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How to get clients to show up for appointments and avoid cancellations

Jonathan Zacks

Perhaps you are one of the lucky businesses where many of your clients arrive on time for their appointments. They may even rarely reschedule or cancel appointments and are generally reliable—when they say they’ll show up, they do.

But maybe…even you have those clients who schedule appointments and either cancel last minute or don’t show up at all. Even if such behavior is unintentional it still negatively affects your business with lost revenue adding up per occurrence.

Here are four strategies to consider to try and ensure that all your clients show up to appointments (barring any unforeseen complication):

1. Be proactive and remind your clients

Clients need (and some even love) reminders. There are several ways to do this without coming off pushy or annoying.

One way business owners can be proactive is by handing out appointment cards or mailing out a print out about the next appointment as soon as they schedule it. This is good for confirming that an appointment has been made but may not be enough to remind them as the date approaches (especially if the appointment has been booked for a far-off future date).

Digital reminders such as texts and emails are a great way to gently prompt customers that they have an upcoming appointment with you. Recent studies have shown that texting your clients is the most effective way to increase the chances that clients will show up.

If you don’t want to have to deal with texting them yourself, or having a staff member spend time texting clients, sign up for a text reminders service. These services allow you to control how often and how far in advance to an appointment clients are notified. GoReminders is an example of a text reminders service that is easy to use and designed with small businesses in mind.

For customers who need follow-up appointments, such as in the tattoo, health or physical therapy industries, booking the next appointment during the current appointment might be a wise choice. This can decrease the chance that someone won’t follow through in booking the next appointment from home. This can also help the customer prioritize your services in their calendars.

In such cases, a text reminders app can then be used to remind clients periodically about their upcoming appointment commitment.

A calendar only looks clean in photos. In real life, calendars are messy and it’s easy to miss appointments.

A calendar only looks clean in photos. In real life, calendars are messy and it’s easy to miss appointments.

2. Be aware of time and see clients as soon as possible

You don’t want too much time to elapse between a customer’s appointments because they may forget entirely or start de-prioritizing your services due to their busy lives. Letting too much time go by is a proven way to increase cancellations and no-shows. Therefore, as mentioned in the “Being Proactive” strategy above, we suggest that you try to book the next appointment before your customer departs. As a side note, if you’re very busy, you may want to prioritize existing reliable clients over accepting new ones.

While it should go without saying, we will say it anyway — it is very important to be on time yourself! If your clients are arriving on time for their appointments and then find themselves waiting for you, it can leave a bad taste in their mouths. It can also imply that being on time is not important and may tacitly encourage no-shows or last minute cancellations.

To avoid having customers wait, make sure to be on time, avoid overbooking and space out your appointments so that they have a good chance of being seen at the scheduled time.

3. Incentivize clients and reward those who have been dependable

Greeting your “dependable” clients with “Thank you for being such a reliable customer” can really go a long way. Mailing a personalized “Thank you for being on time” type of card is another wonderful way to show your gratitude. These methods signify to the customer that you value their business and that you are aware that they are upholding their end of an agreement.

Financial incentives are also quite effective. You can consider offering discounts for every “X” number of visits a person makes on time. Again, this serves the dual purpose of showing clients that you value their business and also incentivizes clients to not only further their engagement with you, but show up on time to the appointments they make.

A very effective way, depending on the type of business, would be to hold clients financially accountable. One almost surefire method is to have clients prepay for upcoming appointments. You don’t have to collect everything in advance and asking for just a deposit of a percentage of the total is quite effective. If they’ve already committed funds then they’ll be more likely to arrive in person, especially if that deposit is non refundable.

Another method is charging a fee for cancelled appointments within a certain time-frame. Make this policy visible by posting it in your place of business. Doing this and including the policy in text reminders that you can customize in appointment reminder software can greatly reduce the number of no-shows.

4. Maintain communication and relationships and be transparent about why it’s important for your clients to follow through on appointments

Educating your customers is great for both for your sake and theirs. You can nicely explain how no-shows adversely impact your business. Coupling this with some handy ways to help them remember to make their appointments from the previous strategies (such as text reminders and pre-booking) will be most effective.

Clients might also benefit hearing from you about why your services are necessary for them. For example, if you’re in the therapy, on-site auto glass repair or hair salon industry, it may be helpful to discuss with the customer why their appointments are crucial for their well-being. Being honest and direct can help clients prioritize your business in their lives.

Follow up with those who don’t show up

A simple phone call, text or email saying something like “We’re sorry we missed you today” helps the customer know that they’re not just a number and that you noticed their absence. Pairing this message with an easy way to re-book appointments (such as mentioning they can reply to reschedule) does a lot to salvage the missed appointment. You want to convey that while it is not a good thing that they missed that appointment, you still value their business and that they are still welcome to make a new appointment.

* Please note that if you follow the other suggestions above, you should have very few no-shows and therefore this follow-up time will be quite minimal.

Keep customers happy, and they’ll keep coming back

The number of customers who don’t arrive for scheduled appointments may be the minority or majority of your clientele. That said, their impact can be frustrating at best and costly at worst. Keep in mind that clients may not be aware of their adverse impact and that their behaviors can be mitigated using the four strategies above. Customers will be more likely to remember to use your services, less likely to forget or cancel, and even appreciate how proactive you are. This can result in more predictable days and financially successful years for your business.

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