The Service Industry – Cancellation Fees and Other Irritations

What do we do about people who book to see us but then fail to notify us that they are not going to keep their appointment? It is one of the dilemmas of running an appointment based service business. Restaurants, beauty salons, hairdressers and counsellors are some of the people affected by this problem. But there are many other types of situations that we also have to contend with.

– Cancellation fees tend to depend on the client. If someone is a regular client and has simply failed to turn up it can be a good idea to telephone them and try to discover if there is a legitimate reason for them not showing. It can be a gesture of good will to waive the fee on the first occasion. If someone has paid in advance for a course of treatments it can deter them from doing so again if they get a forfeit for not keeping an appointment. It depends on how much you want to keep the client. Certainly being over-accommodating and constantly letting clients mess you about does not give a good professional message to clients. They need to respect you, and if they don’t then it can be worth billing them for not keeping their appointment. If you lose them as a client, well it’s not really much of a loss.

– New clients who are a no-show can be invoiced for their lack of appearance, if you have their details, but they rarely pay the cancellation fee. They are unlikely to book again to see you and often have to be written off as one of those things.

– Late arriving clients are often stressed and in a rush. They’re the ones who frequently look at the clock and are aware of how much time you have actually given them. The fact that they were late is irrelevant. They often expect their appointment to start from the time of their arrival. It can be a good idea to intercept their expectations at the start of the session and flag up how much time you have left. That way they will learn to appreciate that if they want a full session they will have to arrive on time in future.

– Early clients are often nervous, nervous of being late, nervous of traffic conditions, of getting lost, they want to get their appointment over with. It can be good to start by defusing their concerns. Maybe make them a drink while they wait, thank them for being so prompt and enthusiastic about their appointment. It can then provide time for them to relax and feel more comfortable.

– Demanding clients may insist on a lot of attention at the beginning of the session and then expect the allotted time to be spent on their treatment. They may feel the need to talk for ages but still want their treatment afterwards. This may be a temporary situation due to circumstances. You may feel that it is important to provide the extra support, give the extra time, answer their phone calls and emails at no extra charge. But be aware that you are a professional and it is important to protect your own time, space and free time too. Be firm if they contact you at inconvenient times and say how long you can give or that it is not convenient at the moment.

– Discounts and free gifts of sessions or products are a personal choice. Sometimes it may be worth offering an inducement for people who pay in advance or who are regular customers, but be aware of setting a precedent. They may well tell other people about your offers. Was it something you provided just for them as a favour? Be conscious of the implications of reducing fees.

Being competitive in a difficult market is often about the extras, the quality of service, the personal touches. But it is still a business and needs to be run professionally as a business. Maintaining a balance can be a tough call on occasion.