Uriah: Hello, this is Uriah from Productive Therapist, and I’m here today with my assistant, Tracel, and we’re going to talk about the power of online scheduling. Hi, Tracel!
Tracel: Hi there. This is such a good topic. My life changed when we implemented this.
Uriah: It’s honestly all my favorite things to talk about. I think it’s because it’s one of the only parts of the intake process that you can actually automate, and so that gets me excited always.
Tracel: And a lot of people don’t think about it, and they have like an aha moment when you mention it to them. So that’s exciting to see when that happens.
Uriah: Definitely. So we’re going to cover what is online scheduling, get into the details of that, the several benefits, we’ll talk about the technical aspects, how to implement it, show you some examples, and then we’ll go over some miscellaneous notes and wrap right up. Should be good.
Uriah: All right. So when we’re talking about online scheduling, it’s important to clarify that this is online scheduling for the initial consult call with the intake coordinator or the therapist, whoever that is. Not the option to schedule actual therapy sessions with a therapist.
So you can have both of those in your practice, but we’re talking about that initial phone call, which most therapists I think still do offer, would you say that’s true?
Tracel: I would say so. And occasionally somebody does like to have the phone call with the intake coordinator and then they also like to do their own little calls. So sometimes that does happen, but this could definitely take place of that.
Uriah: Absolutely. I started using this years ago when it was just me taking all the calls and returning the calls. And I personally, we’ll get into the benefits here, but I personally don’t like phone tag at all. Just that whole process always frustrated me.
And so it definitely changed things for me, for my workflow. And then my clients always really liked it, too. And so that’s one of the first benefits, honestly, is that it cuts down on phone tag, which saves time and money. Whether it’s the therapist doing the phone calls or it’s an intake coordinator, it just streamlines that whole aspect.
And I know that that was a big deal for you when you are doing phone support for Productive Therapist a couple of years ago? Tell us about that.
Tracel: Right. So there was a practice that I worked for that had at that time 6 locations and 20+ clinicians, and I was the only one handling all the intakes for the whole entire practice. And the phone tag was ridiculous. There was a time zone difference as well, so I had to factor that into my day, and it was so difficult to do.
And in the beginning, we actually did live answers, so there was that, that you factored in. And it was so hard to get anybody to convert because I couldn’t get anybody on the phone.
Uriah: Right, right.
Tracel: Or I’d call them back and they’re screening their calls. And then I’d be on the phone with somebody else, and I could see them call back. It was so frustrating.
This really was life changing. It reduced my stress, which was huge for me personally, but then actually increased the conversion, which made me feel good and also the practice owner loved. So it was a win-win. And as you mentioned, this is something that actually the clients enjoy, too.
So when you can do something that streamlines and makes your life easier, but it also benefits the clients, that’s really fantastic when you can have that kind of all meet together.
Uriah: Definitely. Actually, I put that practice’s website on our example list, and just as a side note, emailed with him just the other day and he’s now at 50 clinicians!
Uriah: And still using online scheduling with multiple intake coordinators, which is pretty cool too.
Tracel: Yes. That’s great. Wow. That’s exciting.
Uriah: So reducing phone tag is huge. Like you said Tracel, it helps the workflow of the person handling those intake calls and also that saves time and money no matter what.
And then it also increases the conversions, because if you can get somebody on the phone when they’re most motivated to make a decision about counseling, they’re more likely to take that next step.
And if it takes 2 or 3 phone calls back and forth? I know that for me as a consumer, when I have to go through that those extra steps to try to get a service, it just decreases the likelihood that I’m going to follow through, and then I might go with somebody else that is more available.
Tracel: Right. And the other thing is that you can reach somebody, you finally get them available, and then they’re not in an environment where they can speak to you. There’s other people around or they’re at work or whatever, and then it still necessitates another phone call. So that’s why this is so much better being able to schedule the call.
Uriah: It occurs to me that we have, in 2020, in this century, we have sort of a complicated relationship with the phone!
Tracel: That’s true. “Can you just text me? Why are you calling?” 🙂
Uriah: A lot of people don’t want to deal with phone calls at all, but with something so personal as counseling, it still makes sense.
