Not long ago, I got a call from a prospective patient. It was a woman who was suffering from hearing loss, who had never had acupuncture before. She initially sent an email from the contact form on our clinic site. I responded that the best way to proceed would be to set up a time for a free half hour consultation.
Shortly after the email exchange, she called our clinic, and I spoke with her. She was willing to come in for a consultation, but the more we talked, the less optimistic I became that I or acupuncture could help her particular problem, and I told her so. She was grateful for my honesty and shared that she had talked to another acupuncturist who wanted to charge her $100 for a consultation.
I kept my opinions to myself, but will share it freely here. An initial consultation can be your best friend, but not if you charge for it. Here’s why: If you can get a prospective patient into your clinic for whatever reason, you are far more likely to convert them into a patient than if you just speak on the phone. If you offer a free initial consultation, prospective patients have absolutely nothing to lose. They’re just coming in to talk about the possibility that acupuncture may be the answer to their problem. No needles have been inserted (a frequent source of hesitation), and no money has been charged.
Once you have a prospective patient in your office, it’s up to you to sell your fabulous self, this incredible healing art, and the probability that you can heal their pain. Needless to say, if you don’t think you can help, be honest. I have turned a handful of people away because I didn’t think I could help, and every single one voiced their appreciation of my truthfulness.
There are a few steps to a successful initial consultation:
- First of all, listen. In fact spend the first five or ten minutes listening. Do this because you are showing your soon-to-be patient that they will be heard. Do this also because you need to hear as much as their story as you can in a short period of time.
- Can acupuncture help them? This is the primary question they need to have adequately answered. If you don’t do this, you’ve blown it.
- Answer all their questions. How many treatments? Will it hurt? What’s involved? What about herbs? What’s your training?
- Give them a mini diagnosis, if possible, but keep it short. This may be as simple as describing a channel obstruction if they’re experiencing pain. It lets them know that you were listening and you pretty much know what you’re doing.
- Schedule them. Or not. At this point, 95% of the people will have made up their mind to book their first appointment with you. There may be a few that you don’t feel you can or want to treat, and there will be one or two who after getting information on acupuncture decide not to proceed.
If someone decides not to go ahead with treatment, you haven’t lost anything other than a little time. The idea behind meeting for a consultation is for both of you to decide if a therapeutic relationship is the way to proceed.
My point is this: an initial consultation is an incredible marketing tool if you use it as such. Much more often than not, if you can meet someone for a consultation, they will become your patient.