Treatment on Demand: King County's Secret to Rehab Marketing

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King County, Washington is famous these days for pioneering some novel, patient-centered approaches to tackling the county’s heroin epidemic. On the surface, what they’re doing has nothing in common with copywriting and UX (User Experience) design.

But look closer.

King County’s addiction programs can actually teach us a lot about how to build better addictions treatment websites and better user experiences for our leads.

King County’s secret?

Minimizing wait times.

Reducing Wait Times with Addiction Treatment On Demand

Seattle, like the rest of the country, is struggling under the weight of the opioid crisis.

King County responded with an ambitious 1.4 million dollar “Pay For Success” program.

Under the scheme, the county promotes treatment-on-demand by incentivizing same-day treatment of the county’s low-income residents. They aim to get participating providers to do same-day appointments 85% of the time.

King County has good reasons for targeting wait times. According to the National Council of Behavioral Health, “25% of patients with next-day appointments cancel or simply do not show up.” With a no-show rate like that, you start to see why King County is focusing on treatment-on-demand.

We have 78 people dying every day from overdose in the United States but only 10% of addicts and alcoholics are receiving treatment. 

That leaves 90% of those struggling with addiction untreated.

King County is betting that a lot of people in that 90% made the appointment but never got their butt in the chair.

Seize the Moment and Convert Your Lead

Your lead’s decision to reach out to a treatment provider—a rehab, counselor, clinic, whatever—is not random. There is a specific set of circumstances leading up to this point.

Lots of people call what’s happening in your lead’s life a “moment of clarity.” Others have called it a “change point.” Your lead’s loved ones may call it a “tipping point.” Some might call it “rock bottom.”

The Big Book simply calls it a “brief moment.”

Whatever your opinion of AA, they definitely got it right there: your lead is open to your services for only a brief moment. Wait time is the enemy.

In their guide to “Finding Quality Treatment for Substance Use Disorders,” SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) isn’t shy about weighing in on wait times. SAMHSA says:

“Call for an appointment. If [the treatment provider] can’t see you or your family member within 48 hours, find another provider. One indicator of quality is the ability to get an appointment quickly. Many programs offer walk‐in services. Look for programs that can get you or a family member into treatment quickly.”

SAMHSA tells people to bail if providers have long wait times because they want people to actually get into treatment.

In other words, even SAMHSA knows that you only have a short amount of time before your lead wanders off.

Find ALL the Bottlenecks Stopping Conversion

Now, marketing and copywriting is pretty magical, but it can’t suddenly open up a bed in an already-full treatment center. Sometimes you just can’t fit an intake in at the moment.

But the wait time between first contact and intake isn’t the only wait time you need to worry about.

Oh, no—the time between first contact and intake is actually made up of lots of smaller wait times. Consider the time your lead spends:

  • Waiting for a call, email, or text back

  • Waiting to find the right information on your website

  • Waiting for a confirmation email

  • Waiting and wondering if their contact info even went through to you

  • Waiting for a rep to respond in a live chat

Your organization might be great with some of these wait times and horrendous at others. Look at which ones apply to you and focus on addressing your worst offenders.

I recommend that you reply to all business-hours phone, email, and form-submitted inquiries in as close to one hour as possible. Any more than that and your lead may have already wandered off.

Help Leads Help Themselves

In addictions treatment, the pre-screen phone call is the gold standard of first-time intake contact. “Call now!” or “Get a Call from a Counselor” buttons are everywhere.

And it makes sense.

Calls are warm, human interactions that help show the caring face of your business. People in crisis want to hear a soothing voice on the other end of the line. Phone calls are an easy, HIPAA compliant way to gather information about your lead.

But have you checked out the recent stats on chats?

You read that right: 40% of your leads want to connect with you but don’t want to pick up the phone and call you. That’s significant! The good news is that secure chat windows are easy to incorporate into your site using a decent HIPAA compliant webchat service. I like MedChat for this.

Set Wait Time Expectations with Leads Early and Often

Expectations and context can change your leads’ perception of wait time in a big way.

We can learn something about wait time expectations from the evil way the Houston Airport “reduced” wait times for travelers. This notorious story has been floating around the internet since The New York Times did a piece on it in 2012. It goes like this:

Customers are complaining about wait times at the luggage carousel, so the airport hires more luggage handlers. Wait times are way down, but the complaints still continue!

Confused, the airport launches an investigation. They find that the carousel is right next to the terminal, so people are spending about one minute walking to the carousel and six minutes standing around waiting for their baggage.

To fix this problem—to fix this perception problem—the airport moved the carousel further away from the terminal. Travellers spent six minutes walking and one minute waiting. The complaints stopped.

Crazy, right? Here’s the deal:

This arrangement worked because it played into customer expectations perfectly. People expect to walk in airports, so they walked a bit without complaint. Then they were thrilled with lightning fast luggage delivery!

The airport travellers are a lot like your leads, except people know what to expect at an airport. Your leads don’t necessarily know what’s going to happen when they contact a treatment provider. It’s your job to tell them what to expect. And deliver 110%!

How can you actually put this into practice?

If your leads can expect a call-back within 12 hours, write that in the auto-response email—and then be sure to call back within 8. If your live chat is only available from 10 a.m.-3 p.m., put that information in the chat window—and make your admissions team available from 9:45 a.m.-3:15 p.m.

By setting wait-time expectations, you set yourself up with the opportunity to exceed your lead’s wait time expectations.

It’s a win-win.

King County Knows: Reduce Wait Times and Watch Your Conversion Rate Soar

Whether it’s getting into treatment or retrieving our luggage, we hate to wait. Waiting makes us feel like we’re not being taken seriously and that our time isn’t valued. When we’re dealing with addiction, wait times can be deadly.

Take a good look at how users are experiencing wait times in their interactions with your company. Have you set clear expectations that you work to exceed? Have you considered implementing faster modes of communication like in-site live chat? What about texting?

Your leads are only convertible for a “brief moment”—so seize the opportunity with everything you’ve got!  

Erin Gilday