Your practice phone rings.
It’s a new prospective client reaching out to learn more about what you do.
How you handle this phone call can mean the difference between this person receiving your life-changing help or them continuing their quest – and possibly never finding a therapist anywhere near as skillful and compassionate as you are.
Of all the places to focus on improving within your practice, your handling of the initial phone consult is easily in the top three most important.
Let’s dive in and look at nine steps you can take to make sure you’re conducting the best, most effective phone consults possible.
1. Answer Quickly – or Call Back As Soon As Possible
Believe it or not, this is an extremely non-obvious point.
Most therapists can’t be bothered to answer, and they certainly aren’t in a hurry to call prospective clients back.
I know this because I’ve watched therapist after therapist come into our system (Therapy Practice Accelerator) and then switch their phone habits to prioritize answering quickly and calling back missed calls as soon as possible.
Invariably, I hear them report back that the prospective clients they speak to consistently mention things like: “No other therapist even answered their phone,” or “You’re the only therapist who actually called me back. Thank you so much!”
Resolve to answer your incoming calls quickly. Whenever you can’t answer, call back your missed calls as soon as you can.
Yes, you will speak to some telemarketers this way.
Just tell them you’re not interested and hang up.
Because those times when you actually get the new client – and change their lives – thanks to this habit vastly outweigh the annoyance of a few conversations with pushy telemarkters.
2. Call Back Missed Calls Even When They Don’t Leave a Voicemail
I covered this point extensively in a previous post, so I’m not going to belabor this point here.
But there are many reasons for why someone might not leave a voicemail when they call you to learn more about your work.
Just call all missed calls back as a fundamental practice.
Follow reasonable privacy protocols, don’t identify yourself as a therapist, don’t give any identifying information other than your first name and that you think you missed a call from this number a bit ago…
…and put yourself in a position to help someone who has been searching far and wide for a therapist without success and who’s getting frustrated because no one is answering their calls.
3. Immediately Take the Lead and Guide the Conversation
The most important thing any prospective therapy client is looking for is to know you are confident in your ability to help them with whatever’s going on in their life.
By immediately taking the lead in your phone conversations with prospective clients, you demonstrate confidence and professionalism.
You don’t have to be pushy while doing this – but you do need to take the lead and guide the conversation.
An initial consult is a hugely valuable service you offer to anyone who calls into your practice.
First off, you’re helping them understand what it even means to look for a therapist. The way you conduct this initial consult, the questions you ask, and the way you explain what you do all combine to give an education to your caller about what therapy is, how it works, why it matters, and how it can help them.
All those benefits flow from you taking the lead and then guiding the conversation forward from there.
4. Listen More Than You Speak
In a great initial phone consult, you’re doing most of the listening while the prospective client does most of the talking.
Ask a question, and sit back and really listen to what the person on the other end of the line tells you.
Then, ask another question.
Keep the focus on the prospective client until you’re well into the call.
What are you doing with all this listening?
Well, you need to…
5. Identify Whether You Can Help the Prospective Client
You aren’t the best therapist for everyone.
You’re particular approach, the way you work, what you offer – these things will be perfectly matched to certain folks’ needs…and then, for other potential clients, a different therapist would probably be better.
It’s also correct and important for you to figure out whether this is the type of client you would love to work with in your practice.
Do they have challenges you’re qualified to work with?
Do they exhibit the qualities you know to look for in you best clients?
Do you see any red flags that indicate they need a higher level of care than what you provide?
You aren’t providing a clinical diagnosis on your initial consult…but you are diagnosing, internally within your own mind, whether you’re able to help this client and whether they’re the kind of client you know benefits from your work.
6. Trace the Caller’s Past, Present, and Future
Ask questions that reveal what’s happened in the prospective client’s life up to this point, what’s happening in their present that’s leading them to reach out for therapy now, and where they ideally would like to be in their future for therapy to have been a success.
When you have a sketch of their past, present, and future, you can then explain how your work can help them address their past, improve their present, and realize their future. And those pieces are what will cause someone to decide to come in for therapy – because you took the time to listen, and because you helped them see how therapy with you can facilitate their healing, growth, and happiness.
7. Get Their Permission to Share What You Do
After a period of time asking questions and listening to their past, present, and future, it will then be time for you to shift into more of a speaking role.
Since this is such a transition point in your initial consult, it’s important to mark that moment by getting the caller’s permission for you to shift into speaking mode.
This is very easy to do. At the appropriate moment, you simply say something like: “Based on what you’ve told me, I can certainly help you. Would you like to hear more about what I do?”
When the person on the other end of the line says yes, you then transition into sharing about what you do and how it can help them.
8. State Your Work in Terms of What They Need
Now that you have their permission to share what you do, don’t slip into jargon and trying to impress them with your credentials and education.
Instead, phrase your work in terms of exactly the things the caller expressed as important to them.
Your modalities are less important here than how you can help them resolve the specific issues they mentioned to you.
If you listen deeply and then express how you do therapy and the benefits your work offers them in terms of exactly what they said they needed and wanted help with, you will be highly likely to convert the caller into a client.
9. Ask for a Clear Yes or No
The worst possible outcome from an initial consult is a “maybe.”
“Yes, I’d love to come in” is of course the ideal response.
“Oh, I think I need to keep looking for someone who is able to help me with my specific situation” is fine, too. A “No” is the next-best-thing to a “Yes” because it closes the loop and lets you both continue forward without wondering what’s going to happen.
It’s the “Maybe” calls that will waste your mental energy and leave you doubtful and frustrated.
How do you avoid falling into that dreaded “Maybe” space?
You present your work, you explain your specific polices (including price, expected level of attendance of sessions, etc.) – and then you ask whether they’d like to go ahead and schedule their first session.
If you aren’t accustomed to point-blank asking them to come in for therapy, this can feel uncomfortable at first.
However, it’s a huge gift to both of you to just go ahead and ask directly whether they’d like to become a client.
For those callers who are in fact ready to commit, you’ve given them the gift of clarity and the direct invitation to declare their commitment to coming in for therapy.
For the callers who aren’t ready to commit, you give them the gift of having to make a decision rather than taking the decision with them.
Direct questions invite direct answers.
Some people will find ways to squeeze out a “Maybe,” but by and large it’s quite hard to be vague in response to a specific, clear, direct question like “Would you like to go ahead and schedule a session? I have a few slots available in the afternoon Wednesday and Thursday this week.”
An initial phone consult without a clear, direct request for them to decide whether they want to come in for therapy is like watching a movie and leaving before the big third-act resolution.
Ask them directly whether they’d like to become a client. It’s good for them, good for you, and good for business.
The Path to Initial Phone Consult Mastery
I’ve helped hundreds of therapists hone and master the way they handle incoming phone calls from prospective clients. This is an area of immense potential for your practice – if you take it seriously and work toward mastery.
If you want every possible advantage when speaking to new clients, then I invite you to speak with one of our practice growth experts. Book a call, and let’s learn more about your work and help you learn more about how we can help you achieve your dreams for your practice.