And most of the time, not all the time, but most of the time, people still prefer to talk to a human before making that decision.
So another thing to mention on the benefits list, is that this allows the potential client to complete an action. And this is really what I call a psychological benefit because from my personal experience and from being a therapist, when you’re ready to make the decision or you’re at some sort of crisis point, depending on the severity of that but you’re ready to go and do a Google search, ask your friends, whatever that next step is. You’re at a point where you are ready to take some action.
And when somebody can find the website of a therapist, that looks like the right choice for them, and whether that’s 10 o’clock at night at 8 a.m. in the morning or 2 a.m. in the in the middle of the night, when they can actually schedule an appointment to talk to somebody, there’s a sense of relief that can happen. And they feel like they sort of completed an action like, “OK, well, things are bad right now, but at least I’ve got this call set up to talk to somebody who could help me solve my problem.”
And I think that’s huge.
And, you know, when people are calling 5, 10 therapists or more, and most of the time not getting anybody on the phone because right now almost nobody is answering their phone except for maybe large, large practices. If they can schedule that that call, they might stop the search. So in some ways, that serves to end that search, and that then increases the likelihood that they’re going to sign up with that practice.
Tracel: Right, right. And I think it allows for somebody to mentally prepare for that phone call too, instead of, “OK, I know I need to do this,” and they find some time they make phone calls, and they’re getting frustrated because nobody’s answering the phone, and then they might not be in a good space to be able to share their story with somebody just because of this added frustration of not being able to get a hold of somebody.
So for me, I’m such a planner. So if I knew when I was going to have a phone call, then I could think about the important things that I wanted to say and be more comfortable about it.
So if they can plan it and schedule it, that’s super helpful, too.
Uriah: That makes sense. Yeah, you’re right. They’re more likely to be in the right space mentally and emotionally and physically where they can talk. Yeah, that’s good.
And then also one of the unexpected benefits that we learned from implementing this in my practice a couple of years ago was that more people actually ended up showing up to the calls. Because, even when you coordinate over email to talk to somebody or whatever, there’s a chance that they’re not going to show up. But with some of the options that we’re going to share today, with all of them actually, they come with automatic email reminders and even text message reminders to tell the person, hey, guess what? Your call is coming up in 24 hours, or in an hour, or in 10 minutes.
Uriah: And you can configure those, too. So more people showing up to those phone calls also means more clients coming into the practice.
Tracel: And I have found that when they have those reminders, if something comes up, then they’ve got a great, easy way to reach out to you to try to reschedule so that you don’t have a lot of missed phone calls because they are reminded, and they can do something about it without having to think, “OK, I know I have a call, how do I get a hold of them? How do I let them know?”
So when they get those reminders, it’s right in front of them.
Uriah: The instructions are all there.
Tracel: Yep. And they can handle it right then.
Uriah: Definitely. And if something happens and the person doesn’t show up for the call, then they can also click a button and reschedule. That is also pretty easy to do.
And the last thing here on my list of benefits is that it makes the intake coordinator’s job easier. 🙂
And we sort of mentioned that already, but on our side, of course, with Productive Therapist, we have virtual assistants who are working for 4 or 5, 6, 7 practices at the same time. So that makes that possible, honestly, to some degree that makes that much more possible.
Tracel: Yes, it does. Yes.
Uriah: And then the other example is obviously somebody who is an intake coordinator for a very busy practice. It serves the same purpose as well.
Tracel: Right. Because you can kind of plan your day. If there’s a certain time of day that you would like to focus on phone calls and then the other admin tasks, you can kind of set blocks of time during your day where you are available to take phone calls.
Because sometimes phone calls, if you’re answering them live, can kind of interrupt what you’re in the middle of. And if you have to stop an email, answer the phone, and then you have to get back to the email, try to remember where you were … So it can really smooth out your day so much when you’re able to schedule those phone calls.
Uriah: That’s true. I’ll tell you what I would not want to do is be answering calls live for a business and then trying to get anything else done!
Tracel: Oh, man, no.
