Our long-term residential program needs to attract patients from all over the West. We’re not the least expensive option, although we do provide very fine treatment in a beautiful setting with lots of amenities. In most cases, our only pre-admission contact with prospective patients and families is by telephone. We were looking for ideas on how to make each contact more meaningful and hopefully result in more people choosing our program.”

Sounds like you operate a ‘high-end’ service in a location remote from your target population. I have some experience with that, having worked with one facility where 90% of patients traveled an average of a thousand miles to get there. It’s a challenge, all right. And as you said, phone skills are the key.

I’d start by clearly defining how you provide value to a potential customer. Think in terms of three aspects: price, quality of product, or service. You’re not inexpensive, so presumably your target customer is most interested in the last two aspects. So answer these questions:

Product: is your program demonstrably better than others in your price class? How? And how do you know? And how can your phone counselors demonstrate in a convincing way?

Service: does your program provide a level of individualized, customer-sensitive service that others may not? In what specific ways? Do you consistently provide the service your counselors promised on the phone?

This little inventory requires a certain degree of self-honesty that’s not always easy for marketing staff, who prefer to ‘spin’. If you find yourself thinking that your program is competitive, that translates to the customer as mediocre. Better to be clearly superior at one aspect or the other, and then learn how to communicate that effectively over the phone or Internet.

Some other points to consider:

Motivational techniques, such as expressing empathy or developing discrepancy, work by telephone, too. You’re helping the patient or family make a difficult decision, about which they are ambivalent.

Expect delays.

Be willing to move on. It’s inevitable — your staff will invest a lot of time in a particular case and have little to show for it. It happens. C’est la vie. Next case.

Don’t lose contact. Things change. Untreated addiction tends to get worse. Be there when circumstances make your program a more desirable option.

The person on the other end of the telephone wants and needs to know: Who are you as a program? It comes down to how well you communicate that.

Other Resources:

“Why Some Programs Succeed:  A Marketing Approach”