary, it's a power differential. I know that you're the practitioner and you do this all the time, so you'd probably don't even think about it, you might even become complacent about it, we don't do this every day, and it's not normal in any other practice or profession, so we understand what's going on but it's just a good reminder to allow that comfort level, and finally, one more thing I want to say, You know what, call me or text me a couple of days after. 


0:11:31.9 DB: I don't want really want. Me... This is me, maybe somebody else, I don't really want the survey, I don't want the online email survey, the four or five stars, I'm like, "Well, I'm not gonna do that." Somebody else might do it because they like the anonymity of it, I actually don't mind if you're... Right. "Hey, how was it?" "And that was really great." Because it just reminded me of all the greatness that you just did during the session. 


0:11:51.9 KC: Let's take a short break to hear a word from our sponsors, Anatomy Trains is excited to invite you to our latest in-person fascial dissection workshop. April 10th through 14th, 2023 in Boulder, Colorado. Join Anatomy Trains, author Tom Myers and master dissector Todd Garcia. On this voyage of discovery, visit for more information. Are you a massage therapist who loves to problem-solve? Do you see clients with challenging musculoskeletal issues, if so, then studying precision neuromuscular therapy will help to sharpen your decision-making skills and achieve better client outcomes. Our emphasis is on the problem-solving process rather than the teaching of a singular technique or approach, led by founder, Douglas Nelson H. PNMT instructor is a busy clinician with decades of practical experience, visit to explore our offerings of live seminars, online courses, or the video resource library, the PNMT portal. That's 


0:13:09.9 KC: Let's get back to our conversation. 


0:13:12.1 DB: Kristin what... For this pods purposes. Tell me what you've learned from clients, number two. 


0:13:17.8 KC: Number two. I'm calling the knee ton ton ton. So everybody this happened about 10 years into my practice. I was at a rare time when I was actually accepting new clients, majority of the time I practice is full, and so I'm not... And so I was at a space now. I had a little extra time, one of my long-term clients had a friend who had just moved into town, and she was excited to refer her friend to me, so I was excited to work with her and so very great. First beginning to the session I did, having learned my communicate lesson year one, I did a lot of really what I thought was great communicating about what she was looking for, I asked questions like, what are some of the things you've loved about sessions you've received in the past that you'd like me to do, you know in our session, what are the things that you would rather me not do, I really thought I had a great plan going in and a really comprehensive idea of what she was looking for, I was excited to give that to her and have it be a great session. 


0:14:15.5 KC: So we did this session, I thought it was great. [laughter] I felt great about it. Come back into the room afterwards, and I said, Oh, how was that for you? I asked her for feedback? And she was kind of dismissive and said, "Well, I like a lot more work around the knee, I don't think this is gonna work." 


0:14:34.7 DB: Oh my God. [laughter] 


0:14:35.9 KC: And I was literally shocked because I thought I had asked all my questions about what are your favorite areas? Where do you want me to spend extra time? What are we... And for her, she likes a lot of work around the tissue around the knee, I did my regular "amount of work" on the soft tissue around the knee that I would do in a typical session, but that's just what she looks for and I didn't meet her expectation, and if you know anything about me, and listeners, I'm guessing this is for you as well, not meeting a client's expectation is devastating. That was very hard for me. I thought back and over analyzed as I will do frequently, exactly what I had asked her before our conversation, and you know what? After a lot of self-analysis, I came to the place where, as we all know, the hard lesson... 


0:15:28.8 KC: You can't be everything to everyone all the time. It's tough for us because we are not only a business, we are a passion, we care about what we do, we want to give everyone exactly what they're looking for, but the reality is we're not... We're customer service-based business, and we're not going to be what everybody wants all the time, so that was a great lesson for me over time to unpack, that not only impacted my practice, you're not gonna be able to give everyone what they want all the time, it just is what it is. It's not personal, and if we echo back to Don Miguel Ruiz's, Four Agreements, one of those four agreements is don't take anything personally, which is a great lesson for life as well, so not only for my practice, but for life. And let me be honest with you, that is a constant work in progress on that agreement of the four agreements. That's a lesson I'm learning over and over again throughout life, but it was a great reminder that you can do your absolute best, put your full heart and talent into it, and you may not be what they're looking for, and that's okay. And that's not personal. 


