I had the worst massage of my life yesterday. I feel like I should explain; I am notoriously bad for picking apart massage sessions, partly because I trade sessions with some very gifted practitioners that are hard to measure up to. But this went beyond technique. There were a few things about the way that the office was set up and the way my session was handled that transformed it from ‘this person could use a few pointers’ to an actual unpleasant experience. I am relating them here as a list of what not to do when setting up your space and sessions with clients in order to keep them happy and coming back.
We get used to clutter or to the eccentricities of a space and they stop bothering us, but a client is seeing the space for a first time and this is part of their first impression of you. The room I was ushered into yesterday was small, crowded and cluttered. When I got undressed, there was no place to put my clothes other than on the floor and I had to stop and think of where I could stash them so that the practitioner wouldn’t be stepping on them as she worked. Getting rid of some of the clutter and adding a chair would have made the space more hospitable. Try getting on your table and looking around so that you can see things as they see them. Like if you’re ever playing on the floor with your toddler and you look up and go, “how on earth do the underside of my cabinets get so filthy?”, it’s just something your don’t see from your normal perspective.
2) Treat the client as your guest.
In class, we call this ‘housekeeping’. If someone came to visit you at home, you would probably offer them a drink (and while a martini or a beer might not be appropriate for your clients, a glass of water certainly is), you might take their coat and mention the bathroom is down the hall. Some people are shy to ask for what they need, but will be very grateful if you offer.
3) Make them feel safe.
There is a certain amount of vulnerability at play when someone sees a new practitioner, whether they are exposing their body or their emotions. At one point in my session, another women who worked in the office opened the door (without knocking or any kind of warning), asked my practitioner to please turn on the wax (which she stopped working on me to do), and left. It happened that we were a little ways into the session, so I was covered with a sheet, but I couldn’t help but think that if it had been a little earlier, her opening the door would have exposed a mostly naked me to the entire waiting room, front desk and staff. Some people might be into that, but this didn’t help me relax.
4) Check in.
Little questions like “how’s my pressure?”, or even just “how are you doing?” allow the client to give you some feedback and show that you are genuinely interested in how this is feeling for them. A good session is an exchange of energy between people and this works best when both people feel like they are on the same wavelength. If the client feels like you are just going through your routine and that you do exactly the same thing for everyone then you don’t establish a rapport and there is no reason for them to come back to you.
5) Set the mood.
My practitioner yesterday forgot to turn on the music for the first half of the session, so I could hear the conversation about the other staff member’s hair, boyfriend and mother issues clearly. Again, not relaxing and I had to resist the urge to hand one of my cards to the girls at the front desk who obviously could use some balancing and stress release when I left. When I turned over from lying on my stomach to my back I was staring into the glare of a super-bright florescent light that felt far more clinical than calming. Music, low lights, oils and linens that smell good, these things matter. Think about how you want your clients to feel and what you can do to make that a reality.
These five things might seem to be simple, but it’s amazing how often they are overlooked. And there are always extenuating circumstances – for instance, a time when someone in the entrance is so loud you can’t help but overhear them, even with music and good sound proofing, or when a co-worker needs to impart an urgent message, but this should be the exception not the rule. You don’t want to be someone’s ‘worst ever’.
When I was ready to go, she didn’t ask if I wanted to rebook. It’s probably for the best.