Uriah: I used to, back in the day in college, I worked in a call center. I think I might have told you this before, and we took inbound calls. So once you once you click the button, calls would come in, call after call for call, and we’d have to turn off that sort of flow so that we could finish orders. We were actually selling batteries and leather cases for cell phones back in the day. 🙂
Tracel: I did something similar! I never thought about it as a call center, but it was way before the Internet, and it was for a golf company, and I would take orders over the phone.
And that was the thing. They would come one in after the other. And it was really hard to get somebody to hang out on the phone with you so you could complete what you were doing. So you didn’t have to take the next phone call and get all backed up. So, yeah, not my favorite.
Uriah: I mean, of course, it’s helpful to mention right here that I think the highest level of customer service for a therapy practice or any business would be 100% live answer. So there’s no doubt that that is kind of a gold standard, is the phrase that comes to mind. But the reason that most of the practices that we work with don’t do that is because it’s also the most expensive option, right?
Uriah: And whether that’s hiring somebody full time to kind of sit at a desk and be available, or I guess it’s actually cheaper to use a receptionist service that that answers live 100% of the time, but that comes with other negatives that we talk about another time.
Uriah: So the technical details of this, there’s a couple of things to mention. And there are several options for online scheduling software.
But Acuity is also another good option that we recommend pretty frequently.
And then we don’t usually recommend Calendly. I don’t know if you’ve played around with that one at all?
Tracel: I have. I’ve used it personally just because it’s free, but there’s not a lot of bells and whistles to it.
Uriah: It’s very simple, which is nice, but it doesn’t have some of the features that specifically we like to use. I can’t remember exactly what they are, but I remember trying it recently because there was an integration between Calendly and Teachable for coaching calls, and I decided not to use it because ScheduleOnce, in my opinion, was just better.
Uriah: Those are our top 2 recommendations. There are other ones out there for sure. Some can be HIPAA compliant, and then a lot of them are not. So ScheduleOnce and Acuity can be HIPAA compliant. So that’s good.
And then also, it’s Squarespace, and I know a lot of therapists have Squarespace websites. They actually have a direct integration between Squarespace and Acuity. So you can just click a couple of buttons and add that to your Squarespace website.
Tracel: Yeah, that’s pretty easy to do.
Uriah: Yeah. And it looks nice, too! And then WordPress, of course, you can use any of the options because it’s usually an embeddable code situation.
Uriah: And then I just wanted to briefly mentioned the downsides of using an EHR for this purpose.
Just to use SimplePractice as an example, you can do most of these things with SimplePractice and put that widget on your website and allow people to schedule.
But let’s say you have an admin assistant, whether they’re virtual or not, they would actually have to be set up as a clinician, so it ends up being more expensive than ScheduleOnce.
And then as far as the calendar-syncing goes, they would also have to put all of their personal appointments and things on their SimplePractice calendar in order for it to really function the same way.
So I usually discourage people from using their EHR for this purpose, unless it’s a solo practice and they just want to schedule calls for themselves.
Uriah: That would be ideal.
Tracel: And the only other drawback I know specifically with SimplePractice, the drawback on the client side is that they have to create a user profile.
Tracel: And they may not want to do that, especially if they’re kind of looking around or something, that might seem like a little more commitment than they’re ready for in an intake phone call, but they don’t have to do that if you use an online scheduling service.
Uriah: You know, that’s a good point! I have to take a look at that and see, because when you go to the client portal on SimplePractice, you can choose a new client or existing client.
Uriah: And if you choose a new client, I’m just kind of thinking —
Tracel: You still have to fill out all that information.
Uriah: — you still have to fill out a bunch of things.
Tracel: Yes. Yes you do.
Uriah: So with ScheduleOnce and Acuity and these other ones, you can make it as simple and minimal as possible as you want.
Name, email address, phone number. That’s it.
You can just do that. I usually like to put a box that allows them to send a message so we can get a little bit of information about what they’re looking for. That’s nice to know just before you get on the call. But yeah, reduce the friction for that person looking for counseling!
And that’s the way to do it. OK, what’s next? So. On the technical side, it’s a little bit involved, but it’s actually not too complicated.
I know you’ve done a number of these and I’ve done a bunch of them, too.
Uriah: But once you set everything up in the software, essentially it’s copy and paste and it’s a bit of code that you would then go put on the website. So, if you need a website designer to do that for you, you certainly can do that.
