The Initial Consultation: 6 Lessons Learned from Shoe Shopping

Straight from the podiatrist with a nice limp in my step, nursing such severe plantar fasciitis that I couldn’t manage it on my own any longer, I walked into a shoe store. Not just any foot store, but a fancy running shoe store that felt all together intimidating. 

Here’s what you need to know about me. I wear a size 11 shoe and have since I was in 5th grade, so finding shoes is not really all that fun for me. I prefer to spend my money on travel and fun stuff with my family. So for me to go into an expert shoe store means I was in pain and needed help.

You walk in and immediately, you are greeted, put on the list for a personal sales assistant. They put me on a treadmill, video’d my run and walk, had me stand to analyze where I bear weight and then  made some recommendations. They offered insoles but I didn’t need them so I kindly declined and they smiled and moved me along the process. They asked me some questions and got to know my needs better. I sat down and had 8 pairs of shoes brought to me. I got to test them out, run on the treadmill. In no time flat I knew what fit.

They shared some of their upsells like their VIP program. I got some socks, shoes and VIP. Checked out and the guy helping me said - if you are embarrassed by this huge bell I am going to ring, just run for the door. I laughed and then I ran as the bell was sounded to celebrate my VIP membership.

You can look at this process and write it off as it being salesy. But I think it teaches us so much more about what it means to be in business and especially the consult process. How do you handle the new person that walks through the door.

For us as therapists it is a question of how you help the person calling to potentially schedule an appointment. While we give a script to members in our bootcamp so they can remember certain points they need to cover, I wanted to use my experience shoe shopping as a lesson in how to have a consult with a new potential client. 

Here’s what you need to remember:

  1. Take the time to understand the pain. My kind of foot pain requires a different assessment than people with shin splints or training for a special race. Therapy is so much like this. Too often in the first consultation on the phone we make assumptions about the pain of the person reaching out to us. Right off the bat, make it about them. If you are starting your calls talking about you and your fee, you are missing an important connection. When you meet their pain with understanding you are setting the foundation for trust.
  2. Having a process puts people at ease. From the get go, give a framework. After they share about why they are calling, tell them your process for that first call. Maybe you want to ask them more questions and then give them a chance to ask you questions and at the end explore if an appointment or a referral is needed. Whatever you decide, tell the person so they know what to expect. 
  3. Offer options that you believe are best based upon your assessment. If you are seeing a couple and you know that part of the assessment includes seeing them separately at first, share that with them. No surprises.
  4. If the person chooses something different, don’t take it personal. I knew I didn’t want insoles or certain upgrades. There is no need for the person to be offended just like when someone says they don’t want to pay your fee or don’t want to meet weekly. That’s fine. Give them a good referral and let them know that if it doesn’t work out, they can always come back to you.
  5. Take time to educate. When you give referrals explain the options. I wasn’t really planning on buying a particular shoe. I had a range of prices that I thought were reasonable. After looking at all my options, I chose the shoe that was a bit more expensive, because it was the shoe that fit best. There are people that solely work with a therapist in the beginning based on price. You can be that therapist. Or you can be the therapist that knows who they help and is clear about the value and then allow the client to select if that is a good fit for them. But sometimes people just don’t know what to expect, so share with them their options. To be detached from the result empowers them and releases you from the stress.
  6. Celebrate. Thank the client for their time and honor that they are looking for help. It takes a lot of effort to reach out sometimes. Welcome them into your practice if they choose to work with you and help them feel at home. Send them the information they need before the first session so that upon the first session you are solely focused on them, not paperwork. 

A silly thing like finding the right shoe can provide so many lessons. Next time you are out and interacting with another business, pay attention. We all have something to learn from each other.