Systems

7 Proven Steps That Turn Callers Into Clients

 March 17, 2021

By  Uriah Guilford, MFT

minute read

Therapy Intake Pro is a training and support program designed to help your intake coordinator level up their skills.

Uriah: Hello and welcome to the Productive Therapist podcast! My name is Uriah, I’m a licensed therapist and the owner of Productive Therapist, and I’m here with my co-host, Tracel. Hello!

Tracel: Hi. How are you today?

Uriah: I’m doing good. How are you?

Tracel: I’m doing very well. Excited about this subject.

Uriah: Me too! So I live in California, you live in Utah. My question for you today is: what is your favorite thing about Utah?

Tracel: I think it’s the scenery. You know, I am from California. I lived in a valley. The weather was terrible – the air quality was terrible. So I never saw the mountains unless it rained and cleared everything out. Here, I can see the mountains every single day.

Uriah: That’s fantastic. Yeah. I recently went to Utah – you know this – and probably so far the most beautiful state that I’ve ever been to, and I never… I was surprised, genuinely surprised. I mean, California is amazing!

Tracel: Yes.

Uriah: Utah is unique and epic in its own way. That’s so cool. I think for me, California – I mean, I’ve always been here – born and raised.

Tracel: Yep.

Uriah: So it’s kind of hard to understand the things – unless you travel, which I have – that you appreciate about where you are. But I think for me it would be a tie between the weather – everybody would say that! – and the food, because you don’t realize until you go to like – no offense – but the middle of Wyoming or some other place in the country and they have three or four good things. But in California, we have amazing, amazing food.

Tracel: Yeah, I miss a really good taco, I have to say that. And the beach. It would be the food and probably the beach would be it for me.

Uriah: Tacos on the beach.

Tracel: Yes! What could be better?

Uriah: Right?! There you go! So today in this podcast, we’re talking about the simple seven-step process to convert callers to clients. And do you remember when we actually created this?

Tracel: I didn’t until you brought it to my attention! It was when I was in training.

Uriah: Right! I was training you and I was, like, ‘You know what? Let’s just record this.’

Tracel: Yes!

Uriah: And then what happened from there is…I’m trying to remember exactly, but we started sharing this with other practice owners, I believe. And then eventually you started training their intake coordinators.

Tracel: Yeah.

Uriah: And we created the course Callers 2 Clients, which then morphed into Therapy Intake Pro, which we’ll tell you a little bit more about later, but that’s a training and support program that you and I run together that’s just been a surprisingly wonderful thing.

Tracel: Yes, it has been.

Uriah: Yeah! So I’m going to read off the seven steps and then we’ll touch on each. And then if people want more information, there’s a full course on this within Therapy Intake Pro, so we’ll point you in that direction. So, simple seven-step process is: 1) Connect, 2) Assess, 3) Match, 4) Answer Objections, 5) Close, 6) Refer, and 7) Follow Up. And this applies whether you are a solo practitioner doing all the intake duties yourself or if you have an intake coordinator, a virtual-assistant, office-person, whatever that might be. And they don’t necessarily happen in this order completely within every phone call, but they are all the components that, while simple, if you execute on them, more people will sign up for counseling than not, right?

Tracel: Yeah.

Uriah: So the first one – super-important – is Connect. And this one’s all about being personable and warm and showing interest in the person that’s on the other end of the phone call. Wouldn’t you say this is maybe one of the most important things?

Tracel: I was just going to say, as you were reading those off, I was trying to think, Is there one more important than the other? And they all are valuable, obviously. But I really think this might have a little bit more weight, because I think even though you may not do these things in order, I think this one always happens first or in my opinion, maybe should happen first. And if you can’t do this, if you can’t make a connection, I don’t think the call is going to go anywhere. So from that standpoint, I think it is maybe the most important thing.

Uriah: Definitely. And that’s true in any customer service or “sales” situation. If you call any business looking for a product or service and you end up talking to somebody who is warm and friendly, caring and – if necessary or if appropriate – they express empathy and understanding, that’s just something that pulls on our humanness, right? To go: ‘This is the place. These are the people. This is the person.’ And I think that’s one of the things that was, for so many years, my superpower – well, hopefully still is! – but when I was doing my own phone calls for my own counseling practice, I think even though I am an introverted person, meeting people over the phone was somewhat easier and I found ways to connect with them and establish what we call – it’s not unique to therapists – but what we call ‘rapport’; that back-and-forth connection between two people.

Tracel: Right.

Uriah: That’s pretty key. And when we’re hiring virtual assistants, this is one thing that we look for because you really can’t train somebody to be empathetic.

Tracel: You can’t.

