How to Create a No-Show Appointment Policy

If you’re a small business owner whose income depends on appointments, you know that no-shows are terrible news. When clients and customers don’t show up for scheduled appointments, you lose revenue, and it can be hard to recover financially.

This means that for your business, you need to create a no-show policy that will communicate the importance of keeping appointments to your customers.

However, you don’t want to design something that is off-putting or insulting to them. It’s important to strike a balance.

Finding this balance of maintaining good client relationships and a healthy financial bottom line for your business can be a challenge, but it can be done if you consider the following recommendations for creating a no-show appointment policy.

We encourage you to read all of these recommendations and consider each in the context of your unique business in its physical location and geographical location.

There is no “one-size-fits-all” fix for the headache of missed appointments, but some time spent considering your specific situation will be rewarded with just the right policy for your business.

Consider Prepay

Many businesses that have high numbers of no-show appointments require clients to prepay either part or all of the appointment total at the time they make their initial appointment (tattoo parlors and piercing studios, for example).

In the case of your business, you can determine the amount of nonrefundable deposit that you could require in order to make an appointment, determining that amount based on the bare minimum needed to cover your costs in the event of a no-show. Instituting this type of pre-pay or deposit both covers your costs and also provides a significant incentive for the client to show up for their scheduled time.

Charge a Fee for Cancelled Appointments

This piece of advice is similar to the previous one but is a different way of characterizing the amount of money that you will be charging your client. When you explain your policy as a “non-refundable deposit,” you are describing the money paid as a downpayment on the service that your client will receive.

This is a relatively positive way of characterizing the payment. If, however, you charge a fee for a canceled appointment (enough to cover your costs and to incentivize your client to keep the appointment) this is a more punitive or negative way to characterize the cost.

There might certainly be instances where this is appropriate. If, as a personal trainer, you want to your client to see the damage they are doing to themselves by missing an appointment, you may choose the “penalty” type of option. It all depends on your business model and your relationship with your clients.

Set a Cancellation Cut-Off Time

Sometimes clients will need to cancel. That’s life, and not allowing any cancellations will only make you seem insensitive.

Determine a policy that will allow you a reasonable opportunity to rebook the spot and a reasonable amount of time for the client to be aware of a change in plans. One way to handle this, for example, is to require a client to cancel by noon the day before the appointment is scheduled. State your policy clearly along with the consequences for violation.

Limit Booking Options for Repeat Offenders

If you have a client who is a repeat offender as a no-show, whether or not you are using other methods, consider flagging them in the system and giving them a lower priority for scheduling new appointments.

You will want to outline this policy in the materials you give them and make sure that it is clear in the documentation that you provide so that they know that they have been assigned a lower priority. This will then allow you to show them that they have regained status in the booking order if they change their behavior, as well.

Consider Rewarding Patients Who Keep Appointments

As you develop your no-show policy, consider mixing in some “carrots” with the “sticks.” Here’s what we mean: it’s just as effective to reward good behavior as it is to call out the bad.

In the same way that you might charge a fee for a canceled appointment, consider a small discount for a client that keeps five or more appointments in a row.

Another option might be to offer reliable clients preferential booking and appointments. Make sure this is clearly stated in your policy and in your communications with your clients so that they can see the value in remaining constant.

Does your business offer a loyalty program? Do clients earn points or other benefits? Having reliably kept appointments as one metric of that loyalty program can be a good way to reward clients and use positivity to incentivize clients to show up.

Once You’ve Set Your Policy, Communicate and Enforce It

No matter what policy you decide on, it’s essential to communicate that policy on an ongoing basis. Your booking staff, desk professionals, and registration personnel will need to communicate and reinforce your no-show appointment policy on a regular basis, including the cancellation windows that you set and the consequences of no-shows.

It is a good idea to have a sign regarding the policy posted on your front desk and on the homepage of your website. Have your policy clearly outlined on any paperwork that you have clients sign, too.

If and when (we certainly suggest when) you call or send appointment reminders, you should also include a reminder of your no-show policies in that reminder.

Finally, whatever your policy is, you must enforce it. The policy will not work if you allow employees or clients to make exceptions and work around the policy.

All businesses are different, and you know your own clientele the best. You may not want to institute all of these recommendations. Think through your particular clientele along with their needs and expectations, and determine which of these recommendations will be most effective in prompting them to be the most conscientious in keeping their appointments with you. Then choose those elements, and put them together into your unique no-show appointment policy.

This tailored approach will let you adjust as time goes on, adapting to the changing marketplace, changing demographics or financial necessities.

And, of course, if you need a little help nudging your clients when their appointments are coming up, here’s where you can get a free trial of our Appointment Reminder app (we know you’ll love it).