It can be a little intimidating, but ScheduleOnce and Acuity, they make it just about as simple as it could possibly be.
And generally, you have the option between a couple of different things. But we either recommend using a button to put on the website (and we’ll show you examples of this, too) that’s clickable, or an embedded form. So you actually see on the page the scheduling options, and we’ll show you both of those.
I actually use on my counseling website I use the button because I think it makes for a cleaner page and then it actually brings up a pop-up where people can fill in all that information.
Uriah: Yeah. So we’ll look at those.
And then just important to note that the way these softwares work is they synchronize with the person’s calendar and as many calendars as they click basically.
So it shows their real time availability at that moment that the person is looking at it. So if you set it up correctly, it’s impossible to double-book or create scheduling problems. That’s actually the problem it solves!
Tracel: And again, like you mentioned, the benefit is that the assistant can have their personal calendar with their personal details on it. And if you were doing something, say you had a doctor’s appointment from 1 to 2. That’s just not going to show up as an available time on your calendar for somebody to schedule. So nobody knows any personal information about what you’re doing. Even your practice owner doesn’t know those things.
It just shows you’re not available at the specific time. Whereas as you mentioned, if you use something like SimplePractice, you have to put some of those things in there so that it blocks off your time. So it’s nice for the assistant to not have to have all the personal information on the details out there!
Uriah: Definitely. So we’re not going to get too technical with this. If you need help or if you have questions about setting it up definitely let us know, we can we can assist you with that. But just know that it’s not that hard. And once you set it up and once you configure that you really don’t have to adjust it. Like we said, the calendar sync works great. And if you need to change your availability, you can pop in and do that, too.
You can block out your calendar on the calendar side, and you can also do that on ScheduleOnce or Acuity side, and you can also designate certain windows of time that you want to be available. So on my personal schedule, I only have 3 days out of the week that I actually want people to be able to schedule something with me.
And I use ScheduleOnce just for all of my coaching calls and professional meetings and things like that.
Tracel: You use it for us when we have meetings with you.
Tracel: We use the link on your calendar and schedule a call with you!
Uriah: Oh, my gosh. That’s another use of this, is for professional scheduling coordinating.
Uriah: And that has that has changed my life for sure because talk about phone tag! But back and forth email, trying to write to people trying to suggest times to meet? You can do easily like 15, 20 emails on that.
Tracel: Absolutely. Yeah.
Uriah: So if you do end up using one of these tools for your practice, definitely use it for your own meetings and calls, whoever that’s with.
Uriah: For sure. OK, we’re going to pop over and do a little show and tell right now.
This is the best part, so I’m going to share my screen real quick, and we’ll look at 4 different examples.
Two, that happened to be Acuity, and then two that happened to be ScheduleOnce.
So this is the Stress and Anxiety Center in San Francisco, and actually throughout the Bay Area, a former client of ours, I guess technically still a current client on a minimal basis. And they have about 50 clinicians. Can you believe that?
Tracel: I know, that’s amazing.
Uriah: So just imagine the call volume. I don’t even know what it is now, but it’s got to be off the charts!
Tracel: Right, yeah.
Uriah: So this is the Contact page and all the buttons on this site where it says “Schedule a session” kind of funnel the person to this page. It says “Take the next step,” and then they do put the phone number here if people want to call. And then below that is the option to “Schedule a 15-minute call with a care coordinator at a time that works for you.”
And this is Acuity. So this is what the embeddable option in Acuity looks like. So people can choose their appointment, adjust their time zone, and then they can see what’s available for today. We’re recording this on a Monday so they can see the entire week this current week. Lots of options.
I actually prefer to show less options. And this is not my favorite view, but nevertheless, it gets it done.
So if I want to go schedule something for 11:30, I can just click on that, and then hit continue. Let’s see what happens here.
Tracel: And I think the way they have it set up, at least when I was there, is that you’re able to see the availability for both of the intake coordinators. So they both show up on one calendar like that. I think that’s probably why it looks like there’s so many options, because you’ve got 2 people’s availability on there.