Uriah: You can give them a script and you can say, “Okay, when you’re on the phone, say ‘That sounds really hard,’” but if they don’t have warmth in their voice, if they’re not smiling and really meaning it, it’s not going to come across.

Tracel: It sounds like they’re reading a script.

Uriah: Exactly!

Tracel: You do not want that.

Uriah: Yeah. And we’ve all had that experience being on the phone with somebody where they’re reading a script and you’re like, ‘Oh gee’…

Tracel: You can hear the page turn!

Uriah: ‘When can I get off the phone with this person?’

Tracel: Right. Right.

Uriah: So Number One is Connect. Super important. You can get better at those things. I think most people have the ability to have empathy and warmth. So if you don’t feel like you’re the most warm person or your intake coordinator is not the most warm person, it can get better. And then also, quick caveat on that one: if you do have somebody handling your intake role who doesn’t check this box at all, you might want to really rethink keeping them in that role, right?

Tracel: Yes, definitely.

Uriah: So that’s Number One – Connect. Number Two is Assess. Super important in the process here is basically just finding out what they need and asking good questions. And usually, at least what we teach is it’s a very simple kind of open-ended question: ‘Tell me a little bit more about what you’re looking for,’ or something along those lines. And then there’s fine-tuned nuances to this process. And therapists sometimes think that they’re the only ones that can do a decent assessment, but if you have a trained intake coordinator, they can do this job quite well. And we recommend using a script to help because I think asking the same questions every time is usually a good way to go, wouldn’t you say?

Tracel: I would say so, yes. And I think even if you have to ask an auxiliary question, you can say the same thing. But it’s the way that you say it that has such an impact. And you’re oftentimes going to be talking about personal, private things. And so asking where somebody still keeps their dignity, where you’re not prying, but getting the information that you need so that you can make the assessment. I think there’s a little bit of finesse to that, but I do believe that part could be taught.

Uriah: Absolutely. And this goes a long way. We’ll talk about the next step, which is Matching, but this goes a long way with client retention, because if you are on the phone with somebody and you sign them up for a therapist or a particular therapeutic service that is actually not appropriate for them, they may not show up or they may come and not stay. So figuring out ’Is this the right client for my specialties or for the specialties of this practice’ is key. And that – you were going to say something?

Tracel: Well, I was just going to say – I didn’t mean to interrupt you, but before you moved on – you mentioned that oftentimes this might be if it’s a solo practice, the practice owner doing this and the advantage of having somebody else do that is that, yes, you may think that nobody else can do it as well as you can, but how many times as a therapist have you had a free 30-minute session with somebody because they’re calling and realize you are the therapist and now they’re just going into way too much detail, whereas a virtual assistant or somebody that’s doing those intakes for you can gently stop someone when they have the information that they need and then go on to the rest of it, the matching and the scheduling and all that sort of stuff, which you don’t have that luxury necessarily when you are the therapist.

Uriah: We’ll have to do another episode on the benefits and the values of having an intake coordinator, right?

Tracel: Right.

Uriah: There are there are many. Many! So the next step is Matching. And this obviously applies moreso to group practices where there’s more than one selection for a therapist, but it also makes sense for a solo practice because it’s like Assess and then Match, ‘Am I the right therapist for you?’ So this is just, what we teach is to select the best available therapist. And that seems to be the most ethical way to do this. And like I said before, this is important for client retention as well, because if Tiffany, for example, the VA that supports my practice, if she talks to a client that happens to have, let’s say, a 10-year-old boy, but the only therapist with an opening only sees older teenagers and really connects well with older teenagers, she should not match that therapist and should refer them out. So lots of lots of details to the matching process. We train our virtual assistants to do that process. And then through Therapy Intake Pro, we help the intake coordinators learn how to do that better. And it can be tricky, especially if it’s a larger practice, right?

Tracel: Right. And I think when you are transparent with somebody and say, ‘We don’t have somebody that’s the right fit for you’ and you do refer them, they’re going to appreciate that, instead of you trying to shoehorn somebody that is not going to be a good fit just for the sake of keeping them with your practice.

Uriah: So true.

Tracel: I think that is going to go a long way.

Uriah: It really does, yeah. I remember several times when I told a parent on the phone, ‘I actually don’t think I’m the best therapist for for your family and for your son or daughter, but I think this person across town would be better for you.’ And they were shocked and happy and, like, ‘Thank you so much!’

Tracel: Right.

Uriah: And sometimes I would say that when I just really felt like I didn’t want to work with them! Confessions of a therapist, yeah.

Tracel: That’s another podcast!

