Your Most Memorable First-Time Client Experience

By Tara Doyle
[Tell Me ...]

How many first-time clients do you remember? Some may leave a lasting impression for outrageous reasons like walking naked into the gym next door while in search of the massage room, as MT Rob Flammia experienced. Maybe another touched your heart because of a dire situation, and through your healing touch he avoided surgery and was able to play catch with his first grandchild, as Millie Akbar, a therapist in New Jersey, encountered.
Before clients are educated in the proper massage etiquette and culture, misunderstandings and false perceptions can occur. But there is also promise and excitement in having first-time clients; you are their guide into a new world of massage and bodywork—the Sacagawea to their Lewis and Clark as they explore new territory.

Wrong Room! Or Family Ties
Many embarrassing circumstances can occur during a massage and bodywork session—flatulence and draping issues, to name just two. It can be tricky to navigate how to respond and react to an awkward moment with a new client. Open communication, maturity, and humor can be keys to moving past the experience. Michael Roberson, a CMT in California, spoke of a client who broke wind on his table: “Without a beat, she popped her head over to look at me and said, ‘Well, I guess this makes us family!’ and she put her head back down. We continued with the massage without further incident.”
Differences in culture can also affect viewpoints on proper draping and what is appropriate. Rob Flammia of California writes about his experience with a visiting professor from France. The first-time client walked into the neighboring gym with only a towel draped over his shoulder while in search of the massage room next door. “I heard the commotion, shrieks of laughter, dropped weights, and the stern directive from the head of the center saying, ‘You must be looking for the massage room. It’s in there!’ Hardly ruffled, my new client walked into the room muttering, ‘Americans ...’”

Finally Pain-Free or Chasing Zzzs    
First-time client experiences can also leave emotional marks, touching hearts and reinforcing the healing power of therapeutic touch. Massage and bodywork can be an emotional release, both for the client and the practitioner: “When I was finished with [a new client’s] massage, she was crying, and she said it was the first time in her life she had absolutely no pain. The next day she called and said it was the first time in more than 40 years she slept through the night,” says Rufino Zisumbo, a therapist in Washington.

From Nonbeliever to New Client
Changing false perceptions about a massage professional’s physical appearance or the field itself can be a powerful experience, one worth remembering. Massage therapists, particularly petite females, can face judgment that they are too small and weak to provide enough pressure. “I had an older man come in who was upset when he saw me and said I was too small to do any good on his back. After about 30 minutes into his massage, he started laughing and said, ‘There were a couple of times I wanted to ask you to back the pressure off, but after the fuss I made I figured I deserved the pressure I got.’ He became one of my regular clients after that,” says Danielle Owen of Texas.

New clients help build your client base and earn potential referrals. Use your ABMP resources to ensure their return and educate yourself about how to keep clients coming back through market outreach, updating your website, incentives, and finding your niche for success. First-time clients can bring a spectrum of experiences; know that you are not alone in navigating unfamiliar waters, and that your next great experience could be just around the corner, or in your case, knocking on the door.  

Like a Symphony
“An older man who had never had a massage walked through my door. After the relaxing massage, he said it was like a symphony. I always remember that phrasing and appreciate it so much!”
—Emmie Norton, Wisconsin

Celebrity Corner or Massage Conductor
“My most memorable first-time client experience happened way back in 1978. I left Arizona and moved to Los Angeles to see if I could massage Mikhail Baryshnikov, who was going to dance there for three weeks with American Ballet Theater. What made that first treatment with him special was that the Los Angeles Philharmonic was playing live on stage at the Los Angeles Music Center and Beethoven’s “Piano Concerto #5” could be heard in Baryshnikov’s dressing room. I finished his treatment when the concerto ended and while the applause was going on. I commented that I felt like I had just played the concerto, and Mikhail said,
‘I know: I felt like I was [a] piano.’”
—Mitch Gries, California