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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

FencesIf 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

You'll find this filed under: Ethics

29 Responses to You Are Not a Doormat, Quit Acting Like One

  1. Love it. I love that you put in big, capital letters to STOP APOLOGIZING. This has been the hugest hurdle for me. I am one of those people that constantly apologizes, not because I am “sorry” per se…but because I want to acknowledge the other persons inconvenience. My best advice, and what I have found is starting to work for me, is the use the word “unfortunately” in place of “I apologize”.


    “Unfortunately I already have 3pm booked, I do have 6pm, or 3pm available for Thurs or Fri. Would either of those work for you?”

    “Unfortunately I was with a client and couldn’t answer the phone right away.”

    “Unfortunately I don’t do appointments later than 7pm.”

    I use the word “unfortunately” and sometimes “Oh darn” as a sort of crutch to keep myself from apologizing…with the hopes of possibly replacing the word unfortunately with better language (or nothing) once I figure that out. I know it is weird, but it works for this overly-apologetic mess right here…*points to self*. Haha. It has helped me to keep better boundaries with my clients. In fact, the other day I had a client’s husband ask me why I don’t take same-day appointments and my client immediately balked at the notion and spoke for me saying “Duh, ___, how is she supposed to have a life or plan anything if she never knows what her schedule is?”

    I grinned all the way home. There’s nothing quite as professionally satisfying as feeling appreciated/human by the people you choose to serve.

    • Oooh! I love the word substitution and I’m going to completely steal this and teach it to all of my ethics students from now on. That is such a good way to get over the “I’m sorry …” stuff. Like you, I tend to use “I’m sorry” when I really mean “Unfortunately”. No, I’m not sorry I was in the theater watching Star Trek with my friends and missed your call. Unfortunately, I was not available to take your call.

      You’re a genius, Ariana!

      • Just for the record, the “Ariana” quoted above is not me. I would never say “this has been the hugest hurdle for me” and I’m not constantly apologizing. I wrote to Kelli about this, since the name “Ariana” is rather unique and I didn’t want people to identify the person quoted above with me. Unfortunately, I have not received a response from Kelli yet.

        • Ariana Vincent – I did reply to you on Facebook within 4 minutes and suggested that you comment here clarifying that you are the the original Ariana that commented. I know of 3 Arianas that are massage therapists and all 3 of you have commented on this blog at one time or another.

          I’m glad to know that you are not an apologizer and have healthy relationships with your clients.

  2. Boundaries are difficult for some…including myself. It took me a few years to develop “company policies” and as soon as I did, my practice took off.
    Here is another issue I see with other therapists. They use there cell phone as their business line. I have a free google voice number that I set to go right to voicemail. So I am not tempted to answer calls on my days off.

  3. I am so glad that this was posted. Society has been teaching that you deserve what you want, and you should get it NOW. Saying ‘no’ is a good thing, I promise. You are entitled to set boundaries, and please do not feel bad for doing so. If you are a bad customer (demanding service without an appointment, calling, showing up, just being rude, et al), you shouldn’t expect to get top notch service. Set your boundaries, and be OK in setting them.

  4. Good stuff Kelli. Regardless of the business, the customer is not always right. Will a store sell me a new computer for $1, or honor prices from an ad from 5 years ago, because I demand it? I like your advice on not apologizing and Ariana’s solution.

  5. I usually get a big smile from a client who is pushing for an appointment by saying, “This is good news for our business because it means we are doing well – we have no openings when you want your appointment, but how about . . . . .

  6. I can’t imagine this happening to me and allowing it to continue. I guess I learned most of it from years of childcare. The old adage “give them and inch” comes to mind. I quickly learned that if allowed parents to pick up late once it then became a regular situation and that messed with my family’s time.
    I was determined not to allow that to happen with massage therapy. I once had a client show up 30 mins early and she assumed that she would just come in and hang out and chat while I prepared for my day. I didn’t allow her back into the therapy room but left her in the waiting area. It might sound rude, but that time in between clients is for me. Updating client notes or even if I’m trying to eat, that time is set aside for me to prepare for the next client. She was a little upset but we haven’t had that problem anymore. I get phone calls at all hours from people wanting to make appointments and they stay on the voice mail until working hours the next day. Sunday is off limits. No exceptions. Set your hours/boundaries and stick to them. The wishy washy ones will go elsewhere.