Uriah: We’ll get to step six on Referring. That’s coming up, right?! So 1) Connect, 2) Assess, 3) Match, and 4) Answer Objections, which is technically a phrase from the world of sales, but this is kind of overcoming objections, I guess you could say.

Tracel: Right.

Uriah: Talking specifically about the things that might get in the way of the person on the phone becoming your client.

Tracel: Mm-hmm.

Uriah: Usually with counseling, it has to do with fees and insurance – if you do or do not take their insurance, if the fee is affordable or in their capability to pay and then also to some degree scheduling.

Tracel: Right.

Uriah: And we train people to do this to a reasonable degree. And what I mean by that is that there’s no hard-sell with counseling, there’s no hard-sell. And there’s no…I don’t know…Have you ever been in a position where you were being sold something and they really pushed on you and tried to force you to buy the thing?

Tracel: Yes.

Uriah: A timeshare or something like that.

Tracel: Right. And I dig my heels in and I go the other way because I don’t like that approach!

Uriah: No, it’s not a good experience. So obviously we don’t do that. And no therapist would most likely do this. But you want to answer these objections and you want to address them, especially if you sense that there’s some discomfort or some hesitancy or pause on the other end of the phone. And we talk about this in more depth in Therapy Intake Pro on how to manage talking about fees. There are a certain number of people, there are certain percentage of people that will call a counseling practice, find out they don’t take their insurance and still become a client. It’s somewhat rare, but it will happen if that therapist is…if their specialty is a perfect alignment with that client, if there’s some sort of really positive connection. I’ve certainly had that happen many times because I specialize in working with teenage boys. And people who had Kaiser Insurance here in California, they couldn’t find the best therapists, so they would come to me and pay out of pocket. So that can happen for sure.

Tracel: Right. I was thinking a couple of other things that we do touch on in Therapy Intake Pro is it could be a gender situation where they’d prefer to see one gender than another. And even in age, they would like to see somebody older or younger or whatever the case may be. And so those are similar things that you learn to to overcome those objections as well that we talk about in more detail in that course.

Uriah: Right. I guess this would fit in this part, but we teach intake coordinators ways to make the therapist that they choose sound really amazing.

Tracel: Right.

Uriah: So in some situations, it could be, ‘We don’t have a male therapist but I’ll tell you what, Mimi is fantastic. And she works really, really well with teenage boys,’ for example.

Tracel: Right.

Uriah: And sometimes that can work. In my opinion, ethically, only if you really do feel like this could be a good choice.

Tracel: Right. Right. Yes.

Uriah: That’s Number Four – Answering Objections. Number Five is Close, which kind of just means wrapping things up, because in any conversation where there’s a free consult or a phone call, you have to stop people from talking because if they’re ready for therapy or if they’re super-in-need and you’re a nice, warm person on the phone, they will tell you their whole story.

Tracel: Right!

Uriah: ‘It started in first grade when my son got this diagnosis.’ Oh, my goodness. Yes. Sounds like good things to talk about in your first session!

Tracel: Yes. I love that phrase.

Uriah: Right?! This part is really just about having a sort of a wrap-up script, if you will, and filling them in on the next steps, which is usually simply, ‘Just to confirm you’ve got this appointment time for this fee with this therapist. And what I need you to do next is X, Y, Z,’ right? Simple as that.

Tracel: And I think that’s really important, especially if it’s somebody’s first time to therapy: they don’t know what to expect and they’re probably nervous and maybe anxious about it. And so if you can just lay out for them very clearly what the next steps are, what’s expected of them, what you’re going to do, it’s going to make that transition for them so much easier and that handoff to the therapist. They will have had a really good experience with the intake person, then when they get to the therapist, they are not a ball of nerves.

Uriah: A bit of a warm handoff there, yeah. And it’s a little bit of a skill to be able to transition a conversation like this, and there’s various ways to do that that we talk about in the program. But – I wouldn’t say it’s the worst thing that can happen – but sometimes I’ve done this and I know other ones of our assistants have struggled with this at times of letting that phone call go way too long. So you’ve got to learn how to interrupt people graciously and then guide them towards making a decision because the intake coordinator …they’re not a therapist, obviously.

Tracel: Right.

Uriah: And they need to be able to have the ability to guide that person through some sort of process to get them to the final end.

Tracel: Mm-hmm.

Uriah: So Number Six is Refer. And this doesn’t apply in all situations, obviously, but if any of those things we mentioned before are true – we don’t have the right therapist, the scheduling doesn’t work out, the fee doesn’t work out, etc – making a community referral, if possible, is really the best kind of customer service. And in some ways even, I consider it marketing that creates some word of mouth, right? So if you have a good conversation with somebody, but they don’t become a client and you say, ‘I think really, John across town is going to be a better therapist for your family,’ they’re more likely to tell somebody or just speak positively about the practice.

