Excellent firms don’t believe in excellence – only in constant improvement and constant change. ~ Tom Peters
The bad news is that it only took me 21 years to figure out that I didn’t really belong in Corporate America. The good news is that I can now apply many things I learned during that time to help me better do the work of a clinical psychologist today. Admittedly, Corporate America has its good, its bad, and its ugly, just like anything else. Here I focus on the good and how I incorporate that good into my practice so that you can benefit.
I can think of at least seven business concepts that I’ve applied in some way to my practice of clinical psychology. In some cases, I’ve adopted the concept as is. In others, I consider how the concept applies to my practice, then customize it according to the mission of my practice. This might even involve doing the opposite of the concept, if that provides me with a better way of helping you.
Excellent Customer Experience
I have a vision that when you contact me, you have an experience where you find yourself in the best possible place to improve your situation in a way that satisfies you as much as possible. This concept incorporates the idea that I serve customers, not patients, and therefore: I work for you, your feedback guides my work, and you serve as the ultimate boss.
At this point, you might wonder about those situations where you have some ideas that do not serve you well. Not to worry. I address this in the section called “The Customer is Always Right” below.
Beginning from your first phone call, I attempt to establish a relationship with you that matches your personality, way of thinking, and expectations. This helps you get through any anxiety you might feel about talking to a perfect stranger about really important matters in your life.
I gently guide you through each step along the way: deciding whether or not to try me out, figuring out your insurance situation, finding your way to my office, getting acclimated to my office space and surroundings, having some idea of what to do when, how to begin, how to deal with anything that comes up during your visit, how to successfully leave my office, and lastly, how to find the restrooms. Sometimes, it’s the little things that count.
You have enough on your mind without having to spend extra brain cycles on figuring out any of that. In my view, it’s my job to take care of you, within professional and ethical limits, and treat you as a royal guest. I’m here to serve you. You’re not here to serve me, feed my ego, or go along with my program (unless you want to, but that’s a whole other blog article).
I’m sorry to say that quite often my guests have never before experienced such caring as I try to provide. While it’s not a big deal for me to do this, it might mean the world to them. It can go a long way toward allowing those people to feel better about themselves. Please note that this caring comes with the service, not because you’re paying for it, but because I do genuinely care (more about this some other time).
Continuous Process Improvement
Every once in a while, I meet an old-timer in my profession who says something like, “I’ve been doing therapy for 30 years, and …” Whatever comes after this may or may not be of any use, as occasionally (though not always) these people have been doing exactly the same thing every year for 30 years. If it worked for Freud, it still works today. (Sigh!)
Because I didn’t grow up in this profession, I believe I bring with me a different attitude. The way I see it, psychology is a relatively primitive “science” and the practice of psychotherapy is only as effective as the last thing the therapist learned. (I believe this to be true of any other health care provider profession, but I digress).
To maintain “excellence,” a therapist must continuously learn and continuously improve their processes. I tend to go at this in two directions. First, I enjoy learning about what works in psychotherapy and about the operation of the human mind and the brain from which it emerges. I take these learnings and apply what seems most useful to my practice. If something works well, I incorporate it into my therapy process. If it doesn’t, I learn from this too and investigate what happened.
Going in the other direction, when something happens in my practice that stumps me (this happens more than I’d like to say), I investigate the “something” until I figure out what I don’t yet understand and what I could do better next time. I have a cadre of excellent colleagues from whom I draw knowledge as well as many avenues of researching almost anything psychological or related to customer service.
When I put these two directions together, I have a continuous improvement loop, going round and round on the way to better and better service for you. I’m a very different therapist than I was even a year ago, in my view.
Oriented Toward Solutions
Solutions to problems come out of a variety of places. Sometimes they involve my simply staying quiet, allowing my customer to figure things out for themselves. Other times, my providing some amount of education might trigger a solution in a customer’s mind. Still other times, my describing a range of options, scenarios, or possibilities will lead a customer to the solution that’s most appropriate for them.
In all cases, I work toward providing my customer what they need to develop the best solution for them. Really, how would I know what’s best for them? I might have ideas or theories, but never the final solution. What I do know is how to help someone develop their own solutions, which tends to be even better.
