Expert Advice: Can you avoid unreliable clients?

Marie-Louise Coster discusses how to minimise no shows and late cancellations. 

Marie-Louise CosterNo shows. They happen in every business at some point along the way. A client makes an appointment and when the date comes, she doesn't turn up. You have blocked out time, potentially turned other clients away, and now here you are – time to spare and no pay. Frustrating. Deflating. Annoying.

Then there are the clients who make an appointment in advance and the day before their appointment phone to cancel because something else has come up. You are polite on the phone but inside you are raging because you know it is unlikely that you will fill that gap at such short notice. Again, leaving you with time in the day with no pay.

In both cases, if you are not careful these situations will eat your income, whilst all the while your expenses and costs will continue with a depleting pot of funds to pay them. So what do you do about it?

What is your cancellation policy?

Most salons have a cancellation policy stating something along the lines that all appointments must be cancelled with a minimum 24 hours' notice otherwise clients will be charged in full. Others of you may have a sliding scale cancellation policy whereby 48 hours' notice incurs a 50% charge and 24 hours or less incurs a 100% charge. 

There are clients who make an appointment in advance and the day before phone to cancel because something else has come up. You are polite on the phone but inside you are raging because you know it is unlikely that you will fill that gap at such short notice.
Whatever your policy is, do you enforce it? 

I imagine the answer to this is probably 50/50. Some of you will be strict and enforce it, others will feel embarrassed and awkward about asking for the cancellation fee. Here's the reality, if you had one facial appointment per day that didn't turn up, in one week (based on five days) that is up to £600 in lost revenue. Even a missed manicure a day would equate to upwards of £175.

If that happened a few times a month, several times a year, you will be running into thousands in lost earnings.

First things first, if you don't have a cancellation policy you need to write one. Don't be shy about it and just be to the point, be clear and be direct. Ensure there can be no ambiguity or confusion. Have the cancellation policy very clear to find on your website and have a notice on reception as a reminder. 

Now I can hear you saying, but what about our regulars? What if Jenny's daughter is sent home from school or Carol's dog has to go to the vets suddenly? Of course, there are occasions when you may be a little more lenient than others. If it is a regular who never misses an appointment and she genuinely forgets one day, or there is some sort of family emergency or illness, of course you may decide to forego the cancellation fee. The bigger picture is that this loyal client has always been as regular as clockwork and never missed an appointment. It is up to you how you enforce your cancellation policy.

Essentially, a cancellation policy is there, first and foremost, as a deterrent and hopefully would very rarely need to be enforced. 

Limiting no shows 

Can you avoid or limit your late cancellations or no shows? Largely I don't think so. A client could be booked in on Tuesday and has every intention of coming, but then, at some point she falls ill, her child falls ill, the car breaks down, her husband gets called into work. There are genuine cases meaning that late cancellations and no shows cannot be avoided. 

Some salons take the approach of calling, texting or emailing clients the day before to remind them of their appointment. Whilst this isn't the worst idea, if you call Barbra at 11am on Wednesday when she is due in at 11am on Thursday and she either doesn't answer or says she can't make her appointment, you are still (potentially) within your cancellation policy period and would need to charge her. Even though you have called her, and you know in advance, there is still little chance of filling the space, so is the phone call worth it or a waste of resources? 

Truthfully, I think your only way of limiting these situations is by making your policy very well known and by introducing the taking of deposits. 

If you operate an online booking system there is the opportunity to capture the client's card details prior to the appointment and a deposit can be taken easily. 

If you don't operate an online booking system you need to form the habit of taking a deposit at the time of taking a booking. If you work alone and you don't have a card machine you can still take a deposit by bank transfer or PayPal. Explain to clients that appointments are not confirmed until a deposit has been paid. 

It is especially important to take a deposit from new clients because they are probably more likely not to turn up than your regulars who you have an existing relationship with. 

Whether you normally take deposits or not, I think it is certainly worth considering for all appointments during Christmas week when you are really busy and in demand.  

You are running a business, it is not a hobby, it is your livelihood, and needs to be treated as such.  Be assertive, be firm, be fair and do not waver. You are a professional business owner and, just like everywhere else, you have terms and conditions that the client must adhere to. Never be embarrassed to enforce them. 

Marie-Louise Coster is a Beauty Therapist, Session Nail Tech, Trainer, Business Consultant and owner of All About Mi Skin & Wellness Clinic and is celebrating 30 years in the beauty industry. All About Mi Training School is ABT-accredited.