You set the time and date well in advance. You set aside time to research and prepare your ideas. Then all that time and preparation seems a waste because your client calls in a last-minute cancellation or is a no-show.
While a client’s inability to keep their obligation probably has nothing to do with you personally, it’s hard not to take it that way. So before you take any action, take a deep breath and remember that you still have an opportunity to regroup and salvage your investment in your work. There are ways to handle these situations professionally and to make sure you have a plan in place to protect your time – and your money – should it happen in the future.
In The Moment
If your client is a no-show, attempt to contact them. There could be a legitimate reason they didn’t show. Emergencies do happen, and if it’s a true emergency they may not have had a chance to reach out.
Attempt to get in touch to either speak with them or leave a message to remind them of the appointment. If you’re willing to wait on them for a bit, let them know, and set a time limit. If you aren’t able to connect, send a follow-up contact to let them know how to set a new time or to explain your no-show policy and set expectations going forward. (More on setting policies later in this article.)
When managing a last-minute cancellation, assess the priority or urgency of the meeting you set, and determine if it’s prudent to ask them if they can still make it. This can be a delicate matter, so consider what you are working on and your working relationship with this client. If you are close to a deadline, and you need their input or decisions need to be made, you may need to push to keep the meeting as scheduled.
In either case, always ask to reschedule. This seems obvious, but in the moment you may forget this is an option if your emotions get the best of you. While you have them on the phone or if they left a voicemail/text/email, get in touch as promptly as possible, and ask for or propose a new meeting time. It never hurts to ask, and that may be all it takes to keep things moving forward with that client.
Remember, you never know what anyone is going through so always communicate professionally. Be firm when you must to substantiate your own time and efforts, but always be kind.
Get to the Root
First assess if this client is someone with whom you want to continue to collaborate. If so, consider their behavior pattern. If they are prone to last-minute cancellations or not showing up, there may be a perceived or actual gap in their expectations of what you have to offer them. These expectations fall into several categories. Step back for a moment and consider each one, and then approach your client with your discoveries. Determining the underlying perceptions can help you get to the root of the matter and address it.
I recently ended appointments with my chiropractor simply because traveling to his office was no longer convenient. I previously worked nearby, but now that I work from home, it was no longer convenient for me to drive there. Because chiropractic care requires in-office adjustments, not being able to get to the office was a significant problem. Additionally, they did not send reminders for appointments until the morning of, which almost always meant that mine was always a last-minute cancellation. If you have the flexibility to meet via video conference or by phone, highlight that and make the process of connecting with you as clear and seamless as possible. Offer options to use video or phone only; not everyone is comfortable being on camera. Send meeting links at least two days in advance, and provide link testing instructions so they can work out technical issues before the scheduled meeting time.
Maybe you have the option of meeting with clients via video conference or conference calls. If you have that flexibility then consider the days and time of day you are available to meet. If you are not flexible in this regard, your clients may get frustrated by that and overtime find someone who can be. When you first get to know a client, ask for their honest assessment of their general availability through the week, and preferred time frames. Make the same honest assessment on your end to determine if you can align with their needs.
When you agree to take on work, no doubt you are careful to set clear expectations about what that work involves and the pay rate at which it will be done. Setting expectations about your time is just as important because, as they say, time is money! In your contractual agreements, establish your policy for late cancellations and no-shows for meetings. In setting these, emphasize that consistent and reliable conversations are key to moving projects forward and keeping in line with your client’s expectations.
It may be the case that existing or long-term clients suddenly start to cancel appointments after a period of reliability. They may feel they are no longer getting the same benefit out of your working relationship but don’t bring it up in an effort to spare your feelings. If you feel this may be the case, evaluate your performance to determine if their expectations are no longer being met. If so, proactively approach them about your thoughts and provide solutions to fix them.
Candidly discussing your pricing structure early in your relationship with a client is critical to ensuring that you are partnering with those who understand your worth and the value you provide. Still, a client’s financial circumstances may change – sometimes suddenly. Depending on the nature of that change, they may be reluctant to tell you that they can no longer afford your services. This change may result first in canceled appointments, and then in late or unpaid invoices. Twice-yearly or regular review of your payment terms with your clients can provide an opportunity to have an open conversation about what they can afford.
When last-minute cancellations and no-show situations like this arise, it’s important to learn from them to lessen their occurrence going forward. A big consideration here is how selective to be when deciding to work with a potential client. You may need the work, but it’s important to still be selective. Proactively vet your clients to determine if they are a good fit. Ask specific questions to determine how serious a potential client is about working with you. Draw on past experience to “interview” your lead, and use your intuition as a guide to tell you if that person will be as reliable as you.
Set a Cancellation Policy
At the end of the day, it’s crucial to protect your time and work by setting last minute cancellation and no-show policies. Here are some possible elements you could incorporate into this policy:
Consider requiring a deposit or a portion of your hourly rate upfront to hold an appointment.
Set time frames within which you’ll allow a cancel or change, and whether or not there will be a financial consequence to the change. An example may be: Changes or cancellations made up to 48 hours in advance will retain their deposit provided a new appointment is made within three days of the original appointment.
Consider when you will or won’t make exceptions. As noted at the beginning of this article, real emergencies will happen, and it’s prudent to consider when to be flexible in the face of client hardships.
Know When to Let Go
Some clients may not give you the opportunity to go through any of these efforts and will “ghost” you with no explanation. If that happens, it’s best to just move on if you can. The exception here would be if there are contractual breaches or financial concerns; in that case, you should definitely take any legal action necessary to protect yourself and your work. On the other hand, if you’ve done your due diligence and ultimately come to the decision that your client is unreliable and you can no longer work with them, you will have to make the decision to walk away or “fire” that client. You can reference this Elegant Themes article for some scripts to use to break the news or these ideas from HubSpot.
What stories do you have about no-show clients? Have you tried the techniques in this article in any way or do you have a different approach? Tell us in the comments!
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