Screening New Clients

Telephone Communication Tools for MTs

By Mimi Zannino

Massage is often a one-on-one profession, and MTs often work from home or behind closed doors in spas. Therefore, not only is it necessary for them to be able to properly assess clients’ massage needs, but also to be able to identify the warning signs of potential confrontations or, even in the rare instance, dangerous encounters with clients. By using a screening tool, MTs can accurately interview clients before the session—during the booking process—as a way to make informed decisions, and thus ensure a safe and successful experience for both parties.


the quicklist Tool

One of the best screening tools is an index card of questions that MTs can use to encourage clients to clearly identify themselves and their reasons for calling. It is a tool for gathering information up front in an easy, conversational way. This quicklist also includes prompts that will alert the MT to someone with dishonorable intentions and/or mental health issues.

The information gathered during the first two minutes of a phone conversation addresses the client’s expectations and determines if the MT can either meet those therapeutic needs or whether he or she should refer the individual to an appropriate healthcare professional. In some cases, this short amount of time is enough to bring those clients who are threatening or troubled to the forefront.

Putting the quicklist into practice is simple and can be executed by any massage and bodywork professional who wants to screen potential clients. Keep copies of the list near each of your phones for fast reference. It would also be helpful to have pen and logbook alongside the list in order to jot down the caller’s information, record the date and time of conversation, and, if your instincts flash a warning sign, make note of your thoughts and feelings during and after the call. Recording your impressions along with the caller’s words is a good exercise in trusting your gut. You might also want to consider transcribing your notes into a scheduling system or database, as a way to document any suspect behavior and for easy relocation if you ever need them. Including a copy of the quicklist in your wallet or purse is also recommended for when you’re on the go and are booking appointments via your cell phone.


Don’t Be Afraid to Ask

Many MTs are naturally “people” persons who dislike turning business away. However, it is never a good idea to gamble with personal safety. The following quicklist is designed to help massage practitioners obtain as much information from their clients as possible. The list is not exhaustive, and MTs are encouraged to expand it with their own questions or put it in their own words.

A client calls and says, “Hi, I would like to book an appointment.” Following is a quicklist of questions and dialogue to work through this initial intake process.

•  Hi. Thanks for calling. What’s your name, please?

•  And your phone number?

•  What part of town are you calling from?

•  Where did you hear about me? Was this a referral?

•  What prompted you to call me? For relaxation? Are you responding to stress, injury, or illness?

•  What type of massage are you looking for?

•  Which areas of your body would you like to address or are causing you pain right now?

•  Have you seen a doctor about that?

•  Have you had an accident or work-related injury lately?

•  What type of work do you do? This may help in my assessment.

•  When is the last time you had a massage?

•  Where was this? (You’re more likely to get an answer to this than by asking who the massage therapist was.)

•  Was the massage beneficial to you?

•  Was there anything that stood out as being helpful or not helpful?

•  What would make the massage session a success for you? What are your expectations for this session?

•  Will the session be charged to an individual or business?

•  Will anyone else be attending the session with you, such as your spouse, children, or a friend?

Clients are referred by other clients, through massage therapist locator websites, as the result of gift certificates, and by flyers handed out at chair-massage events, among other methods of marketing. As a result, when prospective clients call, it is important to quickly determine their immediate needs and motivations, especially if you operate the business out of your home.

Recently, I received a call that, had it not been for the quicklist, could have put me in a potentially dangerous situation. Initially, when the phone conversation began, the caller was calm. As I politely asked the quicklist questions, the caller’s answers became more revealing. Comments such as “I’m really lonely; I’ve been depressed; I had a terrible massage recently; I’m suicidal” began making their way into the conversation. If a caller refers to his or her emotional state in an emphatic tone of voice, complains about other MTs, or references dramatic life changes, you may want to be on the lookout for significant underlying issues that would be better addressed by a mental health therapist. At this point in the conversation, you might mention that massage is not a substitute for therapy or counseling. Be prepared to offer the phone number and name of an appropriate resource that may help the caller.

In this instance, I suggested a local counseling service. The caller became agitated, began cursing, and demanded a massage appointment. As with all relationships, if someone raises his or her voice and is offensive, we must look at this as a sign that more is going on. At this point, I said, “Goodbye” and hung up the phone, dialed 9-1-1, and identified myself as a massage therapist who had just received an abusive call from a prospective client. I further relayed the caller’s exact words and voiced particular concern about the mention of suicide, as well as the negative reference to a former massage therapist.

Additionally, I phoned the place of business where the caller mentioned receiving a poor massage. The MT there related details of the client’s alarming behavior with her, including sexual language and inappropriate touch. My instincts had proved accurate, and I encouraged the therapist to call the local authorities with the information.

By being aware of atypical comments, MTs can stop threatening situations from occurring in their massage studios. A demanding tone of voice and inappropriate use of language can be red flags that the call should be terminated. If you’re uncomfortable talking with this person on the phone, imagine how you would feel being in the same personal space and delivering a massage.

If a caller speaks of violent behavior toward himself or others or becomes abusive when refused a massage, call the police and give an account of the conversation. Also, contact other local massage therapists and relay the call. If the caller located your phone number on a website by zip code, call the MTs whose names appear along with your own. If you are in the phone book, you might call others listed in your area. Contacting nearby salons and spas to give them the caller’s ID and details of the conversation is important. As long as the information you share is factual, you are single-handedly taking responsibility to protect your profession, your colleagues, and the public.

A Network of Support

These telephone contacts with colleagues require only a few minutes. By identifying yourself in a professional manner as an MT who wants to alert colleagues about a threatening phone call or experience, you are being proactive in taking preventive measures. This is one way to create a network of support in a profession where the one-on-one nature of its services tends to isolate its practitioners.

Ideally, all salons, spas, and businesses that schedule appointments for MTs should have a protocol, such as the quicklist, for obtaining basic identifying information when first-time clients request a massage service. If possible, giving MTs the list of new clients ahead of time will allow them to personally call and conduct a short interview, so that any unfavorable situations can be avoided. When returning messages or initiating this pre-screening call, the MT can explain that this will help expedite the spa or salon check-in process. A client’s answers to questions will prepare the therapist to best serve each individual client. For example, based on the information the client gives, the MT can determine whether to prepare such therapies as hot towel compresses, cold packs, or hot stones.

These questions are natural, but necessary, components of a safe and successful massage therapy experience. Be smart. Be safe. Ask questions.

 MiMi Zannino, MA, LMT, practices massage therapy in Maryland. Since 1989,
she has taught children and adults in the fields of creative writing, literature, English as a second language, and sociology. She is the author of articles and books including a
grief-assistance activity book for children
titled Keeping Memories Alive. Contact her
at or