“Hi, I’m John Smith; I would like to come in as soon as possible and see you. Could you call me back?”
And that’s how it starts. You have a name, a number and sometimes, an anxious, teary voice. He has made the first step to getting help and you are the voice at the end of the phone that sounds…nice, approachable. Or do you?
Last week I called back a therapist to follow-up on her need for practice consultation. I got the electronic, friendly voice of her cell service provider. How…impersonal! Another therapist asked me to listen to her message because she was receiving a lot of hang-ups. Her message had the opposite problem; it was very long, with lots of instructions and maybe a little too much empathy! She actually sounded a bit sad; kind of like she was anticipating the problem before she heard it. Leave a personal message on your phone that conveys warmth and gives information on how to effectively reach you.
“Hi, This is Mary Jones. Please leave me some good times to reach you with a cell phone number. Take as much time as you need to leave me any information that you’d like. This is a confidential phone line and I will call you back within 24 hours. If this is an emergency…”
And then when the client calls, respond as soon as you can. That day. At a time that your potential client requested. Time is truly of the essence and if your client is a savvy consumer, they may have made three calls to three different providers. Typically, the first therapist that calls back and connects will get the appointment.
So, How do you become that clinician?
- It’s about them. Ask questions about why they made the call today. Use their name. Convey sympathy and empathy–not clinical concern. You are not diagnosing on the phone–you are listening to a story. “I am so sorry you are going through that. It sounds like you are having a hard time right now.”
- Ask how they came to call you. If it’s a former or current client, offer no acknowledgement that you know them (or you’ll be breaking confidentiality). Acknowledge the referral and leave it at that.”How nice!” works well.
- After they have finished letting you know their story, reassure.“I can help you”. And tell them why! This is your time to show why you love what you do. If you can’t, say that too. “I’d like to be able to help you, but I think you need someone who specializes in that. Can I help you with a referral? This is almost as important as taking the client. You are helping no matter what–and that leaves a lasting impression and well, it’s what we do.
- Relay the pertinent information next. With confidence. “I generally see clients during the day; Monday through Thursday, and I charge $100.00. I could see you next Tuesday at 10 am. Does that work for you?”And don’t panic if it falls flat or doesn’t work for them. You have just started the conversation and you both have parameters.
- If it doesn’t work for them, offer an alternative of time. I find that two choices of time is a great way to set boundaries. And if neither work, I ask for a more specific time frame from them before I start throwing out multiple days. If you offer too many options, it sounds like you don’t have any other clients on the books, which is a red flag to a savvy consumer.
- Know your flexibility with price and stick to it. If you don’t take insurance, relay that in a confident voice. It is a choice you are making not an opportunity to explain why. However, it is an opportunity to offer an alternative to insurance, especially if they have a large deductible. “John, I am wondering if we could settle on an alternative that would be mindful of your budget. Your deductible is $600.00. If I agree to slide my fee to $80.00 for three months, we are well into the second month before we reach your limit. How does that sound?”
- Know when to say no. Sometimes, the stars do not align and the time and fees don’t add up. Be gracious, ask them to think of you next time if their needs change and if you can, give them a helping hand by referring to the next provider. Ask them to mention you when they contact them. At the very least, you have widened your referral circle.
Booking the client on the very first call matters, but maybe not for just the reasons you think. Yes, it helps build your practice and create income. But, it builds your confidence, hones your ability to convey your very important message and of course, it helps another human on their journey.