    • “Give them an inch” is very true. And I agree about break and prep time – they are ours to use to prepare and relax/recharge between clients. Good to see you are good with your boundaries.

  7. I love the ones that text during the middle of the night and if I don’t communicate via text then they are not willing to talk with me . They won’t call if I tell them . I don’t mind communicating via text if the client is a regular but first time there is way to much information I need to do it through text .

    • Justin – that’s a pretty good sign that this person might not be a good client.I know, texting is a generational thing, but at some point we do need to actually talk to a potential client to determine if there are any issues that might contraindicate massage. And trying to book an appointment via text is truly an exercise in tedium. Thanks for commenting.

      • I agree, if I have to exchange 6/8 texts with someone to book an appointment, why don’t they just call and get it done?? Also clients who text after my POSTED 7pm no calls-limit are yes, truly not respecting my time and are crossing boundaries. I am no longer answering calls/ texts after 7pm. If they really want to see me they will wait til the next morning for my return call.

        • It’s not likely that you are going to massage them after 7pm, so I don’t think it’s unreasonable to wait until the next morning for a return call. I’ve left calls with a service provider after hours with the expectation that I wouldn’t hear from them until the next business day. I don’t expect anyone to answer my calls after their normal business hours.

      • I text for 1st appts and have had no problems, you’re right they are usually younger people. If they say, “hey are you open” or something like that I just ignore them 🙂

        • “hey are you open” is the text equivalent of ‘I’m too lazy to check your website to see what your hours are’. You’re probably safe in ignoring those. Thanks for the comment, Karen.

    • I have had someone text me at 11:45pm for a next day appointment…on a gift certificate she won…now THAT is rude

  8. Good article, just wanted to let you know the scrolling/ floating share hovered over the text and made it a little challenging to read the article.

    • I’m glad you enjoyed the article.

      I know the old social sharing plugin made the post difficult to read. WPBeginner just released a new plugin, which is lighter weight (fewer social media outlets supported, faster functioning) and I’ve installed it. It floats above the article and doesn’t cover the text. Hope you like it.

  9. Good article, just wanted to let you know the scrolling/ floating share hovered over the text and made it a little challenging to read the article.

  10. My biggest problem with respecting boundaries has been employers. I had two separate employers in the past who would schedule 1 hour appts starting 30 or 45 min before the end of my shift. When I said that any appt that would run past my quitting time needed to be approved by me before being scheduled, I was accused of being inflexible. But I stood my ground stating that all time outside of my scheduled working hours was mine and that I use that time to make my own plans. I softened the blow by saying that IF I had the time available I would be happy to stay. I refrained from explaining that sometimes my plans are to do nothing but have ‘me time’.

    • Rachel – employers are one of the worst offenders in not respecting our personal time. I can’t even begin to count the amount of unpaid overtime, late night conference calls because it was daytime in Taiwan, or lost Saturdays to feeding corporate America’s profitability. It took me years to figure out that I didn’t have to justify my time off with a ‘valid reason’. Sometimes, that valid reason is that I need ‘me time’ or just ‘I can’t stand being here anymore’ time.

      Good for you for standing up for yourself. You need time to recharge. You need time to take care of life’s needs. You need to know what your work schedule is with a firm quitting time. Thanks for sharing your experience and hang in there.

  11. Thank you for this article. It can be tricky to learn how to communicate who we are, and claim the strength of standing up for ourselves, without worrying we might offend someone. Boundaries are about self-care, as well as professional standards and ethics.

  12. Fantastic articles! These are the sayings and ideas that we really should keep that in mind when we you are working. But for me, we do not need this sayings because we are all only human and should be measured just treat each other. Bodyscape.biz

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