Today on Facebook, a massage therapist posted this:
Why are some people so rude? A person walks into the chiropractor I work for in the middle of the hour without an appointment. They know I live in the area so they demand that they get a massage from me right this moment. … First my phone rings and … I am on the phone … I do not answer my phone not taking a chance that I will loose [the call I'm on] … when I do not answer my phone my door bell rings. I do not answer my door. … When I was done I went over to see what the fuss was about person left mad but they did make an appointment with me for next day. Should I say something to this person tomorrow about them showing up without an appointment and demanding I drop everything …
I wish I could say that this is an isolated incident, but there isn’t a week that goes by that I don’t read something similar to this on Facebook or Google+ or in my email inbox. It seems to happen pretty often and always leaves the therapist a bit perplexed on how best to handle this situation.
The customer is always right until the customer is wrong
We’ve been told time and again that the customer is always right. The best companies offer outstanding customer service. The way to differentiate yourself is to go above and beyond – exceed your customer’s expectations, delight the customer, etc.
These are all incredibly effective business techniques and I will not be telling you to abandon them. I will tell you, there are limits.
Good Boundaries Make for Healthy Relationships
If you’ve ever taken one of my ethics classes, you’ve heard me say this. I believe this with all my heart. I also believe that people who work in the helping professions, myself included, have some seriously soft boundaries. We want to help people. We are willing to make sacrifices to help people. We go out of our way to help people.
We squeeze a client into an already packed schedule
We work late to accommodate a client’s work schedule
We offer discounts and sliding scale to make our services affordable to people of limited means
On a limited scale, and for very select instances, these can make a regular client a die hard fan. But too often, massage therapists allow this to become the norm for their practice. This is the express lane to burnout.
You have to set clear boundaries
You don’t have to get all weird about this. Just post your normal working hours and policies. “By appointment only” “Closed weekends” “Available Mon-Fri, 10am – 6pm by Appointment Only” “To schedule an appointment, please call …..” “Please be sure to provide 24 hours notice for cancellation”
Then stick with them. Quit making exceptions. You do not owe your clients on-demand massage and 24/7 availability. There is no such thing as a massage emergency. If they are that desperate, they should see a doctor or visit an emergency clinic.
Rewarded Behavior Gets Repeated
That’s so important, I’m going to repeat it
Rewarded Behavior Gets Repeated
Do you enjoy being paid what you’re worth? Reward that behavior.
Do you enjoy regular work hours? Reward that behavior.
Do you enjoy having time to spend with your family and friends? Reward that behavior.
Do you dislike getting paid less than you’re worth? Quit rewarding that behavior with discounts.
Do you dislike having to open the office on your day off? Quit rewarding that behavior by scheduling off-hours appointments.
Do you dislike having your personal time interrupted with scheduling calls and last minute drop-ins? Quit rewarding that behavior and only reply to voice mails during normal working hours.
That last one is one that I always seem to be working on. I’m connected all the time. It’s tempting to just answer a client email on a Sunday afternoon since I’m on the computer catching up on my blog reading or Netflix. But I’ve quit because they started getting pissy with me when I didn’t answer them on a Sunday. I realized I had been rewarding the weekend interruption. I’ve stopped that. Mostly. (ok, I still need to work on this).
The customer is never right when they get all stalker-y on you
This is an alarming trend I’m hearing about more frequently. Clients following us to the grocery store, clients calling our homes, clients invading our personal lives. I’ve had a couple of clients call my home to schedule an appointment when I didn’t immediately return their calls on the weekend. Needless to say, this is always a big red flag. Any client who crosses over that line and begins calling you at home or coming to your home and ringing the bell because you don’t answer your phone should be made a former client. Immediately.
It wasn’t clear in the example above whether the client came to the door or someone from the clinic did, but in either case, the therapist needs to have a very firm conversation with the offender.
How to handle the clinic
The clinic personnel need to be made aware what your availability is and whether you ever take drop-ins. They also need to be reminded to respect your personal time and to never come knocking on the door unless they are concerned about your physical safety.
How to handle the client
If this is the first time the client has ever done this, you are allowed to have a firm conversation with the client about respecting your personal time. Remind them of your office hours and preferred means of scheduling. DO NOT APOLOGIZE to the client for not being available to them or for not answering your door (that’s rewarding the behavior). Explain very clearly that, if this ever occurs again, you will not be seeing them as a client.
If this is not the first time the client has done this, you are to have a firm conversation with the client explaining that you will not be seeing them again in the future. Do not apologize for this. Do not refer them to another therapist (would you want to be sent a client like this?). Fire the client immediately. You are even allowed to do this on the first occurrence. You are never obligated to put up with this kind of behavior.
If you became an MT because you want to help people, Huzza! Loving what you do and having a purpose in your life is rewarding and fulfilling. But, sometimes
Setting clear boundaries can be the best way to help someone
It’s good for you and your self care. It’s good for your client, too, whether they realize it. By respecting your boundaries, they are making sure that you don’t burn out, get injured from overwork, and continue to love your work. This will keep you in business, and helping them, for the long term.
You are not a doormat – so quit lying down and letting people walk all over you. Stand up for yourself. Have that talk with the client. It’s difficult and uncomfortable, but necessary if you are to have a long career. The therapist in our example is right to assert herself in this situation. I don’t envy her the conversation she is going to have to have, but I support her fully in protecting her personal time.
Have you ever had this happen? What advice would you give someone in this situation? Let’s hear it in the comments below.
* photo by eatswords