Customer service, in the traditional sense, can be defined as assistance or advice given by a business to those people that buy their products or services. We have all experienced bad customer service. From bad service at a restaurant to having to go to the DMV to get a driver’s license (excuse the stereotype); we have all been there!
We Don’t Like The Word “Customer”
As therapists we really don’t like to think of our clients as “customers”. It just seems too impersonal. We all know the therapeutic relationship is something much more than having mere customers. Therapy, or counseling sessions, are anything but impersonal; they are very personal! Especially for our clients…as it should be.
If you think about it, when a new client comes to therapy/counseling for the first time it is a scary thing. They are not sure what to expect. The only reference they might have is what they have seen on TV or in movies.
As most of us know, the basics of counseling and/or therapy is about building engagement with our clients. We need to align with where they are and help them feel at ease with us. It’s about helping them begin to trust us and the process.
Those Dreaded “No Shows” And Cancellations
But, in order for all of this to happen, the client needs to show up for the session. And, despite the fact that we don’t like to think of our clients as “customers”, this is where customer service comes in.
One of the most frustrating things about being in private practice is when we have clients that don’t show or cancel. This is not only a customer service issue, but it can also be a clinical issue. This is especially true if there is a pattern of the client scheduling repeatedly and then either cancelling at the last minute or worse, not showing.
It Starts From The Appointment Booking
First of all, being able to put our potential clients at ease is one step towards having good customer service. It is important for a potential client to feel confident that they are going to be helped and that the therapist will empower them to overcome the difficulties they are struggling with. This starts when a person first calls to see about making an appointment.
Best case scenario is that when they call they get to talk to a real person and not get put through to an answering system. Of course with schedules and budgets, this is not always possible or practical for the clinician in private practice. But, you can control the message and how quickly you get back in touch with them.
For example, in my practice I use an answering system and have my virtual assistant do all of the follow-up calls. She does her best to call people back as soon as possible after they leave a message and, most of the time, within 1-2 hours after the call. We have worked out a script that she uses for those calls and she also knows that she can contact me if she runs into any questions she does not know how to answer. The key with using an answering system is to get back in touch with people the same day they call, if at all possible.
Help Clients Know What To Expect
The other thing that I think help clients feel at ease is for them to know what to expect when they get to your office, before they come for the session. Sending the paperwork to them ahead of time is a much better way of engaging clients, than having them fill it all out the first time they come. It’s a good idea too to have a map with directions included too.
I have put all of my paperwork into PDF format, with a cover letter thanking them for choosing me as their therapist, what they need to do about their insurance (if you take insurance), how long sessions last, and the no show/cancellation policy. We email this to the client with an appointment confirmation. This has helped drastically reduce no shows for first appointments.
Be On Time
Another tip for providing great customer service is to be punctual with your time. In other words, don’t make new clients wait in your waiting room for a long time. It just creates even more anxiety for them and makes it seem like they are not important (think about the last time you had to go to a doctor and spend a long time waiting…). Also, do not schedule your appointments back-to-back. It’s much better if you keep at least 15 – 30 minutes between sessions. So, if you do have to go over in a session, your next client is not left waiting to start their session.
Comfortable And Comforting Spaces
The other thing is to make sure the actual space you see clients in is comfortable and not full of a lot of clutter. So many times clients will get turned off by a therapist or counselor because their office is full of clutter and paperwork.
Also, be aware of smells and temperature. Air fresheners and candles can sometimes have an overwhelming smell for some people. It might smell good to you but, for some, it might be too much. Make sure there is a good airflow in your space, so that the air does not get stale. There is nothing worse than being in a stuffy room if you are feeling anxious already.
Another nice touch for people is to have quilts, pillows, or lap blankets for people to hold while they are in session. I happen to have a weighted blanket that a number of my clients use and even ask for.
Investing in a mini-fridge to have in your office is a nice touch. Keep bottled water or other things like coffee or hot tea to offer people. And, if you want to go out on a limb, get some flavored sparkling water to have on hand. It is welcoming and shows hospitality.
Ultimately, It’s About Clients Being Welcomed And Made To Feel At Ease
Finally, good customer service and client care is, ultimately, about helping our clients feel at ease and welcomed. It also helps you stand out above the rest. It’s just good marketing to be attentive to people and always give more than expected. People will want to come to see you and, as a result, there will be a decrease in those pesky no shows and cancellations.
Gordon is a licensed marital and family therapist in private practice located in Kingsport, TN. He is the owner/president of his group practice Kingsport Counseling Associates, PLLC. Gordon has been in practice for over 10 years and is also a private practice consultant. His blog and consulting website is www.practiceoftherapy.com. You can also find out more about Gordon at: