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Monday
Jul112011

Six Essential Stages in the New Client Process

by Linda Chollar

“Some patients, though conscious that their condition is perilous, recover their health simply through their contentment with the goodness of their physician.” Hippocrates.

Hippocrates knew about the flow of energy and how it affects the human condition. A practitioner’s personal energy, efficiency and ease in their business are all part of a holistic and heart-centered client experience. We know that the art of therapeutic touch can affect a person’s wellbeing. Have you ever thought about this - the “art of doing business” can affect a client’s vibration, energy and outcome? What do I mean?

In a health & healing practice, the entire process of bringing a new client into your business is an art - from the initial contact to gaining a recurring client. This doesn’t just happen without having a system of procedures that helps you to easily cover all the steps.

Regardless of the size of your practice, the art of a running a successful small business is in creating operating procedures – the how-to’s. One of the most vital procedures involves the ideal stages that a new client moves through in the relationship building process. If you are not growing and thriving, look at the entire 6-stage process and ask, ‘where’s the weak link?’

Each of the six stages involves using professional client related forms, ‘office procedures’ for documentation and record keeping. It is more necessary than ever for holistic healthcare professionals to have these procedures in place. These are comments from therapists I have coached who did not have a system to follow. Sound familiar?

    “I don’t feel confident of the steps I use when a new client comes into my practice. How can I do it all - the forms, the progress notes, rescheduling AND the session?

   “There must be an intake form that is better suited for my services. If I could just take the best of all of them and make it fit for me.”

    “What can I add to my office procedure so that clients pre-book before they leave?”

Here’s the flow of stages in processing a NEW CLIENT: first contact, first appointment, interview or consultation, a personalized intake, post-session business, progress notes and follow-up. Each step in the process ideally uses forms that you create to serve your business model. This may sound daunting if you don’t yet have a system of procedures but the good news is that it’s easy to get set-up if you take it one step at a time.

Frustration or lack of confidence results from: not understanding these essential stages; not having a consistent procedure and pre-determined policies for the unexpected (cancellations or billing for missed appointments); lacking a system for recordkeeping and client files (whether hardcopy or digital).

By having your own system of procedures and client forms in place, everything flows naturally; you’re organized, efficient and professional. This allows you to focus on your client needs in sessions. The entire process affects your client experience and as Hippocrates noted, their contentment. At each of these stages your new client is having an experience, adding up to a total impression of you and your business, your efficiency and professionalism.

Wherever you provide your services represents your ‘office’ and the stages apply regardless of your location. For example, I coach reflexologists who have a mobile model of business, similar to onsite chair massage. A checklist is available in my coaching package for mobile practitioners that follow the same art of processing a client with a systematic way to conduct and grow their business. Let’s move your client through the relationship-building steps.

Stage One: First Contact

This can be a phone inquiry or a physical meeting. This first impression and opportunity to gain a new client is often missed, due to lack of planning. If your first contact with a potential client is by phone, the use of a Phone Intake Form is an efficient way to guide you to ask the right questions. Your goal is to ask questions to determine why they are calling you, what their primary need or concern is and assure them you have solutions to offer.

With this brief but concise form, you will have details BEFORE they arrive at their appointment. If needed, you can do research to better prepare for the session.

Mastering the art of the phone inquiry will result in 99% success in booking an appointment and creating an eagerness to see you!

If the first contact is a physical one, the same art applies: turn the focus to their needs, then to the solution you can provide. Give a business card and jot down notes on another about their concerns. Offer a free “I Can Help You” session and ask when would be a good time for them?

Stage Two: First Appointment / Intake Interview

Allow extra time at this visit after completing an intake form, to explain your fees and packages and to summarize your session plan. The art of this intake interview (or consultation) can determine the entire outcome of a client experience. Not everyone has experienced the holistic professional’s approach to finding solutions for their health concerns, stress or pain. Most are used to completing forms at their health provider’s office, handing them to a receptionist and that process seems so matter-of-fact and quite frankly, mundane..

The art of this stage is knowing how to ask questions and engage the client in the process of the health history. Being actively involved in this process of ‘filling out the form’ gives a very different impression of concern, compassion and genuine listening to their needs. It is the beginning of the client-therapist relationship. You will see that I use the intake form at all stages and my client views me assessing by referring to their form, taking notes, sometimes during and always after a session. The key is having a personalized form that serves this purpose.

Stage Three: Personal Service with a Personal Intake Form

The most efficient form is one you have designed yourself to fit the need for your specific practice, style, modalities and the way you choose to intake a client. This form is most useful if it specifically asks for information based on your ideal client profile. If you haven’t yet determined who the ideal client is for your business, download my free 46-page EBook from my website to help you with that process. 

Intake forms are called many names, Client Summary, Health History, Client Information, etc. You may not even realize whether the intake form you are using is efficient for you. Do you find yourself asking recurring questions from clients during sessions? Are these on your intake form? Do you address mental or emotional wellbeing of a client? Would these be useful questions to include? Are you using a generic form with those tiny diagrams of the body? How does that serve you or the client? Does it include both male and female body images with front and back? As a reflexologist, does your intake form include all sides of the feet for the client to mark in detail? Why not create your own forms that ideally serve you and give you an efficient way to tell the story of your clients needs? Contact me if you need help with designing a personalized form that can enhance this stage of the client process.

By having body and feet graphics substantial size it gives a message of the importance of the two. This gives you as a reflexologist, the opportunity to explain the foot-to-body connection. Use this form to efficiently record their story of pain, surgeries, aches and issues adding your own notes for emphasis. Adding a before and after pain scale to the form is a very effective way to involve the client in self-assessing the value of your service.

