The best tip for getting potential clients truly interested in your program.


Working in the substance abuse and mental health treatment field can be one of the most rewarding as well as most difficult jobs anyone could have, regardless of what position you have at a program. Typically, the first point of contact for people seeking help for themselves or a loved one is the admissions department.

This fact is often overlooked in many facilities, where all the focus is on the clinical team and support staff. While the majority of time and attention should be placed on clinical excellence, not having a thriving admissions department can be the difference in whether or not the facility can keep its doors open.

Through our experience, most rehabilitation centers are lacking sufficient skills and resources in their admissions departments. Enrollments stay lower than desired because there is often a missing ingredient when dealing with the person(s) on the phone or in front of them. The good news is that it is rarely a personnel problem or lack of ability. It is something so simple that people usually dismiss it before really even thinking about it.

So what is this missing ingredient? Listening. Yes, truly listening.

What Not to Do

Here are a few examples of how poor listening skills are driving away business right now. These are four of the most frequently adopted styles of conversation we see in facilities that aren’t getting as many people in the door as they should.

The Order Taker

This type of conversation is probably the most common that we see at programs and call centers. The people who are supposed to get prospects interested in enrolling aren’t really engaged in the conversation, they’re merely “taking orders.”

A typical call might go like this: A prospect dials the toll-free number and starts speaking with an admissions counselor. The person starts asking questions right away, such as wanting to know how much the program costs, where it’s located, what kind of staff are available, whether they can smoke or bring their pet, or any other thoughts or concerns they have.

The staff member winds up just answering those questions with basic responses, many of which are only “yes” or “no,” and simply lists out what is on the routine menu of services.

By the time they try to tell the prospect anything substantial about the real benefits of the program, they have made up their mind after just hearing the items on the menu. Unless they happen to be looking for exactly what is offered and every question is answered perfectly, this prospect is already looking to get off the phone and call someone else.

The Eager Beaver

This staff member is almost completely opposite from The Order Taker. Instead of being completely passive and only relaying bland facts about the program, The Eager Beaver is overly anxious and communicative.

Here a caller is overwhelmed by the staff member, who immediately runs down a list of all of the great things about their treatment center that they think someone would want to hear. They assume the prospect wants to know all about the acreage and amenities and what to bring. Or, they may dive straight into explanations of the daily schedule and clinical team with no regard for their campus, location or what insurance policies they work with.

In situations like these the prospect feels bowled over by the communication and can’t wait to get off the phone to speak with someone at a different center who seems more calm and lets them talk.

The Bad Mouther

In today’s Internet age, most potential treatment clients are considering more than one program, as any smart consumer should. One of the problems with this is that when prospects tell the admissions counselor at one facility that they are considering another, too many of these staff members immediately jump into telling the person how bad the other program is.

First of all, it is not exactly a professional sales tactic, and most people pick up on that. If you have a good program and believe in the treatment and services your facility provides, then there is absolutely no need to bad mouth another center. At the same time, you also don’t have to tell them how great somewhere else is, either. There is a way to show courtesy and respect where the prospect sees you as being more professional.

When most people hear an admissions counselor talking negatively about other rehabs they are turned off by it, because it makes them wonder what else you’re saying about them or other people to someone else. Sharing gossip or talking trash is not a way to gain the trust of a prospective client.

The Shaming Bully

The majority of prospects who call are seeking help for family members or friends, and they are often in desperate situations. In many cases their loved ones have been arrested, hurt, overdosed, kicked out of school, lost their jobs, lost their kids, or some other devastating situation caused by addiction, and there is no need to shame them into action. Browbeating, especially when used as a sales tactic, is never a style that should be adopted.

What we mean by shaming them is talking in a condescending manner and telling them they need to act now or their loved one will not get better/will go to jail/overdose/get in an accident/die, etc. It doesn’t really matter if any of those answers are true, as they instinctively know this, which is why they’re calling. They need to be led down a trusting path, not given a lecture on how they don’t really love their kid if they don’t fork over $30K on a credit card immediately. It also means you don’t ask them pointed questions that implicate them as being guilty, such as “Well you don’t want your daughter to wind up on the street, do you?” Of course they don’t want that, so don’t be a jerk.