Uriah: That’s a good point. Yeah, and that’s a nice feature to have, actually, if you have more than 1 person handling intake. Which is not usually a good idea unless it’s a larger practice.
Uriah: So then down here, I can put in my first and last name, phone number, email, and they’ve actually expanded the options here, which you can certainly do. Let’s see, they have additional info, What are you looking for? Where would you prefer to be seen? Because they’ve got all these locations.
Uriah: Oh, this is interesting. So, wow, OK. I would actually I would say that’s too much! Because there’s other ways to do this, but I would certainly be interested in asking him how this is working for them.
But generally speaking, the more involved in online form is, the less people will finish it. So something to think about.
Uriah: But this is Acuity, and that is the main option here. You can see that they really obviously want people to use that option. And it looks good and it functions well. I won’t fill it out. 🙂
And then we’ll pop over to another one here, which is Evergreen Counseling in Berkeley, California. And so if you click, this just happens to be their home page. But if you click on “Book Now,” it will actually open up a new window. This is a different way to do it. So this is the Acuity scheduling page. And this practice for some reason chose not to put it on their website. So this kind of pops them over to this other site.
But it definitely still looks like them. The logo’s there and the branding and their colors are there. So that’s good. And here you can actually schedule 20-minute phone calls with any one of the therapists. So instead of identifying 1 person or only 1 option, they’re actually giving people the choice of selecting the therapist they want to talk to and then scheduling that. And then it looks a little bit differently, but it works similarly here.
Tracel: Mhmm. Nice.
Uriah: That time zone, actually, interestingly enough, it looks a lot different.
Tracel: Yeah, it sure does. Huh.
Uriah: It looks totally different than the other one, although it functions the same. Yeah. So instead of going from the top down, it goes from the left to the right.
Tracel: Right, OK. They have a lot of choices too there, don’t they? “How’d you hear about us?”
Uriah: Yeah, yeah, there’s a lot on there. So that’s option number 2 with Acuity. And all these things in here are customizable so you can make it look and act pretty much just how you want it to look.
So here’s my preference for minimalism. This is my site (Guilford Family Counseling), and it’s due for a refresh here.
But nevertheless, pretty simple. Here it says “We would love to hear from you. The quickest way to get support is by setting up a call using the link below,” and I actually put a picture of Tiffany down here, too.
Tracel: Right. That’s nice. So that they know who they’re talking to.
Uriah: Attach the name to the face is good. And then above this button I actually don’t have the option to do anything else, but below it I did go ahead and put the phone number in case they want to call or send an email.
But I’m trying to prioritize. This is one of our recommendations is if you’re going to use online scheduling, try to tell the people visiting your website that that’s what you want them to do.
Uriah: That’s the main thing, the main option that you want them to take.
You can take the phone number and email address off of the page and truly only give them one option. But you don’t have to do that. Just know that if you put the phone number on the website or on the contact page as well, only a certain percentage of people will use the online scheduler versus calling.
Tracel: That’s right.
Uriah: Which for us is mostly fine. I’m sort of tempted to take that off of there, but I don’t want to make it more difficult for people. In any case, I think I’d have to take a look at the numbers, but I think we have at least about 60% of new referrals using the online scheduler. So that’s pretty good.
Tracel: You’d mentioned that before and I was wondering, and I guess you haven’t looked at it recently, but I was wondering if that has increased since COVID? Because people are going to be doing online therapy, so having that as a first step of scheduling online might be more of an easy transition. So I was just curious if it had increased at all.
Uriah: That’s a good question.
Tracel: But 60%, that’s pretty amazing!
Uriah: It is good. It’s great. And when I look at our referral log and I see people who called and left a message, and Tiffany, my intake coordinator, called back and you can see on the log, “Left voicemail, left a voicemail, left a voicemail” — ahh, that just gets me! Because if they would have just scheduled the call, and then we do 3 attempts, and then we stop reaching out to them.
Uriah: They’re gone. So here we just got a simple button. Click on the button and it pops up a window. And it says “No available times in November.” She must be busy today! This happens to be the end of the month, but usually —
Tracel: Oh, there. That looks better.
