Cancellations are the bane of every therapist. You think you have a full schedule, then Surprise! You get a ton of cancellations! Cancellations keep you from taking on new clients because you think you have a full schedule when you really don’t. Cancellations keep you from having a life because it means you have to book way more clients than you would like in order to make up for all the cancellations. It’s also very frustrating to be sitting at your desk staring at the ceiling because you got yet another cancellation. Here are my best tips for reducing cancellations:
1. Use Appointy: I know I’ve written about Appointy before, but it really is a life saver. There’s a free version that I use and the free version works just fine. It sends the client two email reminders, one when you book the appointment and the other 24 hours before their appointment. You can customize when you give them the reminders. Clients can also cancel and reschedule using appointy to save you time. Since most people who cancel use the excuse “I forgot”, having Appointy means never forgetting.
2. Have a cancellation fee: A cancellation fee is a great deterrent. How much you charge for the cancellation fee and how much notice you need before it goes into effect is up to you. I’ve noticed that I get stricter with my cancellation fee the longer I’ve been in private practice. The way I look at it is, I don’t ever cancel appointments so why should other people? If you set an appointment with me, you should make sure you can attend it. It’s really that simple.
3. ENFORCE your cancellation fee: This is an important one. When I first started out, I felt weird about asking for the cancellation fee. What happened was people would cancel or no-show me and realize that I wasn’t serious about the cancellation fee. Because of this, they would then cancel all the time. Once I actually started enforcing the fee EVERY TIME, the cancellation fee dropped way down.
4. Remind people of the cancellation fee: Even if it’s in your office policies and people signed a thing agreeing to your cancellation fee, people will try to use the excuse that they didn’t know about it. I make sure to tell people at the very first session about my cancellation policy. It’s also good to have a reminder on your voice mail greeting. I have it say “If you are calling to cancel then I must remind you that I have a $50 cancellation fee”. Adding that voicemail message helped more than you would think. I pretty much no longer have people cancelling via voicemail now, and if they do they say something like “And of course I’ll pay the fee”.
5. Decide what you’re going to do with inclement weather: So I decided to give people a break in regards to inclement weather. I put in my policies that the cancellation fee doesn’t apply if Boston Public Schools have a snow day or the city is declared to be in a state of emergency. However, people could still come to their appointment if they wanted to, there just wouldn’t be a penalty for cancelling. This turned out to be a disaster. I found that people would say that they were still coming to the appointment but then be an hour late or cancel last minute. I’d end up seeing maybe one client and would feel held hostage the entire day as I waited for people who swore they were coming. Now, to limit my frustration, I just send out an email in the morning that says “Due to the weather and unsafe driving conditions I will not be having any appointments today”. It just makes things less frustrating overall.
6. Address repeat offenders: There are certain people who will keep rescheduling and cancelling, but they manage to do so while finding a loop hole in your policy. That’s why I put in my policy that excessive rescheduling or cancellations will result in termination. There are practitioners in Boston who if you cancel twice, for any reason, you wont get another appointment. I’m not that strict, but to each their own. Chronic offenders hold your schedule hostage and keep you from setting appointments with people who would come in regularly. It can help to say to them “Due to all the cancellations, I don’t think it would be productive to schedule another appointment until we’ve figured out a plan to prevent these cancellations.” In my experience, the person will either come up with a plan or drop out on their own.
7. Have a sixth sense: No, not literally, but you get what I mean. We can get to know our clients so well that we can predict if they’re going to cancel their next appointment or if a different appointment time would be better for them. I’ve gotten really good at doing this. This can help a lot.