As a private practice owner, you know all too well that client retention is important. Specifically, high client retention is critical to the success of your practice.
While there are a number of ways to measure client retention in your practice in a way that’s most suitable for your specific needs, the general rule is this:
Better for revenue, completion of the care plan, and the client-practitioner relationship, although it goes without saying that the number of sessions your clients attend should actually be clinically relevant and important.
Knowing the importance of retention isn’t enough, though. Without proper strategy and efforts to increase and maintain client retention, you might find that some of your clients don’t return after one or two sessions.
So, what are some of the reasons your clients might not be returning? From our experience working with private practice owners and allied health practitioners, below are the common mistakes that practitioners make which can significantly impact retention.
#1. You don’t accommodate the clients’ availability needs.
We live in a busy world. For some clients, it’s not always possible to attend their sessions during daytime or between 9 to 5. Where possible, it’s important to extend your availability so that your services are accessible to those who can’t take time off work or school. Open some evening sessions as well as Saturdays.
Remember to be strategic about your hours, however. Instead of making yourself widely available all of a sudden, change your hours according to your current clients’ needs. You can also gradually open more hours and see the impact it has on your client volume and retention.
#2. You don’t call clients that cancel or no-show.
In a perfect world, 100% of booked clients would show up without any follow-up. Unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect world and things come up, we forget appointments, and sometimes people would rather “ghost” you than to call up and give a reason for cancelling.
For clients that cancel without reason or that fail to turn up, follow up and ask why. You could potentially find out if there is a trend in cancellation reasons, and how you can better accommodate your clients. This is a great strategy to gain statistical data for your practice by observing any patterns and also emphasises to your clients that their cancellation/no-show is noticed on the other end.
Don’t forget to leave voice messages for clients that you can’t reach on the phone, and kindly let them know you missed them. As a general rule, follow up up to 3 times if you can’t reach them, after which point you should let them go.
#3. You don’t immediately book in the next appointment.
A lot of practitioners have a habit of saying, “Book another appointment when you feel you need to.” That’s a big no-no!
As the practitioner, you are in the authority position to guide your clients in their treatment journey. When left completely up to them, the clients might not know when they should come back again. They might also be unsure about what constitutes a “need” to book in with you again.
At the end of each session, say, “Let’s have another session at the same time in 2 weeks.” This approach lets the client know that in your professional opinion, you feel the client should come back in 2 weeks. It also removes the need for the client to go through the trouble of making another appointment.
#4. You make it difficult for them to make another booking.
For clients that you couldn’t forward-schedule another appointment as per the previous point, the booking process should be as simplified as possible for them to take action.
I don’t know about you, but as a tech-obsessed millennial, I’m more likely to purchase services from a business that has made the purchasing process seamless. And while not all clients would care (and some would prefer to talk to someone on the phone), you need to accommodate a large population of your current and potential clients who would prefer to get things done with just a few clicks.
Basically, don’t make your clients jump through hoops just to book a follow-up appointment! Back-and-forth emails and phone tagging might just drive your clients away to a practice with a simpler solution.
#5. The client thinks their treatment is complete.
Sometimes, we think we know best about our own bodies and minds. How many of us have stopped taking antibiotics on the 3rd day just because the symptoms were gone?
Conversely, how many of us would have continued to take them, had the doctor said, “In the next few days, you’re going to feel better and want to stop taking these medications. If you do that, you might be stopping treatment before the problem has been solved. I need you to continue taking them no matter how great you feel.”?
It’s about communicating the clients’ responsibilities and expectations, and empowering them with knowledge. From the start, help them understand their treatment plan and why it’s recommended. When a client knows that they’re only half way through their plan, they would be more likely to come back to complete their sessions.
#6. Your practice is not welcoming or comfortable.
Physical environment is just as important as the service you provide. It can also leave a lasting impression on clients, as well as transfer to their expectation of their experience with you.
Clients who don’t like the physical environment could easily find another practice that’s more suitable for them. And since you’ve done all the work to acquire them in the first place, you might as well “wow” them when they walk into your practice, too.
You don’t need an expensive makeover to create a warm and inviting environment. Change a few things like artwork, temperature, and lamps to help clients feel at ease immediately.
#7. You’re not likeable.
I’m sorry, this is harsh. But it’s true.
Clients, like yourself and anyone else, prefer to have a continuing professional relationship with someone that they feel comfortable around and like. And if they don’t find you to be likeable, they might find another practitioner they like better.
We can’t get along with everyone. No matter how kind and personable you are, there are always going to be people that don’t click with you. However, if you find that you have consistently low client retention rates compared to other practitioners, it might pay to re-evaluate how you come across to others.
#8. You’re not evaluating your clinical skills.
A newbie hairdresser wouldn’t have nearly as many regular customers as an experienced hairdresser. Customers can notice the lack of skills as well as lack of confidence.
In the same way, an inexperienced practitioner can have trouble retaining their clients. This is why, in our experience, new practitioners don’t have as many return clients as their more experienced counterparts (around 3 sessions per client vs 6+ sessions in psychology private practice).
While a lot of these skills and confidence would come with experience, it’s also important to regularly re-evaluate your own skills. In addition to the supervision and training, focus on learning to effectively apply your training to your real-life clinical style.
Most of the points raised above wouldn’t take a lot of time to improve. A few changes in your communication or appointment-booking habits could make a world of difference. I suggest that you jot down your current retention rate and compare in 6 months after making these small changes.