After 20-plus years of working in behavioral health and related fields where the admission is not closed online but in the real world, I have identified some of the most common factors undermining conversion rates of qualified inquiries. Rarely do organizations address the deficiencies that so often serve as leakage points in the conversion funnel. In some cases it’s not just a leak, but a flood. Here are five of the most common reasons you might not be getting as many admissions as you would expect.
- Your admissions person is doing just about everything but answering live calls and responding to contact forms. In almost every admissions office you find the very people tasked with handling inquiries doing so many tasks other than this primary task, that the primary task cannot be handled effectively. This is critical: the most important job of your admissions office is responding as quickly as possible to potential customers. This means answering calls live, especially during business hours. And it means responding to contact forms within five minutes of receipt during business hours (and after hours if you can). Calls that go to voicemail and emails that sit in inboxes become cold very quickly. Some studies have shown conversion rates on contact forms drop by as much as 500% within a few minutes. People searching online usually move on to search for other providers if they can’t get a live person on the phone. The Internet consumer may fill out four or five contact forms in a short period of time. If you get to them first, you have a decided advantage. If your contact forms are sitting for hours, you are definitely losing admissions.
- You place obstacles in the way of system improvements at every turn, ignoring obvious deficiencies in your processes because they seem insignificant or too difficult to prioritize. If your systems are clunky and 20th century you aren’t going to get 21st-century results. If you are using Excel spreadsheets to track your leads and admissions instead of a CRM (e.g., Salesforce), there is no way you can efficiently handle inquiries, follow ups, and closings. If you make it challenging for your potential customers to speak with you, you are losing business. If you aren’t tracking your calls and contact forms from start to finish, you aren’t learning what works or doesn’t work. If you aren’t monitoring your admission team’s performance, you won’t identify gaps in skills or bad practices before they undermine your results. Listen to your marketing team. If they have identified issues that are hurting your ability to acquire customers, respond quickly and make the necessary changes. The results will be worth it.
- You are looking at marketing, admissions, and inquiry tracking efforts as three separate pieces rather than one continuous process that results in a client walking through the door. There is a fundamental, critical feedback loop flowing continuously between these things. Your marketing team listens to phone calls and uses the CRM to see what channels convert best; your admission team talks to marketing about shifts in quality or trends (e.g., too many Medicaid calls or calls from people not seeking residential treatment); and your phone and other tracking systems give you data that allow you to improve the quality of leads. What calls converted best? Which advisors closed calls best? Which campaigns show consistent improvement and have the highest closing ratio? What times of day are your advisors missing calls? What days of the week merit the highest advertising budget? Conversations between the internet marketing team and the admissions team are critical to long-term success. If the admissions team does not give feedback and respond to issues when identified, your conversion rate will suffer. If your internet marketing team has to beg for data about admissions, you are slowing their progress. The phones ring more when the admissions team understands that Internet marketing is an important source of their business and needs data and feedback to improve results.
- You are missing calls and slow to respond to forms, and instead of staffing properly you simply ask your Internet marketing team to “get more leads and calls.” This is one of the more wasteful practices. If you see conversion rates dropping but nothing has changed dramatically with your marketing, you need to take a serious look at any deficiencies in inquiry handling. This is not finger pointing. This is an honest assessment of your admissions team. Are they staffed during the right times of day? Are they slowed down by clunky systems? If your Internet team increases inquiries consistently over time but your admissions numbers remain the same, maybe the answer isn’t more leads. Spending more money on more leads without spending money on converting the leads you already have can dramatically inflate your cost per acquisition.
- You aren’t investing in training and QA processes in your call center or admissions office. If you aren’t listening to calls regularly and using these to improve the many variables that impact closing, you are losing customers. Building rapport and doing appropriate clinical assessments impact conversions dramatically. How often is an admissions person getting pulled into an impromptu therapy session with a caller who has no intention of going into treatment? Are they missing other calls while doing this? Do you communicate effectively with customers who are negotiating the sometimes complex and frustrating verification-of-benefits process? Are your advisors sensitive to those right-moments when a caller is ready to take the next step? If the caller isn’t ready to go to treatment, is your admissions person setting up a future follow up so this call will be more effective in a week or two? Are you giving them the tools they need to be efficient and organized? Again, if you are working off Excel spreadsheets, you can’t possibly run an efficient admissions team.
There are many other factors that can undermine your conversion rate, from understaffing your admissions office to creating individual incentive plans that sabotage team cohesion. What’s important to remember is that if you don’t have admissions, you have no business. For this reason alone, the processes you put in place for handling inquiries should be your top priority.
Vera Appleyard is the founder of Tabitha Digital. She has a BA from Columbia University and an MFA from New York University. She has worked in the behavioral health space since 2000.