Have you been left twiddling your thumbs when a client has made a late cancellation or failed to show?
Did you know there are ways to reduce or totally eliminate these occurrences altogether?
Here are some steps to improve patient compliance and make no shows a thing of the past.
1. Set expectations
Do your clients know how and when to cancel? Having this information hidden away on your website in the hope that they’ll find it isn’t enough.
Ways of reinforcing your cancellation policy so your clients’ know what to expect can include:
- At time of booking: if clients contact you directly, remind them of your cancellation method, timing and penalties before signing off. If you’re using an online booking system, most have places to insert this information.
- Booking reminder: time your automatic reminder based on your cancellation period. For example, if it’s 24 hours you need to send the reminder before this, so it might go out two days before the appointment. Let the client know how to change an appointment and what the deadline is.
- At the end of the first consultation: there are so many expectations to set. These include the rationale behind their treatment plan, how to take their remedies, why they need to follow up in x amount of time, what they can expect to experience during that period, what constitutes an emergency or vital reasons to contact you between sessions and the preferred form of contact. It’s not surprising that sometime practitioners forget to go through their cancellation policy. But if you’re experiencing repeated no shows, make sure you share this information from the start.
- After a repeat consultation or when a client returns after an extended period of time “just a reminder about how to change your appointment….and my cancellation fee is x if not cancelled at least 24/48 hours beforehand”.
- if you are working in a physical clinic, provide highly visible signs in the waiting and consultation rooms setting out your conditions.
- In your email signature, keep the message simple with time period and charges.
2. Set, charge and recoup cancellation fees
It’s difficult to extract a fee if a new client doesn’t show or drops out at the last minute, whatever your policy. The most successful way to do this is to have their credit card on file, take a deposit at the time a new client books or use a prepaid online booking system.
If you’re not doing the above, take prepayment to confirm a new appointment time when the forgetful client wants to rebook their initial consultation. Clients who’ve made a genuine mistake won’t quibble about this.
If you have a policy, you need to follow through. This means messaging them 5-10 minutes after the consultation was due to start, sending invoices for cancellation fees or taking credit card pre-authorisation for repeat offenders.
When I worked face-to-face in a physical clinic, if a client rang to cancel a few hours beforehand, I’d offer them another time on the day for no fee at the rare times one was available. My policy then was to remind them of the fee and timing and say, everyone gets a free kick but if they do it in future they’d be charged. This way I didn’t alienate clients but ensured they either didn’t cancel without notice in future or would pay the fee.
Almost every client charged with the fee happily paid, either on invoice or at the next consultation if they were a regular. They knew the policy and expected it.
There are times when people genuinely forget or have emergencies. Handling them with grace, rather than annoyance, increases the odds of the client returning. Your tone, verbal or written, can make or break this. But it’s important to have a cancellation policy and following through with it!
3. How to avoid no shows and late cancellation
Prepayment, or taking credit card pre-authorisation, is the only way to not lose money for a client who doesn’t show up.
Cancellations and no shows all but disappeared when I moved to prepayment and online bookings, with the client in charge of making any changes. This has meant no phone calls and rarely the need for an email regarding cancellation.
Since implementing this system in 2014, I average zero to two no shows or late cancellations each year. In almost a decade, only one new client hasn’t shown up (surprisingly a naturopath for an initial mentoring session). If I’m going to twiddle my thumbs, at least I’m paid to catch up on admin. As far as I can recall, every follow-up no show client has rebooked paying another full consultation fee.
However, there are always exceptional circumstances, such as when working with severely ill clients who have unexpectedly ended up in hospital. In such cases, I assign a credit.
How does this compare to your cancellation rate?
Cancellation fee legalities
Terms and Conditions aren’t just important for transparency but are a legal requirement . This is even more critical when it involves withholding payment or keeping a credit card on file, so make sure you understand your obligations around privacy and security as well.
Never cut and paste Ts & Cs off another website. If you don’t know the legalities, how can you be sure the copied ones are actually legit?
I created my Ts & C with lawyer Michelle Whitehead’s DIY Contracts that Care. Rather than just buried away online, they’re embedded into my booking system, with the full terms needing to be accepted by the client to secure their appointment. The DIY Website Terms & Conditions was the best $264 I’ve spent, and this included a small group online session with Michelle to iron out any questions.
What are repeated cancellations telling you?
Beyond what’s been explored in this post, in my experience mentoring practitioners for more than two decades, repeated no shows or cancellations without rebooking may point to other issues in your business and way of practicing.
- There’s a long-observed phenomena that this can occur when we’re tired, unwell, or have too much going on. But if this is the case, it’s usually periodic and short lived.
- Do you enjoy your work? Or have nagging issues with where or how you practice?
- A good place to start is how and where are you attracting clients, are they a good fit and when you know your ideal demographic (beyond the generalities) how are they finding you?
- Do you understand client retention and how to crack the code? (If nothing else – read this article).
- Sometimes there’s a mismatch between what you are promoting through your website, social media, other channels, etc and how you actually work. Or are you over promising and under-delivering?
- How complicated are your treatment plans? Are you setting clients up to fail?
Working together through mentoring, for a holistic deep dive will help uncover the real reasons you are experiencing these issues, and ways to remedy them.
Setting a cancellation period: when I worked in a bricks and mortar clinic, I chose 24 hours. But moving online this changed to strictly 48 hours because I wanted more freedom working from home. Being automated, the system locks booking changes at exactly this time.
Cancellation fee: my in-person clinic fee was 50%. Some loyal clients offered to pay the full amount but I stuck to the schedule. Since moving to exclusively online consulting, clients forfeit all of their prepaid fee.
Remember, complying with your legal obligations is mandatory, not optional!
Gill Stannard is a naturopath and business mentor with over 30 years experience. She loves working with health professionals to shape a business they love that meets their unique needs.