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“No shows”: handling a costly problem with good will and good business sense

Let’s face it, no one likes to be stood up. We’ve all been there, waiting around for someone to join us at a restaurant or cafe, only to face the humiliating realisation that they’re not going to show. When it comes to business appointments, clients that fail to attend – or “no shows”- can be a costly and infuriating problem.  Let’s look at how we can minimise the risk of this happening and handle no show clients with good will, but also with respect for your own business and time.

Some of your appointments are going to be cancelled or become no shows. You have to accept this and even (financially) build this into your business model. Basically, failure to attend falls into three categories:

  • same-day cancellations (the client rings in the morning to tell you they can’t make their afternoon session)
  • running late (the client rings to tell you they are 15 to 20 minutes late but hopes you can still give them a full hour session)
  • no shows (the client simply fails to show up)

In this blog post, we’ll focus on the issue of “no shows”.

How To Handle No Shows - Sage Institute of Massage

Forewarned is forearmed
Here’s your number one rule: make sure all your clients are thoroughly aware of your cancellation policy and have preferably signed a document agreeing to your billing rules. You cannot charge someone for a missed appointment if you haven’t promoted the rules about bookings, missed appointments and cancellations.

Obviously, for first timers, you probably haven’t met them face-to-face so they haven’t filled out a terms and conditions form. In this instance, it is recommended that you explain your terms and conditions over the phone. Additionally, you can include a simple statement such as “failure to attend your session may result in a fee being charged” in a session reminder email or SMS. Realistically, however, it’s hard to charge someone for a no-show if they have never even been to you before.

Practical ways to receive payment for “no shows”
Once a client has attended and filled out a terms and conditions form, some businesses choose to ask the client for a credit card number so that they can charge a fee if there is a “no show”. Others navigate around this delicate situation by selling packages of massages. This can be a more comfortable alternative as you already have the money upfront and can simply remove a session from the list if they fail to attend. It’s a little less painful for all concerned.  Incidentally, selling packages is a wonderful idea as they have added benefits: you keep the client committed to your business for several sessions and they can be great cash flow for a new businesses starting out.

massage good business sense - Sage Institute of MassageThe importance of session reminders
Sending reminders before the appointment date is important for several reasons. It is an act of courtesy to remind your client of a massage session that they are no doubt looking forward to. Secondly, it provides proof that you have confirmed the booking and are expecting the recipient to attend.  It also makes the client less likely to forget, thus minimising the chance of a no show.

You can remind people by simply telephoning, SMS, emailing them, or any combination of the above. There are plenty of software programs available today to make SMS messaging convenient solution for this very problem. Asking them to reply to the appointment reminder with a simple “Y” or “N” gives added acknowledgement of your agreement.

The clock is ticking: messaging the client at various stages of lateness
When a client has not called to say they are cancelling, it’s normal to feel your heartbeat quicken while you wonder what to do. Remember to be polite and err on the side of caution at this stage and realise that A: sometimes people just make mistakes and forget, and B: something nasty such as a car accident may have happened, so you don’t want to go out with all guns blazing. Here are a few scripted SMS or voice message ideas for you:

Barely 10 minutes late
“Hi Amanda, it’s Stephanie here – your massage therapist. I have you scheduled for an appointment today at 2 PM and it is now 10 minutes past. I’m just checking to see that you’re not far away. Please would you give me a quick buzz and let me know? Hopefully, I’ll see you walk through the door at any second! My number is ABC XYZ”

30 minutes late for a one-hour appointment
“Hi Amanda, it’s Stephanie here – your massage therapist. I’m calling because I had you scheduled for an appointment today at 2 PM and is now 2.30. It’s unlike you to not show, so I just wanted to check that everything is fine and whether you are still able to attend. Please, can you give me a call to let me know that you are okay? My number is ABC XYZ”

After the session time
Hi Amanda, it’s Stephanie here again – your massage therapist. Sorry to bother you one more time, but I haven’t heard from you and I would hate to think that something has gone wrong. I’m so sorry that you missed your massage today. Please call me so we can reschedule. My number again is ABC XYZ”


Massage course at Sage InstituteGetting serious: when to charge

Whether or not you charge the client, remember to wait a couple of days before you take action.  Remember, you’ll feel absolutely awful if you discover that they were really ill or had a nasty accident!

First-time no-show
If it’s their first time that they have failed to show, it’s probably best not to charge them. Although you may be entitled to do so, a little bit of good will shows compassion and helps build loyalty. Business is all about relationships – not burning bridges. Let the person know that you are extending an act of generosity by sending them the bill, adjusted to show a zero balance, perhaps with a handwritten note. State something to the effect of “Because this is your first no-show, I’m happy to break the rules and not charge you. I look forward to seeing you again soon [insert first name]!”

When you speak to them on the phone remember to reiterate the above.

The repeat offender
If the client has failed to attend before, it’s recommended that you charge them for the session. It will be at your discretion to decide whether to charge a set “no show fee”, or a percentage of the full massage fee. As previously mentioned, the best ways to ensure that you receive these funds is by either deducting a session from a pre-purchased massage package or if you have it, charging the fee to the client’s credit card. If you don’t have access to either of these options, you may just have to send an invoice in the mail and ensure it is paid prior to the client making another booking.Study Massage at Melbourne's leading massage therapy school, Sage Institute of Massage

IMPORTANT: When you charge a credit card or remove a session from a pre-purchased package, you must notify the client of your actions and why. No one likes nasty surprises!

Charging clients for “no shows” can be an uncomfortable experience at first. Remember though, this is not a hobby; this is your profession and the non-attending client’s time slot could have been filled by another paying customer. You need to respect yourself and the value of your time.  By respecting yourself you’ll minimise what can be a frustrating and costly part of running a massage business.

You’ll also start to attract only well-mannered clients that appreciate your services while problem clients will tend to fade away.

Sage Institute of Massage – it’s more than a job, it’s a rewarding career.

Vicki Tuchtan

Vicki Tuchtan

Vicki Tuchtan is the Academic Director at Sage Institute of Education. She oversees learning processes, teaching outcomes, resources and course development. A passionate advocate for bettering standards of training in Australia, she is currently writing her PhD thesis on defining quality training in the Australian vocational education sector.
Vicki Tuchtan

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