Some call it the ‘wow’ factor. Others, ‘surprise and delight.’ Others call it being ‘notable.’ At Disney, they call it ‘plussing’ — the act of always adding a little something more to a guest’s experience.”

A man goes to a restaurant, and at the end of the meal he agrees to take a survey. The questions are as follows:

1. When you arrived, were you greeted by a host?
Answer: YES

2. Where you seated promptly?
Answer: YES

3. Was your server professional and courteous?
Answer: YES

4. Did your food arrive as you ordered?
Answer: YES

5. Were you satisfied with the quality of your meal?
Answer: YES

6. Was your check/bill correct?
Answer: Yes

7. Would you recommend our restaurant to a friend?
Answer: MAYBE

What went wrong?

Everything seemed to be going so well until the last question!

This restaurant did everything right but missed the mark on one important fact: When someone goes out to eat, he/she expects to be seated promptly.
He/she expects the food to arrive as ordered. He/she expects the bill to be correct. The restaurant met the customer’s expectations, but failed to exceed them. To have a restaurant, or any business, that is worthy of a customer’s recommendation or referral, your business needs to offer something special for your clients. Some call it the “wow” factor. Others, “surprise and delight.” Others call it being “notable.” At Disney, they call it “plussing” — the act of always adding a little something more to a guest’s experience.

What Does Doing Something Special for Your Clients Look Like?

There’s a restaurant outside Boston, and at the end of the meal everyone receives a piece of blue cotton candy.

Two things I need to mention about this:

  • When you receive a bill at a restaurant, you’ve just finished a meal and probably also had dessert. The last thing anyone needs is more food.
  • I’ve come to learn that cotton candy is 99 percent air. There’s so little substance — it’s practically a low calorie food — and costs no more than a standard dinner mint.

How do people respond? The food, service, and ambiance are all exceptional. Still, what everyone talks about is a five-cent piece of cotton candy: “That’s so Americana! I haven’t had cotton candy in years!” Just mention the neighborhood and people reply, “Have you been to XYZ restaurant; that place that gives cotton candy?”

What About the Counseling?

When I mention the “do something special for your clients” concept to clinicians, a common question is, “Isn’t the most important thing the counseling?”

My answer: “Yes!”

If you’re providing a counseling experience that is exceeding your client’s expectations, you will have no shortage of clients telling their friends how much they “need to schedule an appointment.” In addition, counselors who are charismatic, who invoke an emotional response from their clients or who are unusually effective in driving client change will build demand for their services faster than counselors whose clients don’t walk out of their sessions with their worlds rocked.

Some clinicians grow their practices because they are extraordinarily gifted; others are just charming and enigmatic. Whether or not you like Dr. Phil, his charisma made him a blockbuster therapist. Clearly, there are ethical issues here. Even considering whether clinical care could result in referrals presents issues as one’s clinical work with a client should be solely focused on the success of that client.

A Moving Target

While excellent clinical care is crucial, one would be remiss not to consider everything a client sees, hears, feels, smells and tastes when interacting with his/her practice. However, the process of “doing something special” is a moving target. Long ago, we began installing glass-front beverage centers in the waiting rooms of Thriveworks centers, to offer clients free soft drinks.
Fast-forward seven years and soft drinks have changed from a whimsical treat to a public health pariah. We then stocked those beverage centers with bottled water until bottled water changed from a luxury item to an environmental catastrophe. We eventually removed the beverage centers.

There was a time when offering Wi-Fi in waiting rooms was exciting. Today, not only is it unimpressive, few clients use it because their cellular data plans and personal hotspots have made the need for it obsolete.

As someone who’s always doing something special for your clients, you need to always be asking: “What’s next?”

Make A List

Offering something special can be expensive, but doesn’t need to be.

Imagine: Every client who visits your office gets their own private waiting area with a reclining leather chair, monitor and individual satellite radio station. Clients can dim, brighten, or change the color of their lighting. The experience is private, personalized and probably out of your budget.

If you’re thinking about offering something special for your clients, you’ll have lots of ideas — and some will be out of reach. That’s okay; it shows you’re exploring lots of options. Also, maybe instead of all the features mentioned above, a simplified offering of reclining leather chairs and privacy dividers IS within your budget.

To start your list, here are some cost effective ideas:

  • A late cancellation fee for the counselor. If you cancel a session with less than 24 hours notice, you pay your client a no-show fee.
  • Call every client the day after his/her first session, just to check in.
  • Every new client gets a copy of your favorite life improvement book.
  • Every client gets a “membership card” containing your direct contact information.

It takes continual effort to always be doing something special for your clients. Your colleagues might think you’re eccentric, but your clients will love your practice.

What do you do to stand apart from the crowd? Tell us about it by leaving a comment below.

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Dr. Anthony Centore

Anthony Centore, PhD

Anthony Centore, PhD, is Founder and Chair at Thriveworks — a counseling practice focused on premium client care, with 340+ locations across the US. Anthony is a Private Practice Consultant for the American Counseling Association, columnist for Counseling Today magazine, and author of "How to Thrive in Counseling Private Practice". He is a multistate Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) and has been quoted in national media sources including The Boston Globe, the Chicago Tribune, and CBS Sunday Morning.

Check out “Leaving Depression Behind: An Interactive, Choose Your Path Book” written by AJ Centore and Taylor Bennett."