People looking for counseling have been struggling. You know this.
Have you stopped to think about all the barriers between a client’s decision to get counseling and that first actual appointment? Overcoming the stigmatization fear, figuring out finances, the dreaded search, and then hoping a therapist will call back. It’s especially frustrating for a client to actually get to that first session and find out it’s a bad fit.
As clinicians who want to help our ideal clients, it’s equally frustrating.
Inquiry Calls Matter
Returning calls can be seen as the grunt work of running a counseling practice – a logistical necessity. The truth is, the first phone call is a client’s initial experience of how counseling can help. It’s also your first opportunity of demonstrating your professionalism and expertise.
If a counselor takes days to respond, is extremely short, or makes accessibility difficult, potential clients get a bad vibe right from the beginning. This goes against our intention to help and probably against your reputation as well.
Inquiry calls are the primary channel most clinicians use for gaining new clients. They’re also mutually beneficial – I’m just as invested in finding the right-fit clients as I am filtering out the wrong-fit ones. The first contact gives me a chance to do this.
Use What Works
Every practice handles scheduling initial sessions a little differently. Depending on the scale of your practice, your work preference and personality, set systems according to your needs and what works for your clients. Some practices have trained assistants who return calls and handle scheduling. Others have a potential client book their initial session using an online scheduler without any phone conversation at all. Many solo practitioners simply have a business number and handle all calls on their own. I use a business phone system, and either I or one of the other clinicians in my practice return calls directly.
Whichever way you handle initial scheduling, here are some tips for a great client and clinician experience.
7 Tips For Calls That Win Ideal Clients
1. Return Calls – Ideally That Day
One of the most frequent complaints of potential clients is that they can’t get their calls returned. By simply being the one who called back you sets yourself apart from the rest. Whether that means scheduling time for calls each day, or hiring an assistant, returning calls matters. It says to your client that they matter.
2. Time Boundary
I inform folks upfront how much time we have for our conversation (I reserve 15 minutes). It helps to keep our conversation focused and prevents conversations from turning into an impromptu counseling session. It also communicates with clients that I’m upfront and honest right from the beginning.
3. Listen First
After a brief greeting, start with “What is it that you’re looking for by calling today?” This gives inquiring clients some direction in getting to the heart of matters. This information is really invaluable to me to see if we’re a good fit. It also begins to build a relationship and often provides some immediate relief to the potential client. Usually 10 of our 15 minutes is spent in my seeking to understand them.
4. Offer Help
This is not about giving free counseling out, this is about sincerely helping the person on the other end of the line. Have the mindset of ‘I’m here to help’, not ‘I’m here to gain a client’. The latter will happen naturally if it’s the right fit. Your callers dialed your phone number, but their best help could be with a clinician with a different area of expertise, with a psychological evaluation, or perhaps a school meeting. If my practice can offer help, I let them know. If not, I guide as best as I can. Simple as that.
5. Give Information
At this point, you’ve filtered out clients that are not the right fit and directed them elsewhere, offering genuine help. For those who are a good fit, you’ll want to spend a little time giving them information about you and your practice. Most folks want to know the answer to some basic questions. I go ahead and supply the following information automatically. I’ve found that clients feel like they are in competent hands when I can anticipate the information they already want to know. Below are common questions folks want to know:
- Are you accepting new clients?
- Who do you work with? What’s your specialty?
- How do you handle scheduling?
- What is your rate? Do you accept insurance?
I also have a FAQ page and a bio on my website that gives this information and more, which I can direct folks to as well.
6. Provide Access
At this point, your potential client feels heard, taken care of, and in competent hands. It’s likely they’ll want to know how they can schedule a session. Have a system that’s user friendly for the client and streamlined for you, so you’re not going back and forth with follow up. I use a practice software system and either offer to schedule for them right then, or open a portal so that they can look at their calendar and book a session with me at a later time.
7. Be a Standout
Ultimately it’s about serving those who are seeking help with great care. Being present with those who contact you and having a good system in place and will make you a stand out above the rest. Your good name and reputation will spread. Offering helpfulness at the first contact will attract more of your ideal clients and simply put – people will want to schedule sessions with you.
Wishing you all the best!
Jenna is a licensed professional counselor in beautiful Georgetown, TX. She is the owner of her group practice Jenna Fleming Counseling, PLLC, where they serve children, teens, young adults and parents with counseling services, courses and classes to support families in getting on track and staying that way.