Uriah: Here we’ve got some options here. And for some reason, maybe just because I’m used to it, but I like the visual look of ScheduleOnce, and it’s a little bit less overwhelming, so you only see one day at a time.
And then for this one, we do actually have them select 2 times and then they continue to a similar kind of page here. Name, email address, phone number, and a note.
And that’s all I do. They click Done, it shows a confirmation message, and then they get an email that that also confirms that.
Tracel: Right. That’s nice.
Uriah: So that’s the button option there. And then one other example here is this practice in Chicago: Empower Your Mind Therapy. I’m going to go to the Contact page. Actually, I’m on the Contact page here. OK, here we go. So, “We would love to hear from you.” This happens to be one of our clients also being supported by Tiffany, which is awesome. 🙂
Tracel: We do have more than one virtual assistant! (laughs)
Uriah: Yes, we do, we do, we have lots. OK, so then similar idea: a button and you can see that you can customize the look and the color. You can customize a little bit, not a ton. The color and the text as far as that goes. I mean, if you know some coding, some basic CSS, you can customize the button as much as you want.
Uriah: OK, so you click on this one and it’s a similar kind of pop up. We’ll have to tell her to turn off the time zone, because everybody calling is probably in the same time zone, right?
Uriah: Yeah, and then same thing.
Tracel: Looks exactly the same. Right.
Uriah: And then this one operates the same way. Let’s see if she added any other questions. So she added “Indicate if you’re interested in individual therapy, group therapy or both,” mobile phone number, reason for reaching out. So still pretty simple.
Uriah: So that’s just a couple of ideas about what the online scheduling option looks like, and how it can work for you. Is there anything else that we should show? But I think that covers most of the important things.
Tracel: Yeah, I think so, too. And like you said, the back end of setting either of these up is pretty easy to do.
Uriah: Definitely. I mean, it depends on how techy you are! Sometimes I think things are simple, but then I’m very technologically-minded and my mother-in-law is not the same! 🙂
Uriah: So, just to mention here, a couple of things at the end. Some people need to talk to a therapist before they schedule an appointment, and we always prefer to have the person, whether it’s the intake coordinator or the therapist, on the phone. Well, I guess if I was a therapist, it wouldn’t matter, right? But if it’s an admin person or an intake coordinator on the phone, it’s best to go ahead and schedule that appointment at that same time that that call’s happening.
But, if there’s a couple of different reasons why they might need to talk to a therapist. And so giving them that option is the right thing to do. And then that intake coordinator can then schedule that next phone call, hopefully with a therapist. So that’s an option. I think that’s the end of my notes.
Tracel: Yeah. I can’t really think of many downsides to it.
Uriah: No, I mean, our conclusion is that there’s really no reason not to do this. And honestly, it’s not any less personal than calling and leaving a voicemail, I don’t think. It’s only less personal than calling in getting a live person, but when live answer is not an option, I think this is honestly the next-best one.
Tracel: Right. And it’s really great if you are the admin assistant doing the intakes, or if you’re a solo practitioner and you’re the only one that’s doing this. That way you can schedule out time, instead of trying to find time to make phone calls and not reach anybody. If you could schedule those intake phone calls, it would make your life easier too because you could schedule that around your sessions and know that you’re going to reach somebody.
Uriah: That reminds me, when I was a very busy therapist, seeing a lot of clients, pre group practice and then post group practice. Commonly, I would actually see clients until 8 or 9 o’clock at night because I was working with youth and families. And so when I would be done with my day, let’s just say 9 o’clock, and then I would check my email and see that I had gotten phone calls or voicemails, it was overwhelming to then realize that I had something else to do.
And of course, I’m not going to call them back at 9 o’clock at night, but then I was just in session for 5, 6, 7 hours, and I missed that other potential client. So when I started using ScheduleOnce and I checked my email and I see that somebody requested a call, or already booked the call? Even better.
Uriah: And then I don’t have to actually do anything else!
So I hope this was helpful. If you’re thinking about using online scheduling for that first call, we give a double thumbs up! Not that we have a rating system, but double thumbs up to this option.
Tracel: (laughs) Yes!
Uriah: And like I said before, if you have questions or anything that you want our help with, just let us know. Thanks so much for watching. Bye.