0:16:34.7 DB: Yeah, Kristin, and you weren't gonna be able to help that client. There was almost a predisposed knee logic going... Knee thigh going on that wasn't communicated. Yeah, that's really unfortunate. 


0:16:47.9 KC: Yeah. 


0:16:48.3 DB: It does bring to mind to me though, my number two one, which is customer service, which is excellent, which is what you offered, I'm gonna say that's what you offered, you just didn't expect there was gonna be a knee thing that happens. But Kristin what's ABMP's motto?  


0:17:03.7 KC: Expect more. 


0:17:04.5 DB: Yeah, it is. You better believe it. Expect more. And so as a client, that's what I expect, I expect more, especially customer service during the session, just a couple bullet points, show up on time or early. Be ready. Make me feel special. Space has got to be clean. Dress appropriately. Smile, love what you do. I got a little story though, you know this isn't how to talk about massage, but it's totally, totally relates. And I went skiing this weekend, we live in Colorado listeners, and afterward I went to you know, and I had a little hamburger and sat at the bar, and let me just tell you about this experience, this was not customer service Kristin, this was a bartender who started complaining to other employees that he was there. 


0:17:50.3 DB: Complained to the manager, didn't wanna be there, messed up, the people sitting next to me's order two times because he couldn't bother written down the order and didn't have time to do that, then he proceeded to tell the customers next to me that he didn't feel well, and that he should be home. 


0:18:06.3 KC: Oh, no. 


0:18:07.1 DB: And then once the manager heard that and was like, You know, it's alright to go ahead and go home... And we'll figure it out, and Danny played the martyr, I was like, Oh my God, this is terrible customer service, what is going on? Please don't exhibit this in front of me when I'm about to eat your food. Now, in massage, I have seen people, unfortunately at front desks, roll their eyes, talk about other employees, talk about clients, and talk about their co-workers, those are big, big... No nos, big, big no nos. Kristin. What's your third one?  


0:18:43.5 KC: Well, I'm still reeling a little bit from your number two. Let me just get my gear, and it is a great reminder for all of us, even if you've been seeing the same client for 20 plus years, that customer service has to be at a certain level every single time. Don't get complacent, you have to be at your highest level at all times... Oh, okay, let me move on. My number three, I'm calling life between sessions. And this is something that's happening now, 22 years into my practice. As I said in the beginning, I've been working with most of my clients for almost 20 years, and let me absolutely tell you, it is a joy to be part of their lives, it's an honor to celebrate parts of their life with them, to support them during times that are more challenging. The majority of my clients are my same age, and the lesson that has been put in front of me very clearly the last few months is that a lot can happen in the four weeks between sessions, so many of my clients are experiencing really tough times right now. 


0:19:49.0 KC: The loss of a spouse, the spouse's in critical condition in the hospital, the loss of a parent, significant health concerns with the parent, so a lot is happening with my clients that's very serious, very important, very challenging in the four weeks between the times that I see them, and it is an honor to be able to support them when they are in such a space of need, I am honored to be there, to be part of their wellness team and to give them that space to process as they need to, and it is also an incredible reminder to me personally, to don't take anything for granted. 


0:20:27.1 KC: Enjoy each day. Cherish the ones you love. And so this is a tough lesson that I'm learning from clients, but it's a beautiful one, it's an important one, and it's the one that I am... Like I said, I'm happy to be part of those parts of their lives and to be part of that support, and I will take that with me and make sure that I'm not taking anything for granted in my own personal life... 


