The Customer Lifecycle


How to create a customer for life.

By Jerry Durham, PT, and

Ann Wendel, PT, ATC, CMTPT

Private practice owners know that it is more efficient and cost effective to retain current clients than to constantly look for new potential clients. We spend a great deal of time keeping current with best practices, research, and educational offerings in order to provide effective care for our clients. We seek opportunities to learn best business practices. We network and receive mentoring. Yet we frequently forget a huge part of the equation—providing outstanding customer service to the client from the moment of their first contact with our practice.

In order to create a customer for life, we need a plan. The plan is the mapping out of the customer’s experience. We need systems in place to standardize our team approach to creating the customer experience. This is important in a single location practice, and vital in practices with multiple locations.

The customer lifecycle is your customer’s experience. It serves as a template for creating your plan for outstanding customer service as it defines each step of the process. The objectives of the lifecycle are to facilitate the arrival of new customers, set the treating provider up for success, retain customers, and create customers for life. The ultimate goal of the customer experience is to build relationships. This requires a team approach to prevent surprises for any member of the team or the customer along the way.

When we consider the touchpoints involved in the lifecycle, there are three major phases to consider:

  1. Initial contact with your office until arrival into office
  2. Customer arrival for evaluation until completed course of care
  3. Post course of care until reengagement

Phase one starts at the time of the initial contact with your office and lasts until the customer’s arrival in the office. The objective is to turn a potential customer into a scheduled customer, while collecting the data necessary to begin the course of care. The underlying theme is to be transparent, share the value of your practice, make promises and deliver on them. The key variable in this phase is your frontline team: those who answer the phones and work the front desk. Your frontline team must be trained not only in customer service but also sales. The transparency in this phase lies in sharing the true cost of doing business with your practice in terms that the customer understands. It is always best to provide full disclosure of financial information prior to the client arriving in your clinic for their initial evaluation. At the conclusion of phase one, your frontline team must contact the potential new client with a welcome call just prior to their first visit. If your practice has multiple locations, the call needs to be placed from the office where their initial evaluation will occur. Again, the focus is the professional relationship you are building with the client.


Phase two begins when the customer arrives at the clinic and lasts until the completion of their course of care. This is the first step that involves the physical therapist, when the therapist actually begins to interact with the customer. Everything (positive and negative) that has occurred to this point has set the stage for this meeting. The objective throughout this phase is to deliver on your brand promises and provide value to the customer. These steps have been set up by your frontline team. Because of this fact, it is important that all members of the team know and understand what is occurring at each phase of the lifecycle. It is impossible for your physical therapists and assistants to deliver on something that they were not aware was promised. To prevent any misunderstandings in cost at the time of the initial evaluation, your front desk must have complete understanding of what financial information has been shared with the customer.

The objective of the evaluation (in addition to the obvious history and exam provided by the therapist) is to secure the customer’s buy-in to their plan of care. The therapist must present the customer with information about their diagnosis and the proposed plan of care to assist the customer in reaching his or her goals. This is when the accountability of the customer is agreed on. This agreement will begin to build trust and will assist in reaching the goal of completion of the plan of care. This is a significant value component of the evaluation!

The cycle does not end once the customer has reached their goals and completed their plan of care. Phase three occurs after the completion of care and lasts until reengagement with the customer. Reengagement can be measured by the customer returning for a new course of care or by referring another potential customer to your clinic. Both offer opportunities to continue the relationship and truly create a customer for life. It is important to track these metrics as a measurement of the success of your customer lifecycle. Practice owners often underestimate the need to keep their practice at the top of the customer’s mind. There are multiple options available to practice owners to keep their customers engaged and their clinics front of mind. Monthly newsletters about events are one way to accomplish this objective. Regular educational offerings for the community may be another method.

When you train your entire team to utilize an approach such as the customer lifecycle, you have the ability to provide effective care while building a lasting relationship with your customers. Transparency, mutual acceptance of appropriate responsibility, and clear expectations allow clinics to build customers for life.

Jerry Durham, PT, is the founder and principal of San Francisco Sports and Spine Physical Therapy in San Francisco, California. He can be reached at

Ann Wendel, PT, ATC, CMTPT, is an Impact editorial board member and owner of Prana Physical Therapy, PLLC, in Alexandria, Virginia. She can be reached at

Copyright © 2018, Private Practice Section of the American Physical Therapy Association. All Rights Reserved.

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