Tracel: Right. And it’s interesting because I feel very passionately about that as well, because our goal is to provide world-class customer service throughout the entire length of the phone call, even if we have to say No, like you say, because they are not a good fit. And I’ve worked with some members that we have who their referral list is sending somebody to Psychology Today. I was so uncomfortable doing that because to me, that’s just not good customer service. And of course you do whatever the member wants, but I just think that – it seems like a little thing – but I think it is essential to really good customer service is showing them the right direction to head.

Uriah: It takes a bit of work to maintain a community referral list that’s up to date, but it’s definitely worth it. I just found out some some sort of good news about a colleague of mine that left a group practice across town to go work for a big insurance company in the pediatric psychiatry department. I was, like, ‘Oh!,’ so I made notes about that to remind myself and to tell Tiffany that Brian is now over at Kaiser and he’s a fantastic therapist, so that is a good thing to do. I will not disagree with you, but I will add a footnote to the referring to Psychology Today, because in my practice we will do that. And in some ways that can be helpful because not everybody knows that that is actually quite a good directory to find a therapist because you can dial down and find somebody that’s a male therapist who’s a Buddhist who – whatever.

Tracel: Right, right. Yes.

Uriah: So it’s not the worst. But if you’re just, if you’re having everybody…’We can’t help you; go over here.’

Tracel: Right.

Uriah: That’s not great. Alright, so the last one is Follow Up. And this is really important as well, because there are lots of situations where you have to leave a voicemail or an email gets unanswered, for one reason or another somebody doesn’t respond or even in a situation where they do become a client, but they don’t fill out the paperwork or whatever that might be. If you have really good follow-up procedures, like we said before, good customer service, it will help with client conversion. And people just appreciate it, too.

Tracel: Right.

Uriah: For sure. And it doesn’t happen very often. Sometimes I’m surprised at the professionals that I get in touch with that don’t respond at all, right?

Tracel: Right. Because people are busy and they need that reminder sometimes. And again, it’s good customer service.

Uriah: Definitely. And one pro tip on that is: we recommend three follow ups. Maybe each day: once on the day that they reach out, and the next day, and the next day – you can put a little bit of space in between those, if you like. But one thing that you can do if you want to and if your intake coordinator has the time is flag those people on the spreadsheet that don’t respond to two or three messages and reach out to them a month later. Just a friendly sort of message, whether that’s a phone call or an email that says, ‘We never got to connect. I’m hoping that you found the right therapist for your son. Let us know if you need anything.’ That type of thing.

Tracel: Right.

Uriah: And, like you said, people get busy and especially families – well, everybody! – and so they might still be looking for a therapist and never, they just kind of dropped the ball. That might be helpful.

Tracel: Yeah. And you touched on it a little bit – we go over this more in the course – but the importance of having a referral log or a spreadsheet that you’re using so that you can follow up with people, nobody falls through the cracks that way.

Uriah: Definitely – helps a lot. So there you go. That’s basically it: seven steps to convert more callers to clients. And it’s: 1) Connect, 2) Assess, 3) Match, 4) Answer Objections, 5) Close, 6) Refer, and 7) Follow Up. And these are things that are constantly in some sort of process, meaning you can improve it, but once you get most of these steps dialed-in and you get a person in that role who is doing a good job, it’s a game changer for the practice, for sure.

Tracel: Yeah, it is.

Uriah: If you want more help and support with this, I’ve mentioned it several times, but check out Therapy Intake Pro, which is, like we said before, a training and support program for intake coordinators. Generally, we don’t have therapists signing up that are doing this role themselves; it’s usually somebody that has a virtual assistant or an office person handling phones and scheduling. And you can actually go check out the show notes – we’ll put the link in there because it’s kind of a long one! But go check it out. It’s a low cost per month and you’ll get a lot of value out of it. And you can just stay subscribed for as long as you need it and then you can pop out. We also have as a part of that monthly Q&A calls, which are really fantastic.

Therapy Intake Pro Course

Tracel: They are, yes.

Uriah: Lots of really good questions coming up. And I feel like we do a good job of supporting those intake coordinators so they can go back and do a better job and help the communities that they serve.

Tracel: Yes, absolutely.

Uriah: Good stuff. Thanks for talking through this with me today! It was fun.

Tracel: Alright, we’ll talk to you again.

Uriah: Alright. Bye!

Tracel: Bye!

Uriah Guilford, MFT


Uriah is a group practice owner and the creator of Productive Therapist. He is a technology nerd, a minimalist travel packer, a rock drummer and business development enthusiast.

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