Do you have a no-show problem? Do clients often miss appointments?

Do you have a no-show problem? Do clients often miss appointments?

How do you deal with clients who no-show for appointments? That is, clients who make an appointment and then don’t reschedule or cancel but rather simply don’t show up at the scheduled appointment time. This client behavior creates a difficult dilemma for service professionals. A missed or forgotten appointment costs you income and can disrupt your entire schedule for the remainder of the day. On the other hand, as a service provider you must handle these situations very delicately if you wish to keep the client in the future (and the potential client referrals that my result).  You also need to be concerned with your reputation for customer service, which can also be helped or hurt by how you respond.

In certain situations, a no-show cannot be avoided by your client. Calendar mix-ups can happen. People have emergencies. They can simply just forget their appointment for any number of reasons.  Even the best clients will miss a session from time to time. Although appointment no-shows are a service business reality, there are things you can do to minimize this issue and minimize the impact it has on your business when it inevitably still does occur.

Create a no-show and cancellation policy

First and foremost, create a no-show and cancellation policy. When you create your policy, be up front about the terms and make sure it is properly communicated and prominently displayed. State it clearly on your website, post it at your point of sale, and remind clients of it when booking, especially new clients. Be consistent and hold clients accountable to the terms. There’s no point creating a client no-show and cancellation policy if you don’t intend to enforce it. As long as you are transparent and fair in your enforcement, having these policies will demonstrate that you are a professional and that your time and services have value. It will also minimize the possibility that your client will get upset and leave you for good and, potentially worse yet, share their anger with others.

The title of this article and the introduction refer mostly to no-show appointments, but for many providers, last minute cancellations or reschedules are just as harmful to your finances and schedule. If someone cancels 30 minutes prior to their appointment, most providers won’t be able to fill that spot so it will go unused just as though the client had been a complete no-show.  While they feel better and you’ll feel better, it still doesn’t change its impact on your business. That is why it is important to consider carefully how to handle last minute cancellations.

See Sample Cancellation Policy Below

If you don’t know what to put in your policy, jump the internet and do some research.  Google “Sample Cancellation Policy” or “Sample No-show Policy“. Visit the websites of your competitors or similar service providers to see what terms they have set. Most providers ask for a minimum of 24 hours’ notice for a cancellation. This notification time will allow you the opportunity to book someone else in the appointment slot or adjust your schedule to make better use of the free time.  Most providers will charge a fee up to the full cost of the service for late cancellations and no-shows.  Many will also refuse future service to people who have violated the policy a certain number of times. But, don’t make the mistake of trying to write your cancellation policy by copying and pasting the first thing you find online. Your policy needs to be one that fits your business and your clientele.  You need to feel comfortable sharing it ahead of time and enforcing it, neither of which are easy sometimes.

Don’t let appointment confirmations fall through the cracks

This step might seem like a simple no-brainer, but you’d be surprised how many call confirmations never get made.  If you are a self-employed service professional, you don’t have a personal assistant to confirm your client appointments for you. The responsibility is entirely yours, as are the consequences of not doing them. Missed confirmations lead to missed appointments which lead to missed revenue for you.  More than that, they are also a professional courtesy for your clients. They help your clients manage their own schedules and they give you an extra opportunity to communicate with clients and build stronger relationships. Communication can make a big difference when it comes to clients showing up tomorrow, as well as when booking services in the future.

Reduce client no-shows through electronic reminders

 “I can’t tell you how many times a client has told me that if it wasn’t for my email and text reminders they would have forgotten our appointment or shown up at the wrong time. Being a one-person business, I don’t have time to do call confirmations anyway. Technology has allowed me to minimize no shows, book more appointments and quite frankly get more done.” – Lisa – Speech Therapist.

Text and email appointment reminders pay for themselves by avoiding just one missed appointment. Text reminders are great for same-day notifications, especially for clients on the go. Appointment email reminders should go out approximately 48 hours in advance of the appointment. This gives your clients plenty of time to notify you if they need to make any schedule changes.

Automate your entire appointment scheduling process

It’s probably common sense that you should provide confirmations and reminders in order to reduce no-shows. It is probably also easy to see why automating those tasks makes them easier for you and more reliable.  However, those things only encompass about half of the appointment process. A confirmation and reminder may be all you need to prevent a no-show for today’s appointment, but every touch point affects whether a client will book again and how loyal they are to future appointments.  While some no-shows are unavoidable, many are not.  Clients often have a choice to make as to whether or not that last minute thing that comes up is more important than your appointment.  In these cases, everything you’ve done to provide a great experience can have an impact.  You can greatly improve this experience by making finding and booking an appointment quick and easy.  You can also improve it by ensuring they receive a timely thank you message upon completion of their appointment. All of this can be automated with some client relationship marketing software available today.

Show respect for your customers’ time too

With all this talk about clients not showing up, I feel it’s only fair to address the service professionals as well.  Many service providers do the very same thing to their clients that they have written a policy to try and avoid having done to them.  They cancel appointments at the last minute or allow appointment delays to compound throughout the day. Appointments start 5 minutes late, then 10, then 15….

Don’t be that person!

Make sure you are ready for an appointment on-time. To make this happen, most people plan to be ready for appointments early.

Being ready doesn’t mean you’ve just rushed your last client out while the next one is walking in.  It means that you have allocated the appropriate amount of time (for your particular business) to prepare tools or products, review previous client session notes, and not be rushed or even appear to be rushed. Doing this shows respect for your client’s time. Running late, or changing a client’s appointment time, or rescheduling do not. They will feel disrespected and will have a negative impression in general of your business. Conversely, customers will rave to friends and family or through online social channels when a business actually runs on time consistently.

With the web-based tools available today (scheduling systems with appointment confirmations, reminders, and follow up thank you messages), there is no excuse for not managing your appointments efficiently. Time is money as “they” say, so be prompt for your appointments and be prepared. Everyone will appreciate it.

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