I realize that this is a super lame blog post title, but the truth is there are a lot of therapists out there wondering how they should be answering the phone. After all the hits my post on voicemail messages got, I figured I should do one on just answering the phone as well. Why is this important? Well, for one thing we know that there are a lot of therapist directories that are out of date and have the wrong phone number attached to a therapist’s name. If you want to test this, go to the website of one of the insurances you take and start calling the therapists in the directory. Don’t worry, the odds that someone will actually answer the phone is slim to none. Note just how many of the numbers you call are disconnected or wrong numbers. Your prospective clients have noticed this too.
The first step is making sure that all of the phone numbers associated with you are up to date and accurate. Think everything’s up to date? Please double-check anyways. There’s a really well known therapist in my city. She’s made a name for herself and is considered one of the top therapists for her specialty. She also commands a really high fee. Well, I wanted to contact her to see if I could set up a consultation so she could help me improve my own skills when it comes to this specialty. I went to her website, so far so good. I then called the number listed on the website (no email was provided) and the number was disconnected! That’s how big of a problem this is that even top therapists don’t have accurate numbers listed.
Why am I stressing this point? Because it’s naturally going to make your clients feel extra anxious about calling you. Imagine that you’re going through a hard time in your life and you finally work up the courage to call a therapist. Someone answers! You’re so relieved you just start talking and pouring your heart out to the person. Then you hear a pause on the other end, then a laugh, “Uh, I think you got the wrong number.” Click. Sounds mortifying doesn’t it? No client wants to risk having that experience and that’s why it’s important that you answer the phone in a professional manner.
You might be thinking “I get what you’re saying but my clients don’t care about stuff like that. They like my down to Earth style.” That may be true but keep in mind that it’s not just clients calling you. It may be an MD considering sending you some referrals. It may be a publisher interested in giving you a book deal. Hell, it may even be the Board doing an initial investigation and your unprofessional manner of answering the phone speaks volumes about how seriously you take your business. When you answer the phone you have no idea whose on the other end and first impressions are everything.
The times I’ve called other therapists and they actually answered the phone, I’ve gotten a lot of answers like this:
“This is Bob”
My assumption is that part of the reason why therapists are answering the phone like this is because the phone they are using is not just for their business; it’s also their personal phone. I understand that it’s important to reduce business costs as much as possible, but let me make this totally clear: NEVER USE YOUR HOUSE PHONE AS YOUR BUSINESS PHONE!!! It is actually a HIPPA violation and privacy violation for obvious reasons. At the very least, use a cell phone that no one else touches but you. That being said, if you use your cell phone for multiple uses, at the very least answer the phone by saying your full name, i.e. “Hello, this is Marina Williams speaking”. If the client remembers your name they’ll at least know they’ve reached the right person.
But what if you want to take it to the next level and really answer the phone in an ultra-professional manner? Well, in that case I want you to imagine that you’ve hired a receptionist. She has a dedicated line just for your business. How would you like her to answer the phone? That’s exactly how you should do it. Some examples of some scripts are:
Hello you’ve reached the office of Marina Williams, licensed mental health counselor. How may I help you today?
Hello this is Marina Williams speaking, licensed mental health counselor. Are you calling to make an appointment?