When was the last time you thought about telephone manners? Make sure yours are up to par before picking up another private practice phone call.
“Good manners reflect something from inside—an innate sense of consideration for others and respect for self.” —Emily Post
When current or potential clients call your private practice, they may feel nervous, anxious or even completely shaken. Phoning for help takes a lot of courage, and the person on the other end of the line needs to be reassuring. Are your telephone manners giving the right signals to the person calling?
How to answer a phone call
When someone calls your private practice, they want to know they’ve reached the right place. So always respond to the phone by announcing your practice’s name, but don’t stop there. Identify yourself, too. Let them know there’s a real human on the other line, so they’ll feel confident opening up. Here’s a template you can use in your private practice.
“Hello, this is Psychology Family Associates. Erin speaking. How may I help you today?”
Telephone manners matter on voicemail, too
When you’re working one-on-one with a client, nothing should interrupt them (except of course an emergency), which is why a voicemail system is paramount for your business.
But, what do you say on your message? Similar to your phone greeting, your voicemail greeting should state your private practice name and instructions on what information to leave on the message (such as name, number, and the best time to call back). Include instructions on what callers should do in case of emergency. Here’s an example voicemail greeting:
“Hello, you’ve reached Psychology Family Associates. At this time, we’re currently unavailable, but we promise to get back in touch with you within 24 hours of your call. Please leave your name, phone number, and a message for your clinician detailing your situation. If there is a particular time you’d like a call back, please let us know. All messages on this line are kept confidential.
If this is an emergency situation, please hang up the phone and contact 911 immediately, or go to your local emergency room.”
Setting expectations for an answering service
If you’ve hired an answering service to respond to calls during appointment times and off-hours, make sure they are well trained on your expectations for telephone manners. Work with them to develop phone scripts that sound welcoming, and not methodological.
If the answering service is not local, make sure they’re aware of all the mental health facilities in your area. They’ll need numbers and addresses for any emergency rooms, hospitals, women’s shelters, and addiction clinics. Also, be sure they have updated contact information and directions for reaching any clinicians of the private practice. If there is an on-call schedule deliver it to the answering service at the same time the therapists receive it, so there is never any misunderstanding.
Telephone manners and confidentiality
One of the trickiest situations in a private practice is addressing callers who have questions about whether or not a friend, relative, or loved one is being treated by a clinician there. Confidentiality is tantamount in building a counseling relationship, so it’s important to protect it from inquiring minds. Develop a script which neither confirms nor denies the person is in treatment. Try this:
“I understand your concern. However, it is Psychology Family Associates’ policy never to confirm or deny whether a person is being treated here unless there is a written release on file. You’re welcome to leave your information, and we can get back to you if there happens to be a release, but at this time, we cannot even confirm whether or not that person is seen here.”
However, if you treat children or teenagers, parents may contact you with questions about their child’s treatment. Is it ever appropriate to break confidentiality and speak with parents or guardians? According to the American Psychological Association, “Different states have different ages at which young people can seek mental health services without informing parents.” Double check your state’s guidelines and make sure your receptionist also understands what he can or cannot share with parents.
Developing a practice of collecting releases for each client which clearly indicate who has access to their treatment information will facilitate easier communication with anyone calling about their family member’s treatment.
5 Quick do’s and don’ts of telephone manners
1. Pick up the phone promptly
2. Answer with a warm, calming voice
3. Address the callers concerns immediately
4. Return the call within the timeframe promised
5. Repeat any important information before hanging up
1. Use speakerphone when picking up the private practice line
2. Leave a client waiting on hold
3. Share confidential information with anyone other than the client
4. Leave sensitive messages on a voicemail unless previously approved by the client
5. Hang up without collecting all pertinent information
There’s a lot to think about when it comes to telephone etiquette, so let SimplePractice do some of the heavy lifting for you with other facets of your practice. Worried about insurance claims? We can handle that. How about sending appointment reminders? Leave that up to us, too. Try SimplePractice for free for 30 days.
Do you have any phone etiquette tips to add to this? Join the conversation in the comment section!