Interview with Clinton Power, who can be found on Twitter as @SydneyTherapist
His website to see how he does online appointments: www.clintonpower.com.au
Of all the online tools, technologies, and ways to make your life easier as a therapist, online appointment scheduling is probably up there on the most nervous yet exciting tool. It attracts therapists because of the potentially higher “conversion” rate of a web visitor to client and yet it repeals therapists who are too frugal for the monthly fees, or too nervous about how to schedule in person while people are scheduling online. I’m excited to ask a techie therapist who has been doing online scheduling how this all works!
How much do you pay a month for your online scheduler and can you share any of the online schedules that you’re aware of? Any “must have” features you suggest for US readers who aren’t using your scheduler?
I am paying $19.95 a month and use www.appointmentsonline.com.au This is an Australian company, so may not be as relevant to your US readers if they are wanting US customer support.
I also trialed:
Some of the essential features to look for are the ability to accept or decline appointments before they are confirmed, auto-responder for confirming or declining appointments and the ability to completely control which appointments you make available and how far ahead.
My system is currently bringing in SMS reminders, so I am eagerly awaiting this inclusion so I no longer have to manually enter SMS reminders.
I have seen other systems that allow for wait-listing for popular times.
What percentage of your prospective clients are scheduling themselves online? How do you pre-screen them to make sure they’re a fit as far as your ideal client niche, your fees, etc?
Currently about 80% of prospective clients schedule themselves online for the first appointment. The way I pre-screen is I never confirm an appointment without speaking with the client(s) first to check for suitability. So essentially, I see the online appointment scheduler as another way to make that initial contact with a client.
Only a very small percentage of clients go back to book subsequent appointments online. They tend to be the clients that come irregularly. This is very convenient for both of us as they can book in an appointment anytime at their convenience and this saves endless calls back-and-forth trying to catch each other.
While on holidays last year, I had my vacation responder and voice mail messages direct people to my website to book online. I had 8 new clients booked in when I came back from holidays in the usually very quiet period of January. I called all the bookings to confirm and screen a few days before I went back to work and had a full week of work to return to. This is one of the advantages of the system and saves me having to employ a PA or pay for a phone answering service when I am on leave.
Do clients pre-pay when booking appointments? If not, how do you avoid no-shows?
The only sessions I request pre-payment for are telephone consultations, for obvious reasons. Again, I see the online bookings as no different from a client that calls on the phone. Because my policy is to always speak with the client before I confirm an appointment, I make sure they are suitable and I have established a connection with them. For this reason, I have a negligible no-show rate.
How do you schedule existing clients?
I schedule them in the session and then enter them into the online appointments interface. They then receive a confirmation email and that time can’t be double-booked online. Only very rarely have I booked someone in a session and someone has booked online before I had time to enter it into the back-end of the system. Most people understand when you call them and offer them an alternative time.
How much of your schedule do you release for appointments? This is especially important for new therapists who may have a LOT of openings and don’t want to display they aren’t busy. Any suggestions?
I release one month at a time. I then blank out all my pre-existing commitments and current client bookings.
I would suggest for new therapists that they only release a couple of spots a day to avoid having too many openings.
How do you manage the natural schedule changes, say you get a call Monday 10am for a Wednesday cancelation. Do you try to quickly go into your appointment scheduler and “open up” that time? Can clients cancel on most appointment scheduler systems?
This is very easy for my system. When I cancel the appointment, the time automatically opens up again for a new client, unless I want to block it off. I can’t speak for other systems, but I would think this is pretty standard.
Would online scheduling work the same or better for the therapists who have slots that clients fill for the same day/time, or for therapists who schedule at the end of each session on a first come first serve basis?
I’m not sure there is a difference. The only inconvenience with my system is they don’t offer recurring appointments, so I need to manually enter the recurring appointment for the month. I do believe other systems offer recurring appointments.
The really great thing about the system is it gives a potential client something to do when they arrive at my site in pain or distress. Taking action can help relieve their anxiety and they feel like they have begun to find a solution to their problem. I always try to call anyone who has booked online within 24 hours.
What would you say is the ultimate ROI (Return on investment) for therapists considering this but not sure if the $20-$50 in fees will actually pay for itself?
I haven’t calculated the exact ROI, but I do know that with so many new appointments being booked every month with the system, the monthly cost is very small compared to the income I generate from the bookings.
Any usual problems or issues that came up when you first started using online scheduling? How did you fix those?
The only issue I have encountered is that as my practice has grown I have had some extremely busy periods that the online scheduling has become a little complex. One dilemma is the after-hours times are often in high demand and I have had new clients come in and book those times later in the month that I actually need for current clients.
I have solved this by not releasing the after-hours times when my practice is very busy and giving my current clients first preference for those times.
Online scheduling does require greater time and resources for administration of entering appointments, however, it saves me needing to get a personal assistant, and so I am happy to have to put in a little more time.
Could a therapist experiment with online scheduling, say for a month or two, before confirming if they like it? I don’t mean on the sign up end (I’m sure most have month to month contracts) but from a logistical, client side.
That could be done, however, if clients are used to your automatic email reminders, they may miss them if you discontinue the service.
Do these systems make it any easier to cancel client appointments, say you get the flu on a Saturday and know you’ll be out until at least Wednesday? Or does it require both contacting each client, and removing them from the schedule, and then blocking out openings the rest of the week that may have been open?
In my system, when I cancel an appointment, it sends notification of the cancellation to the client automatically. I personally would call each client to advise of my sickness. I have a function to block out days if I become sick or I want to remove available appointments at short notice.
Anything else you can add? Perhaps the ideal therapist for online scheduling and the “never try it if you’re this type of therapist?”
I’ve had great success with my online appointment scheduler and have never looked back. The feedback from clients is they love getting the email notifications and the flexibility of making an appointment whenever they want, day or night. The advantages for me include having clients book when I am leave and when a client books online I get all their contact information, so less work for me obtaining this over the phone.
If you are a technology-phobic therapist, this is not for you. If you are comfortable with technology and are ok with a little extra administration, I think the rewards are worth it.
Thanks so much!!
My pleasure. Hope this has been helpful for you Elizabeth.
I welcome my blog readers to share what they’ve done, learned, or questions! I’ve seen therapists use Google Adwords with appointment scheduling to add a one-two punch of immediacy and availability.