Imagine a Client Summary Form with several columns: A. Body Systems B. Checklist of Conditions by systems and C. Corresponding Reflexes. As you complete your consultation, you actually use the form to discuss the reflexology session plan based on A-B-C. Your clients will get the idea that they are not here for a ‘footrub’ and that you are about the business of ‘whole body’ work. It’s all in the presentation and the form you create will give this message.

In my free eBook, “4 Steps to Identify Your Ideal Client” you discover the importance of knowing your target market and ideal client. Would it make sense to create an intake form that fits your ideal client profile? Would a podiatrist’s intake form focus on the spine? Does a nutritionist ask you to describe a foot injury? A specialist gathers pertinent details to best do their job. A one-size-fits-all intake form can be inefficient and results in a breakdown of stage three in the New Client Process.

Stage Four: After the Session

This stage in the New Client Process serves several purposes. Consider in your own practice, what happens from the time you finish the session until the client leaves. This is a common weak link for many and answers the question, ‘why don’t they rebook?’

You are responsible for making that happen. This is the opportunity for the call-to-action - you are guiding the client to take the next step. They want to be told what’s best for them and when to come back. What if you left the dentist with a temporary crown and were not given a next appointment?

After the session (and often while they are still on the treatment table or chair) is the time to do a “POST-assessment” of pain levels, get feedback, allow the client time to process and dialogue if needed. Discuss their experience related to their major complaint BEFORE the session and what they are experiencing NOW regarding overall balance, sense of wellbeing and reduction in pain levels. Are they leaving with relief, resolve, solutions, inspiration and empowerment? Ask them, “what do you feel you are taking away from the session today?” Allow them to be present and express, while they are basking in the glow of the treatment, acknowledging their body’s response and validating the service. This could be only a matter of minutes or allow the last 5 minutes for this closure time. Here again is an opportune time to use the intake form, to ask and visibly record that headache pain of 10 down to zero!

Once the post-session assessment is complete, the experience is still in process. You are still serving the client as you pre-book appointments, give self-care tips, exercises, referrals (ex; podiatrist, chiropractor) and send them home with a Welcome New Client packet. This can all be done with ease and efficiency if you have planned ahead and have a system and materials in place.

If you conduct all of your business in one room and do not have a separate area outside the therapy space, designate an area within the room with two chairs for dialogue. Step out, closing the energy for hands-on, give your client time to dress or put their shoes on and return to finish and book their next appointment.

Stage Five: Progress Notes – Tracking Results

This is as important as the initial gathering of information – your objective documentation of the session. Do this as soon as possible. There are as many sample forms for this as intakes. Most will follow the S.O.A.P. format for subjective and objective charting, your assessment and the plan of action for the session. Again, I encourage you to creatively design your own form that fits your style of note taking and your goals for this stage.

How do you use your Progress Notes? I record changes in pain levels and major complaints, moods and emotions. I refer to my notes before sessions and to plan future sessions. After several sessions, they may forget their original concern, because it’s changed! Review their progress as a result of the wellness care you have provided. Think of your ‘forms’ as tools for heart-centered marketing.

I suggest a re-assessment with clients after 6-8 sessions, with a new intake form, to discuss their improvements and compare with the previous intake. They are always surprised! This is show and tell marketing – tell them what to expect, deliver relief & solutions and then ask them to acknowledge. As you track your clients’ progress over time, you will be able to guide them to honor their body’s healing ability with gratitude and you will see the results of loyal clients who know you truly care about their progress.

Stage Six: Follow-up

This is not a one-time event but an ongoing process in itself. Successful client growth is not likely without successful follow-up procedures. There are many systems and strategies for follow-up and this is an area that benefits from having a business coach to help you personalize your follow-up marketing. However, the immediate basics for the New Client Process should include:

Immediate Follow-Up

Send a welcome card, email and do a follow-up phone call 24-48 hours after the client’s first visit. On the phone call, say you are checking in to get feedback about how they have felt after the session and if they have any questions. Encourage the next step, a call-to-action for self-care, to rebook their next appointment, check out a resource, etc.

Book Their Next Appointment

On the phone call, If they did not pre-book at the office, give them an opportunity to reserve a time now. Be prepared with two options of dates/times. Of course they want to rebook! Rather than ask IF they want to book their next appointment, ask WHEN would be convenient for their next session…”I have an opening Monday or Wednesday, at 10am or 2pm either day, which is best for you?”

ASK for Referrals

On the phone call or in the follow-up email, ask for the name of a referral - someone they think would benefit from your service. When you give business cards, always give two business cards and invite them to give one away. Give clients a reward as incentive to refer others to your practice. Learn this system in my step-by-step tele-class, the New Client Referral Reward System.

Tools for The Process

It takes planning and implementing proven procedures to insure return visits, referrals, client loyalty and long-term client commitment. As you develop a system that works for you personally, you will find that your practice grows sure and steady. And you will have more time and freedom.

This six-stage process is taught in a six-session coaching package called, New Client Tool-Kit: Procedures and Forms. It includes the templates and forms for each stage and a flowchart to set-up your own step-by-step system. With this coaching, you will gain the confidence and strategies to take new clients on the journey through your practice to become loyal and committed clients.

© Copyright 2011 Linda Chollar — All rights reserved. Permission given to reproduce or distribute for non-commercial use only with this statement intact: Linda Chollar, author, Reflexology Mentor Business Coaching, http://www.reflexologymentor.com.