Every service business gets them. Client cancellations and no-shows are frustrating and they can easily cost a massage practice thousands of dollars per year. For example, one missed appointment that you can’t fill at the last minute could cost you $60.
If this happens three times per week, that’s a loss of $180 per week. This can quickly add up to a loss of $750 per month, or $9,000 per year!
Your time is valuable and you can never get it back once it’s gone. So how can you decrease your cancellation and no-show rate to avoid losing productive time? In this post I address the common causes of this problem and offer some effective solutions that will minimize the loss and frustration, and improve client relations.
Different reasons for cancellations and no-shows
While I’m not as concerned when people are a little late, no-shows and last minute cancellations can put the kibosh on productivity. These problems could be strictly due to client issues, but they could also result from something that needs to be corrected within the massage practice. Some examples of this include: failure to remind clients of their appointments, lack of missed visit policies or inadequate client education on these policies.
Frequent cancellations and no-shows could also mean that you’re setting appointments with clients who don’t value the your services. Not all clients will be a good fit for your practice. When a client values your service and places a high priority on it, they are not likely to miss their appointment.
I break the reasons for missed appointments into 3 categories:
- Client truly forgot. This person was looking forward to their appointment however it slipped their mind when the time came. This no-show can be a frustrating waste of time, but there are ways to effectively minimize this problem.
- Client remembered but chose another priority. This could result in a no-show or a cancellation. Of course there are things that are more important than keeping a massage appointment. I group actual emergencies into this category. But barring a physical emergency, a client who doesn’t have the courtesy to call you is a bad sign. You can reduce this by educating your client more on the value of your service. People weigh consequences when making decisions. So they need to understand that missing an appointment comes with consequences. Where are you on your client’s list of priorities? Remember, your ‘Ideal Client’ should place a high value on the service that you offer, and put a high priority on their scheduled appointment with you.
- Client remembered but physically couldn’t get there. This is the least common. While the first two were actually an excuse, this one is a reason. An example of this would be if their car broke down when out of cell phone range.
Create cancellation and no-show policies
Effective policies help a business operate profitably with the least number of problems. They will reduce the potential for conflicts or issues that could strain your client relations.
Just like a contract or partnership agreement, a policy sets guidelines to inform all parties how an issue will be resolved. It is a necessary part of any professional services practice.
A good policy conveys reasonable consequences for client actions that disrupt normal business operations.
Make your policies clear and easy to remember. You should establish and have each client agree to them at his or her initial visit. Include them on your initial intake, and verbally state them on their initial visit.
Place policy reminders where clients can see them. Post them at your reception desk or some place visible. And post them online, especially if you do online booking.
Stay fair, firm and consistent with your policies. The best policy choice depends on your practice. A budding practice may want more lenient terms, whereas a busy practice will need to be firm. Use your judgment when developing and enforcing your policies.
In addition to creating your practice policies, you must first respect and value your own time before expecting your clients to respect it.
Examples of policies to consider for your practice:
- Charge a small fee for cancellations received less than 24 hours from scheduled time. $5-$15 is enough to discourage a late cancellation, but not enough to chase them off.
- Charge a higher fee for a no-show. $30 (or a % of the scheduled treatment price). You want people to call even if cancelling last minute, instead of giving you no notice at all.
- One no-show will result in a $30 fee and required pre-payment for following visits (or partial payment to reserve appointment).
- Two no-shows in a 12-month period will result in no future appointments being scheduled.
- Consider requiring prepayment for new clients who weren’t referred directly by one of your current clients.
- 3 cancellations in a 6-month period will result in no further visits being scheduled.
- Clients may reschedule appointments as needed if not within 24-hour pre-appointment window.
Remember, your policies will likely need to change to adapt to your business as it grows.
Enforcing your policies
How you enforce these depends on what’s best for your practice. Be certain that all of your clients know your policies. Keep them simple and consistent. Trying to enforce a policy that a client doesn’t know about is a sure way to lose a client and get some bad reviews online.
As long as they stay within your policies, make it easy for them to reschedule. *Clients always prefer someone who is “easy to work with”.
Don’t let your ego get in the way. “How dare he no-show me!” Just because someone no-shows you once or cancels at the last minute when they are still a new client, doesn’t mean this is who they are. You have your policies, but you also have the potential to use good judgment in the moment. Handle things tactfully. This client may just turn into one of your best clients, and the godfather of your kids. You never know.
Take a few minutes at the end of each month to reflect on how your policies are working for your business, or if any changes would be better.
Let your practice policies reflect your principles.
“Policies are many, Principles are few,
Policies will change, Principles never do.” –John Maxwell
Create internal policies to increase productivity
Make use of your time if you get a no-show or late cancellation. Does it make sense for your practice to call or text your client if they are 5 minutes late?
Decide ahead of time how long you will wait for a client before you call someone on your waiting list or move on to working another task. If you only have a 1-hour before your next client appointment, and you waited 15 minutes for a no-show, then this limits how you can use this time.
Have a stand-by list of clients who are nearby and may want to come in for a last minute massage. This works especially well once you get booked out several weeks in advance. Those clients who really want a sooner appointment but were unable to get one may jump at the chance for a last minute massage.