If you find yourself acting in any of the ways above on the phone with people seeking help at your facility, or if you notice any of your admissions counselors doing it, it is vitally important to change that behavior. By allowing it to continue you are actively chasing away clients.

Less Talking and More Listening

Rather than taking on any of the above positions on the phone, a much better way of communicating is by calmly listening to the caller and not having any other agenda or pre-conceived notion of how the call will go. It is already understood that your job is to get people signed up and enrolled. This is about really listening to them.

Many good listeners can become experts in interpersonal communication by learning deep listening. Deep listening is defined by the University of Minnesota’s Center for Spirituality & Healing as “a process of listening to learn. It requires the temporary suspension of judgment, and willingness to receive new information – whether pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral.”

So how does this apply to answering calls from people looking for substance abuse treatment help?

First of all, it is a full engagement and interest in what the caller’s situation is and identifying how you can help them. People feel better when they can talk with someone who is really listening to them, and you instantly gain a trusted position with them where they then become more willing to listen to what you have to say, making any sales pitch or recommendation that much more powerful.

Sometimes there is a slight hesitation and the caller needs a bit of a prompt, and you can often say something as simple as “So tell me what’s going on,” or ask “What can I help you with today?” Then sit back for a moment and really begin listening. They will start to tell you almost all of the information you need to know and give you cues as to what else to ask for.

Asking them some appropriate questions not only shows them that you’re listening and engaged, but that you’re also interested in helping them solve the problems they’re calling about.

Throughout this process – calmly listening and asking key questions – you’re able to find out the main concerns they have regarding finding the right facility. This allows you to present your program in the best manner possible. For example, if they are really concerned about detox, you’re able to focus more time and give a more detailed explanation of how your medical team performs detoxification procedures. If they’re more worried about co-occurring disorders, you can ease their conscience a bit by telling them about how your program specifically addresses dual diagnosis issues.

At the same time, you’re also able to help avoid potential issues, such as someone being adamant about having a particular service that you don’t offer. Either you can find a way to deliver it, or you can recommend another facility that can meet their needs. Nobody wants to be misled. It doesn’t do you or them any good. Effective listening can be a protective measure to avoid certain problems as well.

Now, probably as a first reaction you might say, “But I already do that!” Well, you may be right, but most people think they’re listening, but they’re not really listening. They’re merely asking questions to pretend like they’re listening or to try get them to a single pre-determined point in the conversation. Neither one of those are pure listening.

We all can use a bit of practice at listening better, not just to those who are calling for help, but also co-workers, family members and even ourselves. It is a way to become more present and aware while also having an internal and external calming effect.

Training Exercise: Practice Listening

While there are times and places for well-written scripts, they can be too impersonal if not done correctly. One of the best ways to immediately improve the quality of each call is to get your admissions counselors to practice listening – to each other.

Have them pair up and take turns role playing. First one is the caller and the other is the counselor, and then they switch roles. This way they both get to practice asking the right questions and listening for cues. They can go through different common scenarios and try various ways of addressing these types of situations.

These training exercises can be done multiple times throughout the course of a few months or a year. Even well-seasoned phone counselors can get complacent or lose sight of how they connect with people on the phone.


Really good listeners know what questions to ask and what parts of their programs speak to each prospect the most. They understand that it’s not some machine or assembly line, but instead really about helping the people who are interested in their treatment center.

You’re probably not in a boiler room situation where you’re trying to sift through thousands of leads like some of the big money call centers do. And that’s good, because you can bet most of them aren’t practicing real listening, so those callers are going to move on down the list and hopefully reach you or one of your admissions counselors. If they do, you’ll be better prepared to help them – and yourselves.

At Addiction Recovery Resources, we work with facilities on more specific training with their admissions departments, including items such as script development, coaching and learning how to know which questions to ask. This is just one small thing we do to help them improve their conversion rates. Contact us today to see how we can help your program.