How to Eliminate Phone Tag

In 2024, clients still want to pick up the phone to find help.

But most therapists don't answer the phone. 🤦🏻‍♂️

The back and forth of phone tag is frustrating and inefficient.

For you and your clients.

Here are my 5 best ideas on how to fix this.

Smiling woman in a business suit using a computer and talking on the phone in an office setting.

1. Live answer

The obvious answer to eliminating phone tag is to answer the phone. 😂

This can be challenging and expensive, but it can also be worth it.

My friend Whitney Owens is convinced that live answer is the reason for her high conversion rates and I can't argue with her.

You can accomplish live answer by either:

  • Hiring a full time intake coordinator
  • Using a virtual receptionist company
  • Dedicating every waking hour to answering the phone yourself (please don't do this one)

One other alternative that I'm exploring is using an AI voice agent that can live answer all calls, field basic questions and even schedule an intake consult call.

Pretty interesting option that I'm continuing to research!

But Uriah, why would you promote live answer when Productive Therapist doesn't provide that service?

That's a great question.

We provide shared virtual assistants that respond to new calls and inquiries reasonably quickly, usually just a few hours or less.

Almost without exception, this is a huge improvement over the response time the practice currently has.

Also, we can get quite good conversion rates for those practices without live answer.

Of course we leverage some tech tools to make our member's intake process more efficient.

Woman in blue dress smiling at her smartphone against a teal background.

2. Instant text response

Quite a few phone systems have this nifty feature.

When someone calls, but doesn't leave a voicemail, they will get a text message that you can customize.

Here's our current one:

Screenshot of a text message displaying "hi there, we missed your call. feel free to respond to this text message if you have any questions. we are here to help. thanks!" with a timestamp.

Lots of people respond to this message and they seem to appreciate the option.

Then my intake coordinator can answer their questions, share her scheduling link or schedule a time to talk directly with them.

No more back and forth phone calls.

Mission accomplished.

Man in a purple t-shirt sitting on a chair by a window, looking at a monthly calendar on a tablet.

3. Online scheduling for consult calls

I've been a huge fan of using online scheduling tools for years.

Specifically, I use and love ScheduleOnce.

If you're using a scheduling software for your intake process, make sure to choose one that is HIPAA compliant. At the time of this writing ScheduleOnce and Acuity meet that requirement, but Calendly does not. 

The idea here is fairly simple.

You give your potential client the option of using a convenient online scheduler to choose a day and time that works best for them.

The appointment shows up on their calendar and yours (or your intake coordinator).

Reminders are sent out before the call.

It's all very seamless.

You can embed the scheduler on your website, likely on your contact page. You can also include the scheduling link in emails or texts to potential clients.

An important side note is that we have noticed higher conversion rates for folks who book a call versus those who email or leave a voicemail.

This is because of the high show rate for those calls due to the multiple reminders.

For more info, you can check out our podcast episode on The Power of Online Scheduling.

A person books an appointment using a calendar app on their smartphone, with a laptop open nearby on a desk.

4. Online scheduling for first appointments

Maybe you want to bypass phone tag altogether.

Even skip the initial consult call.

You can do that!

If I was starting a solo private practice from scratch today, here's exactly what I would do.

  • Have a super clear niche
  • Build an amazing website
  • Guide clients to book directly online

I would use the SimplePractice booking widget embedded on my website and make sure my availability was always up to date in the EHR.

This would save so much time and of course eliminate phone tag.

There are practical reasons why many therapists choose to not turn on the self-scheduling features in their EHR and I completely understand, but it's something to seriously consider.

You can save time and money by using the tools you already have.

I was talking to a friend this week who has a thriving group practice. She told me that her new clinician is starting in a week and already has 10 private pay clients lined up.

I was shocked and impressed.

I asked her how she made that happen.

She said that new clients were signing up for appointments with her clinician through the client portal, before the therapist even had a web page on the practice website. Whoa!

If you have a busy practice and lots of community need, self-scheduling might be more effective than you could imagine.

An orange rotary phone placed on a teal background, viewed from above.

5. Take your phone number off your website

If all else fails, you can resort to removing your phone number from your website.

Seems drastic right?

Maybe not.

I know a group practice owner that did this and found great success. No phone number on the website, thus no phone tag. All online scheduling for consult calls and even first appointments.

It can be done.

More people are used to interacting with businesses in 100% digital ways, so this isn't a brand new idea.

Tons of people (unfortunately) sign up with BetterHelp just by downloading and using their smartphone app.

No intake call, no phone tag.

At the end of the day, you want your intake process to be personal and human, but also as simple and effortless as possible.

Eliminating phone tag should be a priority.

You truly can design an intake process that guides the potential client smoothly from first contact to first session.

Want more help making that happen?

Check out Therapy Intake Made Easy

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