*Scarcity of available openings will increase perceived value of your services.
Have your To Do list handy so that you can jump right into it when it seems that your client is not coming.
A lot of cancellations and no-shows could be a sign that you’re working with the wrong people. Consistently working with people who don’t value your work leads to an unfulfilling work life, and decreased happiness and excitement about what you do. Don’t waste your time working with (or marketing to) people who don’t care.
Create a personal policy of what you will do if you have to cancel on short notice. Will you: reschedule their massage at the same price; reschedule at no charge; call in a stand-in therapist; refer them out to an ally massage therapist; or give the client a choice? Life happens to all of us, so plan ahead.
What will you do if you forget an appointment or accidentally double book? How will you make it up to the client? Consider this: would you offer the same recourse to a new client as you would a steady key client?
Train your clients
Years ago I had a barber who worked out of his home. He was really good at his job, but if you were more than 5 minutes late he would lock his door. He maintained a fairly full schedule. So this strategy worked for him. I was only late once.
Once you’ve established that you are skilled and have a full schedule, people won’t risk missing their appointment. If they cancel on short notice because of a little rain or other flimsy excuse, then apply some of the influence strategies below.
Clients are influenced by your words, decisions and actions whether you intend to or not. You may condition them in a good way that builds a respectful and mutually beneficial practice. Or you could inadvertently train them in the wrong way, which will strain your relationship.
For example, if you fail to encourage clients to arrive on time, they will think that promptness is not important to you, and continue to come late. This can make scheduling difficult when you are busy as it sets a bad precedent. It can also cause you to have a negative attitude towards this client, which will affect your interactions.
Limit the days and/or hours you work so that your available openings fill up sooner, and clients will need to schedule further in advance. But make sure that you have the times available that your ideal clients prefer. You’ll likely find that about 80% of your clientele prefer scheduling during 20% of open business hours.
This uses the principle of scarcity, which basically states that people fear being unable to get what they want. Scarcity raises the perceived value of something.
Limiting your availability also sets better boundaries between work time and personal time. This is good for the mental, emotional, and physical health of the entrepreneur.
Reward your clients and show your appreciation. Create a stronger reason for clients to show up. They already have a great massage to look forward to and motivate them, but think of something else that would encourage them to keep their appointment.
After a client shows up on time for 10 or so scheduled appointments, tell your client, “Mary, you haven’t missed any appointments and you always show up on time. I really appreciate that. Not every client keeps their commitment and is as considerate as you. I would like to give you a 30-minute bonus coupon that you can use however you’d like. You could add the time on to your next appointment if you want.”
A client who shows up consistently really is something to be grateful for. Express your gratitude and thank your clients regularly. You will make them feel important…and they are. Also, pointing out desired behavior tends to increase it. You’ve just reinforced this client’s belief that following through with their commitments is part of who they are. And you have increased client loyalty.
Remove barriers to keeping their appointment, especially for your target market:
- Don’t overlap appointments so that clients have to wait for you. Physician offices are notorious for this and it is very frustrating.
- Survey clients in your target market to make sure that you are making yourself available at times that are best for them. It could be that someone took an appointment knowing that it would be difficult to get there at that time, but that was the only time available.
- When someone schedules an appointment, watch for signs of hesitation or concern about the day or time. If there are no other times that week, you can decide to open a better time slot for this client, or recommend that he or she schedule the following week, at a time that better fits their schedule.
Help your clients remember their appointment
Sending clients a reminder of their appointment will benefit you, and your clients will appreciate it. Keep in mind that communication preferences differ depending on client age group. Younger people often prefer text, email or cell phone. While older people tend to use email less frequently if at all. Eliminate any guessing by simply asking their preference.
If you decide to offer reminders (and you really should), be consistent with it. It can confuse your clients if they are used to receiving a reminder, and then this time you didn’t call or email to remind them. They may second-guess their memory of setting the appointment in the first place. Being sporadic with sending reminders or forgetting them altogether is also unprofessional. So whatever you decide, just be consistent.
If you decide to offer reminders, do it for every client. This will make the process easier. Educate your clients that they will get a reminder, and they can choose the contact method.
Automate your reminders as much as possible, to save time and increase consistency. This is one of the many benefits of using an online booking system with this feature. You can have an automated email or text go out at preselected times. Consider sending an email or phone call at 48 hours prior, and a text at 2 hours prior to their appointment time.
If you are considering getting an assistant or a virtual assistant, sending appointment reminders is a good task to outsource. It takes little training but does take time that you could spend on more valuable tasks.
The best time to schedule an appointment is right after their current one. At this time, the value that you provide for them is fresh in on their mind.
For every client that schedules an appointment while at your office, you should issue an appointment reminder card and recommend they stick it on their fridge. Clients also seem to like the magnetized business cards. It’s a useful item that they will see every day, and it serves as a place to post their reminder card.
I hope these strategies and ideas are useful and inspire you to come up with some good policies for your massage practice.
What strategies for reducing cancellations and no-shows have you tried? Please share below.