Nobody has to tell you that client care comes first. That’s something we really respect and appreciate when working with private practice owners in the allied health space. As a business coach, I have never really had to bring up any ethical concerns about our clients’ duties as practitioners.

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about client engagement from the perspective of running a successful business.


What is customer/client engagement?

In a marketing sense, customer engagement refers to the means by which a business creates and maintains a connection with its customers through various communication channels to foster brand trust, loyalty and awareness.

That means that everything you do or communicate with your customers to help, satisfy and delight them makes up your customer engagement strategy.

The two main questions to ask in relation to customer engagement are:

  • Will the customers come back?
  • Will the customer pick you over your competitors?


Why is it important to improve client engagement in private practice?

Before we get to strategies to improve client engagement, let’s first briefly look at why it’s so important for private practices, on top of providing great client care.

Even in the world of healthcare businesses where your goal is to not keep your clients forever, the notion of client engagement is still essential. Stable and genuine client engagement strategies can help to:

  • Minimise premature termination of treatment plans
  • Reduce churn or increase client retention rates
  • Build a positive reputation
  • Increase word-of-mouth referrals
  • Have your clients return in the future, and of course,
  • Provide better care for your clients.
These benefits all translate to higher revenue for your practice, and are achieved by delighting your clients with a great experience.


Client engagement and satisfaction in the healthcare world

To give you some statistics about the impact of client engagement, a 2016 study by Vanguard Communications found that 96% of online complaints about doctors were about customer service and communication, not quality of medical care.

“The study … reveals that only 1 in 25 patients rating their healthcare providers with two stars or fewer is unhappy with his or her physical examination, diagnosis, treatment, surgery or health outcome.

The other 96 percent of patient complaints cite poor communications, disorganization and excessive delays in seeing a physician as the cause for dissatisfaction.”


15 simple strategies to improve client engagement in your private practice

Now that we’ve covered just how critical it is to uphold client engagement and satisfaction, let’s consider some of the simple ways you can improve it. Most of the below strategies address the touchpoints outside of the consultation room, where most of the client feedback comes from. For ways to improve client engagement in a clinical sense, I’ve included a list of further reading materials at the bottom of this post.


#1. Create a welcoming environment.

First impressions matter. Consider how your clients would feel at every stage, including:

  • On the way to your practice
  • Inside the waiting room
  • In your consultation room
  • In the bathroom, and
  • On your website.

Some of the things you can do to help clients feel more at ease and welcome in order to improve client engagement include:

  • Clear signage about your practice to reduce any confusion about its location
  • Instructions about what to do once they get there (e.g. Should they ring the doorbell or just walk in? Where should they wait? Should they alert someone they’ve arrived?)
  • Clean rooms and comfortable temperature and furniture
  • Decorations and some light reading material in the waiting areas, and
  • Clear and straightforward information on your website.


#2. Make it easy to make a booking.

One of the first touchpoints your client has with you (after the first impression) is the booking process. If you were the client, would you understand immediately how to make an appointment at your practice? A confusing or finicky booking process could drive potential clients away. Again, it’s about delighting your clients at every stage of their experience in order to improve client engagement.

Ensure you have clear instructions about the booking process on your website. If you accept walk-in appointments, make it clear on your signage.


#3. Explain what they can expect in the first session.

From the very start, set clear expectations and make your services approachable. I’m sure I’m not alone in backing out from certain experiences because of a lack of understanding (or because it looks too fancy, too exclusive or too expensive).

Put your clients’ mind at ease by clearly explaining on your website what they can expect from you in the first session. While you’re at it, articulate your cancellation policy and payment processes so that your clients know exactly what’s expected of them.


#4. Follow up before the first appointment.

This is an important one. Putting yourself in the client’s shoes, how much more likely would you be to turn up to an appointment having spoken to the practitioner first? In order to improve client engagement, you aim to create a comfortable experience for the client throughout all stages of the client’s journey with your private practice. Keep in mind you may need a script to make the most out of this touchpoint to allow it to make the most powerful impact possible.


#5. Always be on time.

As mentioned above, “excessive delays in seeing a [practitioner]” is one of the most common complaints patients/clients have. Feeling respected is part of the delightful experience that you can help your clients have. Minimise any waiting time, or for the first appointment, help them utilise their waiting time by filling out the registration and consent forms.


#6. Be efficient and organised.

In a similar vein, run your practice efficiently so that the client experience is smooth all the way. Could they download and submit the forms before they turn up to the first appointment? Again, disorganisation was cited as one of the sources of dissatisfaction.

That includes reducing mix-ups due to miscommunication such as double-bookings, wrong time/date, wrong practitioner and so on. A client who never has to wonder about your professionalism is likely to be more engaged with you and the treatment process.


