Clients come and go. That’s the reality of running a private practice and you accept that it’s just a part of the journey.
But there are some patterns in your clients’ departure that can cause you all sorts of panic and concern:
- When existing clients leave you to go to your competitors, and
- When potential clients don’t find you because they’ve gone to your competitors!
How do you know when clients have gone to your competitors?
There is no concrete way to know that your existing or potential clients are going to your competitors – that is, unless you somehow know information you shouldn’t know about a competitor’s business. However, there are two common and obvious ways to find out:
- Your existing client tells you. You call a client that has cancelled their upcoming session or otherwise dropped out, and they inform you that they’re going to another practice.
- New client referrals have dropped. If you’re doing everything the same and it’s not a particularly low-volume season, yet your new referrals are steadily and consistently dropping, it may be a sign that there is a new player in town that you need to watch out for. This is especially more telling if you’ve been noticing promotional content from a particular practice.
Note: Of course, there are explained and unexplained fluctuations in any business. Just because your new client referrals have dropped it doesn’t mean that you now have to be watching out for a competitor 24/7!
Why do clients go elsewhere?
It’s one thing when your clients leave you because they’ve reached the end of their “lifecycle”. But when clients leave your practice just to go somewhere else, you may need to consider the following reason:
That’s all there is to it. And all other reasons will fall underneath this main reason, including:
- They’re open for longer
- They have more practitioners
- They treat problems you don’t
- They provide better service
- They have a stronger online presence
- They have a strong offline referral strategy
- They advertise
- … The list really can go on!
How to turn competition into an advantage
But the great news is this: This isn’t such a bad thing!
In fact, keeping the below 6 points in mind, you can turn the horror of losing clients to competitors into an advantage for your practice.
#1. Start with a positive mindset: They’re not “stealing” clients from you.
When you face the realisation that some of your clients might be leaving to go elsewhere, your first reaction might be to panic and think all sorts of negative things about your competitor. If you find yourself in this headspace, first work to get out of that mindset.
Competition is fair game in business, and it happens whether you like it or not. And just because your competitors are doing something well, doesn’t mean that they are purposely taking your clients or even intended to in the first place! All it means is that something they’re doing is working.
#2. Competition validates your practice.
Not only should you accept it, learn to embrace competition! Using psychology practices as an example, rejoice in the fact that the practice down the road from you is booming. Not long ago (and even now), the stigma attached to seeing a psychologist would’ve made it difficult for many private practice psychologists to see a full diary.
If someone doing exactly the same as you is successful, then you have all the chances of being successful, too.
#3. Learn from your competitors. What are they doing better?
If your competitors are in fact doing so well that they’re even attracting your existing clients, then there’s definitely something you can learn from them. Put your panic and ego aside and start watching their move very carefully.
Are they on social media?
What are they charging?
Are they open early/late?
What does the practice look like from the outside?
What about the inside?
What does their website look like?
What kind of content do they have on their website?
Do they have blogs? Or videos?
What kind of booking function do they use – online booking, phone, SMS, contact form, email, or all?
These are all questions you could be looking out for.
In fact, don’t just watch them. Get in touch with them and introduce yourself. Congratulate them on their success and ask some of these questions. If done in a transparent way, there is almost no reason for them to turn you away. But even if they did, you’re not losing anything! Just reach out and see if they have any tips to share with you.
#4. There could even be an opportunity to collaborate.
Even better than just asking questions, you could find ways to benefit off of their success. Are there any gaps in their business that you can fill? For example, are they short of practitioners who can service a particular presenting issue/injury type that you can handle?
There are plenty of ways to collaborate with a “competitor”. Whether it’s a referral relationship, sharing advice or taking on a project together, competitors can do more positives for your business than you might’ve imagined.
Of course, keep your wits about you and enter any collaborative projects with a clear strategic objective, and understand what each of you will provide and take.
(For more information about collaborating with competition, read this Harvard Business Review article, Collaborate with Your Competitors – and Win. It’s from 1989 yet still highly relevant.)
#5. It’s a great opportunity to re-evaluate your business processes.
If you’re steadily and consistently losing clients (to a competitor), the issue might not be that your competitors are doing something amazing. The problem may lie in the way you’re doing things.
“But my clients never had a problem with the way I did things before!” You might be thinking.
And that could be true. But it’s also true that times are changing. And if you’re not changing with them then you might be losing the segment of the population that would have come to you a few years ago.
Re-evaluate the client journey from start to finish. What kind of touchpoints are there? How smooth is the process from the client first being aware of you, to finding out more about you, to making a booking, to turning up for the session, to paying for the session, and to book a follow-up session? Could anything be better streamlined or smoother?
A lot of the times, it’s difficult for us to see our own business objectively. So, take a step back and let your clients tell you. Use anonymous feedback forms to gather their true opinions on what you do exceptionally well and what you could do better.
#6. Pay more attention to your current clients.
In any business, client retention is more important and effective for business revenue, reputation and stability, than gaining new clients. If you find that your current clients are leaving you at a more rapid pace than usual, it could mean that you have dropped the ball a bit on the “delight your existing clients” front.
I don’t mean just in terms of providing excellent service as a practitioner. I mean, the things you used to do to go the extra mile to help your clients feel valued and cared for.
Maybe you’ve stopped putting out new magazines in the waiting room. Maybe you’re not sending out your newsletters as regularly anymore. Or maybe you’ve stopped trying to remember little details about your clients like their birthdays or number of siblings. Or, maybe you’re still doing all these things but your clients are looking for something different from their practice.
In order to retain your existing clients, delight and “wow” them. Clients that are blown away by your service most likely won’t leave you for another practice because they’re not looking in the first place!
Something that separates great business owners from mediocre ones is the mindset with which they approach seemingly horrible circumstances. Will you let your practice sink because you’re too busy panicking and feeling upset over a competing practice that’s doing well in their own right? Or will you learn from them and learn from your mistakes to give your practice a makeover that it deserves?
If you’re not entirely sure how to turn your competition into an opportunity, talk to our Private Practice Business Consultants!