6 Ways to Decimate Last-Minute Appointment Cancellations

We start out with the best of intentions. “Today is going to be a glorious day!”

Muahahaha. Famous last words.

Less than thirty-three minutes before your first client is set to walk through the front door, your phone buzzes:

“I’m not coming in — sorry.”

You cannot be serious.

As you slowly breathe in and out, trying to recall why you started this business in the first place, it hits you like a bolt of lightning — there has to be a better way.

Last-minute cancellations are the bane of a shop owner’s existence. Unpredictable, soul-sucking, and resentment-inducing. Yet—*not-a-necessary-part-of-doing-business.*

And preventing appointment cancellations isn’t the labor-intensive nightmare you’re picturing. Put appointment cancellations to bed with these 6 tips:

  1. How to prevent appointment cancellations with a clear policy
  2. Send appointment reminders for each booking
  3. Make it simple for clients to reschedule online appointments
  4. Require up-front deposits
  5. Show gratitude
  6. Keep an eye out for warning signs

1. How to prevent appointment cancellations with a clear policy

jake i see what you did there

Your cancellation policy will be personal to your shop so it needs to state clearly in allllll the places. Make it super visible to your clients—here are a few places to get you started:

  • Website
  • In-shop
  • Receipts/invoices
  • Online booking page

Wondering what the *standard* cancellation window is for a last-minute policy? Unfortunately, there is no ONE multi-industry *norm*(sorry).

For a hair salon, it may look like: “please give us 24-hours notice if unable to make your appointment time,” whereas for a tattoo shop it could be 72 hours. There are a few different factors that go into determining this—the top consideration being:

  • How long will it take to fill the spot?

Using your services, target market and business model come up with a last-minute cancellations policy that’ll work best for you. And if your clients don’t provide the agreed-upon notice, they’ll be charged for your full service at their next visit.

Related Tired of No-Show Appointments? 5 Reasons Why Your Clients Keep Bailing

2. Send appointment reminders for each booking

Your clients have busy lives. In 2020, that’s only increased in the strangest of ways. Many are working from home for the first time, while simultaneously looking after their kids and dealing with the daily stress of a little thing called COVID. So, it’s not surprising if their physiotherapy appointment time (booked three weeks ago) isn’t front of mind.

Enter the appointment scheduling software reminder.

There are a couple of effective ways you can do this:

Email confirmations & reminders

Bookedin confirmation of booking email

If you use an appointment scheduling app your clients will automatically receive two kinds of emails:

  • booking confirmation emails (these are sent to clients immediately after a booking is made)
  • reminder emails (these are sent to your clients’ email address before their booking).

With some providers (*cough* Bookedin) you can add a custom message from your shop as a great way to enhance your customer service. Write a friendly thank you note, including parking instructions, a survey link, details about your cancellation policy, or something specific that suits your business—is the perfect way to create a connection on your first interaction!

BONUS: These custom client email messages can be set for specific services as well. 

Text messages/SMS reminders

Reality is, a lot of your clients’ inboxes are gonna be jam-packed. That’s when a friendly text message will help your clients stay organized and decimate last-minute cancellations & no-shows.

appointment booked confirmation text message

Automated text messages to your clients will keep them on track, here’s an example of what they might receive:

  1. Immediately when the appointment gets booked
  2. X days before appointment reminder
  3. If the appointment gets rescheduled
  4. If the appointment gets canceled
  5. A few hours before appointment reminder

For all the details around Bookedin’s text messaging flow, click here.

3. Make it simple for clients to reschedule online appointments

If it takes over three and a half minutes for your client to figure out how to contact you… they’re likely gonna ghost if things go sideways in their day. Between teaching their kids algebra through gritted teeth, having to double back cause they forgot their mask (again) and having to wait in a *new-ride-at-Disneyland-length* line to buy groceries—they don’t have the time or the patience to search out your contact info to rebook an appointment.

MAKE. IT. EASY. Last-minute cancellations are brutal… but you know what’s even worse? No shows.

With online appointment scheduling, you’ll have a booking link you can add to your Instagram & Facebook. A calendar you can embed or link to on your website and multiple reminders that include handy links for canceling or rescheduling at your clients’ convenience. Ahhhh. A simplified scheduling process.

