3 Helpful Things to Keep in Mind to Turn Referrals into Clients
By Todd Schmenk, LMHC
As a helping professional – especially if you’re in private practice, and don’t have a large marketing budget or network for referrals – making the initial contact count is one of most important aspects of your practice’s survival.
You want potential clients to have an experience with you on the phone that exceeds their expectations. You would like to encourage prospective clients to book an intake and ensure that they show up for their first appointment (especially after you invested the time, money, and effort to talk with them). So what can you do to improve these opportunities?
While there are many factors I learned in the business world that can play a role in increasing the success of this initial interaction (I typically convert about 80% of those who call), I believe a strong success rate for anyone can be boiled down into the following three aspects.
1. Be Fully Present
You already have this ability and most likely use skills attributed to it all the time in session. Why let them go unused here?
Think of the phone call as a condensed version of your first session. Apply a “person centered” approach, and let them take the lead. I often start the conversation by simply inquiring what the motivation was to set up the appointment, send the email, or make the call. Something motivated them; find out what that was.
In doing so, you can adjust the way you reply and continue the conversation instead of following a script.
One example from my experience comes to mind. A woman who was at her wits’ end called me. Instead of asking her questions related to service, I asked her what she was feeling right then and there.
When she described it for me, I then led her through a series of quick stress reduction techniques (mindfulness skills) that I would have used in session with her anyhow. It was enough for her to report feeling less anxious, more clear, and suffering less – right in that moment.
I did not need to sell anything. I had her do something, and it worked immediately. Due to this little gain in such a short time, she set up an appointment and showed up for treatment.
Just like you already do in session, be present, listen, and respond. Note the client’s thoughts, feelings, and actions. Keep the spotlight on the client. If you have it in your mind to “close the deal,” you will miss the subtle cues.
Be sure to be aware of your motivations during the conversation in order to stay focused and give your client the attention they deserve. As counter-intuitive as it might seem, you do not need to focus on an agenda.
Remember: They are already in action, they are most likely already at the stage of change required to continue on with you – and Zencare has pretty much already vetted this person as ready. Stay mindful of their needs in the here and now.
2. Listen and Speak From Their Perspective
Identify and understand where the client is emotionally and mentally – are they struggling and barely able to get through the day? Do they have the emotional space to deal with complexity, build self-awareness, and develop comprehensive values? Spiral Dynamics, a theory of human collective consciousness development, provides us with a useful a framework to ask these questions.
Understanding where in their emotional and mental state a client may be, and being fully present with clients, can help you “hear” which stage clients are operating from and increase your ability to connect.
While merely a framework, this can be useful, not only in making the initial connection, but also l in guiding how you create treatment plans. Being present and listening for the identification markers of where clients are emotionally and mentally gives you the ability to speak the appropriate language.
3. Offer Them Hope
This is the main reason in why they are reaching out in the first place. Some folks may have already made up their minds and just want to fill in minor logistic details, so this aspect is not necessary during the phone conversation. For the rest, they know they need some assistance, but are not sure if therapy is the right route for them, or they’re not familiar with some aspect of your approach.
One of my favorite questions I like to ask, if applicable, at some point during the conversation is a version of the miracle question, such as “What was your greatest hope in deciding to come in and work with me?” or “ If you could have one outcome in using this service, what would you hope that it would be?” The placement of this query depends on the cues picked up in conversation.
Regardless of its timing, I have found this question to be important for several reasons.
Gets the conversation started if there is hesitancy.
Begins the process of developing rapport.
For those who have not defined what it is that they want (therefore making it significantly more difficult to address), this question helps them to consolidate a wide range of disjointed thoughts into one simple and clear objective.
Provides the clinician a clear path from which to utilize past experience so that responses closely reflect what the client is looking for, increasing their motivation.
Defines a point of reference that is measurable for future evaluation.
Helps begin the therapeutic process by flipping the focus from a negative orientation (what I want to get rid of) to a positive orientation (what I want more of in my life).
Of course, if their focus is on the negative, that is where I stay with them (since, once again, the conversation is ultimately driven by the client).
Wrapping It Up
I hope this gives some useful insights that will increase your effectiveness in utilizing such brief consultation times with potential clients.
In being present, watching for patterns, and keeping your focus on offering them hope, you need not be as worried about the flow, order, and types of questions asked – since they will vary as much as the person who calls and the situations they present with.
Instead, be sure to take the time to define what you value as a clinician, where you focus, and why and how you do what you do, so each point is clear and concise. In doing this, you will set a strong base that is present in your marketing materials, your practice details and, of course, in your interactions with your client – which begins with your consultation.
Todd Schmenk is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor in Providence, Rhode Island, who specializes in the treatment of anxiety-related issues. His focus areas include general anxiety, panic attacks, chronic health conditions, couples counseling, and performance anxiety.