May 1, 2013 Columns

In Private Practice: It’s All About Relationships

Whether you are thinking about venturing into private practice, have just hung out your shingle or are a seasoned practitioner, one of the keys to your success is marketing.

There are dozens of ways to get the word out: ads in local newspapers and telephone directories; websites and Facebook pages; presentations to potential referral sources, such as physicians; talks with community groups, such as PTAs and civic associations; participation in community health fairs ... the possibilities are many.

Through my years in private practice, however, I have found that successful marketing comes down to one key strategy: building relationships. I have built my business attracting new clients and retaining existing ones by fostering relationships with my clients, their families, staff, referral sources, colleagues ... and the list goes on.

Make your marketing dollars go further by following five relationship-building strategies that have worked for me.

1. Stay connected. Use networking as well as traditional means of interaction to stay connected with clients. In addition to my website, my Facebook page is a critical communication tool. Also, in this age of 24/7 connectivity, it is important that all clients be able to communicate via e-mail so I can respond to their needs or concerns.

I use monthly e-newsletters to connect regularly with my clients and share high-value content. Soon I will begin blogging to add some personality to my communications. Experiment with monthly or quarterly e-newsletters or a blog to see what works for you and your practice.

Face-to-face communication and phone contact continue to be important relationship-building tools. When a client or family asks to talk to me, I set up a time for a phone or in-person conversation. Nothing builds rapport or allows you to show others that you care more than two-way and face-to-face communication.

2. Provide top-notch customer service. Superior customer service starts the moment the client walks in the door. Do you or your staff greet clients as they enter your office? Do they make clients feel welcome? Treat each client as an individual and show them you truly care. I make sure I—in addition to the receptionist or scheduler—talk to each parent who calls to inquire about services. I discuss the caller's needs and concerns and present treatment options. When appropriate, such as when a client refers someone new, I also hand-write a thank-you note. Embrace customer service and exceed your client's expectations. A client who had a positive experience becomes your next referral source.

3. Display integrity. To be seen as trustworthy, follow through on your commitments to clients. For example, I like to deliver client reports earlier than promised. It's also important to be consistent and fair in implementing policies and to respect your clients and their points of view. For example, my cancellation policy applies to all; however, I will make exceptions under certain instances.

Trust builds relationships, which in turn build client loyalty. Client loyalty is the foundation of your practice.

4. Empower employees. Happy employees build good relationships with your clients. Staff members, who are on the front line interacting one-on-one with clients, represent the practice. Empower them to do the best job they can. Stress the importance of—and model—good customer service. Cultivate an environment that promotes building client relationships.

5. Deliver outcomes. Outcomes matter. I keep my skills and learning up to date, and I use cutting-edge techniques and evidence-based practices to provide the best results to my clients. You may have a pleasant smile, charming personality and stellar customer service, but they are useless unless you also focus on providing outstanding products and services that meet your clients' needs.

Building relationships with our clients seems straightforward, but too often we—and our staff members—become bogged down in day-to-day practice management. Just as with our personal relationships, client relationships are built on integrity, trust and sincerity. Use the five relationship-building strategies to attract and retain clients. When you nurture and cement your relationships with your clients, they will help you build your practice.

Renee Matlock, MA, CCC-SLP, is owner and executive director of Speech Plus in Frankfort, Ill., a private practice serving children birth through high school. She is a member of the American Academy of Private Practice in Speech Pathology and Audiology. rmatlock@speechplus.org

cite as: Matlock, R. (2013, May 01). In Private Practice: It’s All About Relationships. The ASHA Leader.

  

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