This concept orients my work with you toward helping you finding solutions to your immediate problems, plus on-the-job training in how to solve problems on your own in the future. That way, I can get rid of you as soon as possible (if this shocks you, see the section below called, “Customer Retention (Not)”).
The Customer is Always Right …
… even when they’re not. I believe that it’s of utmost importance for me to understand what motivates you and what doesn’t. When I worked for a consulting firm, we had a practice of having two proposals ready to present: what the customer needs and what the customer wants. These can differ greatly on occasion.
If you don’t like something I say or propose, I always back off immediately and work to better understand in what direction you feel willing to go. Otherwise, you might politely agree to something, then not do it. Or, you may start to get angry or uncomfortable because my suggestion runs totally contrary to your line of thinking.
Hopefully, this will rarely happen, and yet I totally get it when it does. Some might say you’re being “resistant” or even “difficult,” which lays responsibility in your lap. How dare you not go along with my program! (LOL.) In my mind, it is entirely my responsibility to find a process that works for you. If I can’t, I’ll say so and we’ll talk about what to do next. My bad, as the young folks say (or used to say; I can’t keep up).
Sometimes, you might want to go in a direction that seems that it won’t serve you well. Here, I’ll either ask if I can say something about that or I’ll go along with your program while also ensuring that nothing harmful happens. Sometimes it’s useful to learn what not to do.
Of course, when I have a customer who wants to harm themselves or someone else or seems “gravely disabled,” then this concept flies out the window.
The Early Bird Gets the Worm
I admit I’m not a morning person. Nor am I a night person. I’ve always been kind of a middle of the day person. At any rate, none of that matters. I was just going for the funny.
I apply the “early bird” concept to how quickly I try to respond to requests from potential new customers. If you were to call and leave messages with any number of therapists to see if they can help you, the first one to return your call will most likely get your business, so to speak.
While this may benefit me more than it does you, at least it motivates me to be more responsive so you don’t have to wait around forever for someone to call you back. Often, just making an appointment with someone will provide some temporary relief. So, when it comes to getting relief, the sooner the better!
Production Lines vs. Custom-made
Many lines of business can gain incredible efficiencies by doing the same thing over and over with each instance of a product or service. When this fits the bill appropriately, it can take a lot less time, energy, and money for the customer to get what they want (or need).
While insurance companies, hospitals, and certain doctors dream of these efficiencies and get giddy when talking about “evidence-based practices” (aka production line treatments), this way of thinking doesn’t always (or ever?) allow for high quality (excellent) mental health care provider processes.
Here, the appropriate business model involves customizing services to the unique, individual customer (I’m talking about you!). I’ve written about my opinion of evidence-based practices elsewhere. Yes, it’s useful to know what works with a certain population, typically (snark alert) college freshmen taking Psych 101 where participation as a research subject is mandatory. And yes, it’s more difficult (at first, at least) to re-orient the therapy process to each particular person sitting across from you at any one time. Yet, in the end, I believe this effort will serve my customers best.
Customer Retention (Not)
OK, here we look at the ethical side of the practice of psychotherapy, rather than the strictly business side. This concept, as stated above including the “not,” goes in the opposite direction of most business (and organized religious) practices. There, you work hard to acquire a customer (member of the congregation), then keep them as long as possible, continuously milking them for more sales (or donations).
In the therapy biz, this works against the ethical application of psychotherapy to a customer’s issues. Keeping a customer around longer than needed, or prolonging the process unnecessarily, sets up an unethical situation, even though it may serve to make my therapy practice more financially viable.
I address this financial issue in my practice by contracting with as many insurance companies as possible. This provides me with a steady flow of new customers to back-fill for whose work has been completed, plus this allows me to provide services to those potential customers who might otherwise find the cost of therapy to be out of their reach. Ethical goodness all around!
More importantly, this approach provides you with faster relief in the short-term and greater independence in the long-term. In a sense, my job is to eventually put myself out of business by getting rid of you as fast as possible. No offense. It’s for your own good. Trust me.
Getting Down to Business
So, there you have some idea of the ways I incorporate business concepts I learned during my 21-year stint with Corporate America (not really that bad, just not a fit for me). As you can see, I have adopted some concepts directly and others in the reverse, as appropriate. Whatever the case, I attempt to provide the best service I possibly can by borrowing “best practices” from anywhere I find them.
Copyright 2016 Daniel J. Metevier