0:20:51.7 DB: Kristin, that's so powerful. And allow me to also park that in the future pod conversation, that's just something we don't talk about enough, and that a lot of that can be because so many practitioners may be new, they may not practice more than a few years and maybe move on to another profession, but for those who are legacy and have a huge history, that absolutely is gonna be a thing that introduces into the practice... I've been doing this for 22 years, I don't think I've heard that topic before, and it's beautiful and it absolutely deserves to be covered, because when obviously, when you work with clients over a number of years, things are gonna happen in their lives and are gonna affect you and that comes into the practice because it's not just a transaction. Right, it's a service that you're providing. So thank you, that was really, really powerful. 


0:21:42.7 KC: Yeah, and it's also a great reminder as practitioners, if I'm gonna bring it back fully to the practice now and not into personal, that we need to be willing to adapt a recession, so if a client typically comes in and wants this type of session, that might radically change, if something has happened in their personal life between the last session and the current, and you may need to be able to adapt and offer a very different type of session based on what they need that day, that moment, that minute, so just a great reminder to always be open, be flexible, and back to that big C word Communicate about what they need most that day. 


0:22:18.4 DB: Perfect, Kristin, I'm gonna bring it home here with number three, and this is a hot take, this is a hot take, I'm just not sure what the audience is gonna think here, so... MTs, I don't love tools. I don't love it. Here's what I know, I know the professions are, I know it's hard on your thumbs, I know it's hard on your hands, I know it's hard on your body, but those tools are just not my favorite thing, and this is the best way I can describe is it feels, less than because I love your touch. It's so powerful. Now, here's the exception, if you're gonna tell me you're gonna use the tool, if you're gonna tell me how you're gonna use the tool and how long you're gonna use the tool, totally fine. Totally acceptable. If there's an over-reliance on the tool, I'm definitely gonna be thinking, What's going on here? What have I paid for? Right? It goes back as every single thing you've mentioned, to the first thing, which is communication. 


0:23:23.3 KC: Yeah. 


0:23:23.7 DB: As long as you do that, it's totally fine. I don't... And I know I mentioned earlier about it being slightly uncomfortable, 'cause I know your question or you might be brewing in your head, it might be like, Well, would you ever tell us. No, I'm probably not. I'm probably not gonna tell you that. [laughter] 


0:23:39.0 KC: So I'm curious though, did a practitioner, just introduce a tool mid-session and not give you a heads up that that was happening. 


0:23:46.3 DB: Yes. 


0:23:47.6 KC: Uh-huh. Uh-huh. 


0:23:49.5 DB: And do you know what there is... You would know this as a practitioner, now there's a disconnect between your pressure, tools can engage quite a bit of deep pressure, and if you don't know it, and all of a sudden that is now just been like, Oh boy. What just happened, right?  


0:24:08.4 KC: Yes. 


0:24:10.2 DB: That's happened before. I will say there's been practitioners who are super sneaky and super good with tools and have told I didn't know, and later mentioned it, I was okay, It was sneaky and I was okay, but again it was an over-reliance. I think they were clearly trying to get at something to release something during the session, that's just my hot take... 


0:24:34.1 KC: Yeah. 


0:24:34.8 DB: That's my two cents. 


0:24:35.9 KC: Well, you're a client, and that's what it comes down to, customer service, it's what you individually as a client, need one and love. And that varies from person to person. 


0:24:44.1 DB: I wanna thank our listeners for joining the podcast today, Kristin and I have had a great time here going back and forth with regards to things that we've learned from massage from clients, from the sessions. I just went in by saying what you do is so powerful, so giving, you chose a wonderful profession and what you do is selfless, and no matter all that AI Talk, you hear out there then it never replaced in your hands. You guys are pretty awesome. You truly give your heart and soul to the profession, and how many professions can you say that so thank you so much. Thanks for listening today, catch all of our episodes online at or wherever you listen to your podcast. Thanks, Kristin. 


0:25:22.2 KC: Thank you, Darren. I loved our conversation today, and I really also really loved thinking back to all of the lessons that I've learned from my clients throughout the years. It was a really beautiful practice and just a process of doing that. And listeners, I'm gonna encourage you, please share with us the lessons you've learned from your clients or from being a client, and email us those stories at Thank you so much for listening. We appreciate you. 


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