Related How to Book Appointments Through Instagram

4. Require up-front deposits (or it’s a *no* on booking)

jenny slate parks and rec

There’s no better feeling than looking at your calendar Monday morning and seeing every slot fully booked. So it’s devastating when you see team members sitting around (who should be happily serving clients) because their clients have canceled at the last minute. Not only are they disheartened with their loss of income, but everyone is frustrated knowing they could have filled those spots with *eager-to-show-up* clients.

Well, have no fear, up-front deposits are here.

The most effective strategy for addressing clients who cancel appointments last-minute is requiring up-front deposits for your services. Whether it’s a partial or full amount, with online appointment booking you can require your clients to pay with a credit card before they book. If they show up for their appointment or cancel within a time frame designated by you, they don’t lose out on their deposit. But, if they *no show* or cancel at the last minute, the up-front deposit acts as a *cancellation fee.*

This makes sure you’re not out hundreds of dollars come appointment day… without another client to fill the open spot.

5. Show gratitude

Sure it might sound a little *woo* but it works. If you’re not treating your clients with the utmost respect and appreciation… why would they go out of their way to show it to you? It might sound harsh, but we’re living in outrageous times, with a bajillion things pulling our attention and focus in different directions. To harness even a tiny piece of that you need to show you’re attempting to build a genuine connection with your clients.

Not sure how? Here are a few quick ideas that’ll make you stand out like the superstar you are:

  • Send out a small birthday gift to your VIP clients (ex. a gift card to Starbucks)
  • Write a blog post expressing gratitude to your client base
  • Offer a discounted service for every “100th” client booked
  • Donate to a charity in one of your loyal clients *honor*
  • Make sure you reply to all of your client’s questions with a genuine response (i.e., social media, email, blog comments)
  • Use your client notes (it’s more than just contact information) to keep track of the details in your client’s life that is important (What do they like to do in their spare time? Do they have any important dates coming up (birthday)? Are they obsessed with cats?)

This list could go on forever, but you get the picture. The more you try to connect on a human level (and succeed), the more difficult it will be for your clients to cancel last-minute knowing how it’ll negatively impact you and your business.

Related How to Build a Business that Stands Out (and Thrives)

6. Keep an eye out for warning signs

jane krakowski- unbreakable kimmy schmidt

Humans are forgetful

This isn’t so much a warning sign as it is human nature. We’re forgetful and occasionally plan other events or *gasp* appointments into the same time slot… and don’t remember until the last minute. That can be a call for grace if it’s a long-term client who is overwhelmed and is genuinely remorseful or time to cut the cord if this is a regular occurrence. Only you can tell. The best you can do is put the systems in place (text/email reminders, up-front deposits) and roll with it.

(You might be *eek) Low priority

A *just-scheduled* Zoom meeting with the boss pops up or the kids forgot they had a project that needs to be finished for tomorrow at 8 am… suddenly those highlights don’t seem so important… no matter how long your beloved client has been in quarantine.

Money, money, money, money… MONEY! 

Not everyone’s cup runneth over. The A/C goes caput in 107-degree heat, or the brakes go on the car and your client is now out of the black and into the red—right before your scheduled appointment.

Embarrassment/Hesitation

This is massive in the fitness, personal training & psychology sphere. And not just for * first-time clients.* Sure, it’s difficult to show up for that first class, or the first session out of *fear of the unknown,* but your clients might be afraid they haven’t lived up to their end of the bargain in future sessions (didn’t get their work-outs in, weren’t able to fill out their journal exercises)… often that’s more than enough to cause last-minute cancellations.

Unreliable transportation

#relatable. Whether it’s a bus, car, Uber, or subway—the unpredictable can happen. Maybe your bus doesn’t show up, it’s full or you miss it by a millisecond, but that means you’ll now be half an hour late… and now what do you do? Cancel. Last. Minute.

Do you feel ready to prevent last-minute appointment cancellations?

It may not be realistic to cross your toes and pray for a utopia where 100% of your clientele show up for their appointments 365 days of the year.

After all… life happens. {2020 has been a swift kick in the *you-know-what* to remind us of that.}