#7. Explain the treatment process carefully.

Knowledge is power. And just as you can let clients know what to expect in their first session, you can actively involve the client by explaining carefully and clearly what the treatment process will look like. Helping clients understand the process can help them with their decision-making process, which can improve client engagement by allowing them to make a choice to participate.


#8. Set goals together.

Communication goes both ways. In order to improve client engagement, empower your clients by helping them tell you what they want. After explaining the treatment process carefully, let your clients set their own goals. Of course, you would help them to set realistic goals. But instead of just writing down your notes and knowing what you can help them achieve, sharing that with the client creates a much more enjoyable experience where they feel involved in the process.

This is about helping your clients feel that you’re in the journey together. A 2012 study by Marion Godman suggests that “the benefits of joint action do not just stem from individuals’ abilities to achieve novel target outcomes that they would not be able to achieve otherwise, but from the social rewards afforded by the experience of acting with others”.

While a practitioner-client relationship is arguably different to a normal social setting, the idea of actively participating in an action towards a shared goal can be a motivator for your clients.

private practice client engagement practice lab
People generally perform better when taking goal-oriented joint action.


#9. Create resources they can refer back to.

People can be forgetful and even the most profound things you say to your clients can be forgotten. Considering this, help your clients engage better by empowering them with readily accessible information. This could be fact sheets about the issues they’re experiencing or their treatment process. Going above and beyond for your clients with gestures such as this makes up part of the delightful experience.


#10. Follow up soon after the appointment.

In order to better improve client engagement, engage yourself with the client, too. Going with the notion that you’re on this journey together, a client is likely to feel more respected and cared for if you show that you’re thinking about them. As with pre-appointment communication, you may need a script that helps you to set boundaries with the client.


#11. Give clients homework.

Providing homework is a powerful tool as part of a clinical process. But in a business and marketing sense, homework is beneficial in a different way. According to a report by Hae Eun Chun of Cornell University, marketers can tap into three types of “pleasure” that customers experience, including sensory, aesthetic and achievement. In this sense, simple and achievable homework, when used right, can help to improve client engagement through personal sense of accomplishment.


#12. Follow up between appointments.

Out of sight, out of mind, which means the more relevant and valuable touchpoints you have with your clients, the better the engagement. Show that you’re committed to your client’s treatment and progress with a quick phone call or email between appointments. This can be a good opportunity to ask about their homework and schedule a new appointment if not already set.

Again, set yourself a script so that you stay within your own boundaries. For example, limit the phone call to 3 minutes or provide specific instructions in the email.


#13. Offer small benefits that make clients happy.

In a realistic way, what additional benefits can you offer to your clients? We all like free things and we all like feeling special. No matter how small, these little things make up part of the delightful experience and can improve client engagement by helping them feel respected and comfortable.

They don’t have to be extravagant things, either. Start with small things like having a bowl of mints in the waiting room. These things become memorable and a part of positive and fond emotions clients can associate with your practice. Think about your restaurant experiences. A lot of people notice and feel impressed by little things like a bowl of sweets at the counter. It doesn’t seem like much but these little surprises can create a meaningful experience. For example, while the bowl of sweets might not be the only reason you want to go back to the restaurant, it can add to the positive experience from start to finish.


#14. Take note of other details about your clients.

Being remembered is one of the best feelings we experience. Having someone remember your stories or details about your family and friends feels nice and lets you know they were really paying attention. And when we feel special, we feel more motivated and engaged.

Take note of additional details about your clients to help them feel respected and more connected to you. You can mention in passing the stories they told in the previous session or ask after their projects or family and friends. Of course, use caution to avoid crossing the boundaries you set or letting it interfere with your sessions in any way.


#15. Be pleasant.

Last but not least, the most obvious strategy to improve client engagement is to be pleasant. As a clinician, you’re in a “customer”-facing role and it can get really draining. You’re human, after all. But positive attitudes, smiles, light conversations and approachability all contribute to creating a delightful experience for your clients. On the other hand, the opposite often leads to clients feeling uncomfortable, dissatisfied and disrespected. And as seen in the Vanguard Communications study mentioned above, these negative experiences make up 96% of client complaints.


The above strategies are simple and fairly easy to implement in your daily operations. As a clinician however, you know what works and what doesn’t when it comes to your clients. Additionally, you’ll need to make a judgement call about which clients would respond well to some of these strategies. Combined with your experience and knowledge, these simple strategies can help in creating a delightful experience for your clients at every touchpoint in order to improve client engagement. For more information and advice about implementing simple business measures to improve client engagement in your private practice, talk to our private practice business coaches.


Further Reading

Customer Engagement and Experience


Client Engagement