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Offering a free 15-20 minute phone or Skype consultation to a prospective client is a popular approach of many private-pay therapists, and one that can really pay off if you know how to handle it well. On the other hand, if it doesn’t go well, it can discourage a client from further pursuing therapy with you.
How does it usually go for you?
As I’ve said in an earlier post, when clients finally take the next step of calling you, they’re ready for their search for a new therapist to be over. Your job is to make this easier for them, to make it clear that yes, they’re in the right place. In fact, I often use that very language. Here are my 6 essential tips for navigating that first phone call:
- Answer the phone in a professional manner. This might seem obvious to some, but it’s worth mentioning. If you use your personal cell number as your business number as well, maybe you just answer with “hello.” Clients are going to be confused right off the bat, and often they’re already anxious. Make it clear that they have dialed the right number. Something as simple as, “Hello, this is John” is a great start. Even in my small group practice, I answer the phone with “Charlotte Counseling and Wellness, this is John” every time, because I want to convey professionalism and high value from the very first interaction.
- Use your counseling skills to get the conversation started. Again, they’re nervous, and most people don’t know where to begin once they have you on the line–they’re hoping you’ll take the reigns right away. Maybe start out with something like, “I’m so glad you called. Tell me a little bit about what’s going on for you,” and see how comfortable they are answering that question. Do a little bit of reflection, but don’t overdo it.
- Demonstrate your expertise. Expanding on using those basic listening skills, the first conversation is the perfect opportunity for you to also convey your value and expertise. You can really reach a client by saying something along the lines of “it sounds like you’re struggling with X, Y, and Z. You’re in the right place–I treat issues like the ones you’re describing everyday. Here’s how I’ve helped people through these kinds of issues in the past...”
- Be prepared to talk about money. Especially if you’re running a private-pay practice, you need to be ready to talk about your fees. When the client asks, start off by stating your fee plainly and with appropriate confidence. Have a second part to your fee spiel ready to go–otherwise you end up with an awkward silence after you state your fee and the client sits there on the other end thinking it through, and maybe waiting for you to say you’ll slide for them. You might try saying something like “I’m a specialist with advanced training in X, Y, Z, and my fee is $150 per session. I provide statements to my clients at the end of each month, and many are able to be at least partially reimbursed for the cost of therapy.” Stay positive, and help them get the information they need. You should already know before you pick up the phone whether you have a sliding scale slot to offer at the moment, and how far you’re willing to slide, based on your current caseload of full-fee clients.
- Have your calendar ready. Most clients will benefit from booking their first appointment at the end of the phone call. Many have already waited weeks or months to start therapy, so this is a big deal, and you want to both acknowledge and validate that, and be ready to convert this prospective client into an official client. I tell each new client that even if they end up needing to reschedule, let’s go ahead and put something on the books. Most clients are relieved to be able to do so, and they can rest easy that their search for a therapist has just ended.
- Instill hope. We know from common factors research that hope is a significant factor in predicting therapeutic outcome and success. You want to convey a sense of hope from the very beginning. This happens when you accurately capture the picture that the client is painting for you during the phone call, summarize their needs, and communicate to them that things will get better. This sets the stage for great therapy work and a satisfied consumer.
What is your current conversion rate for when clients call? How many book that first appointment with you? How could you improve your approach to this critical aspect of your business?
Get in touch today for a free initial consultation to learn how private practice consulting can help you take your business to the next level
John Clarke, MA, EdS, NCC, LPC is a licensed psychotherapist and a private practice expert. He has built thriving practices from the ground up in San Francisco, CA and Charlotte, NC. In building his current practice, he had 6 private-pay clients booked for the first day that his doors were open.