Why should I lose money if you needed to reschedule at the last minute?
October 24, 2005 7:19 AM   Subscribe

Should I bill clients for scheduled appointments they missed?

Twice in the past month, I've had clients who have chosen to call (or email) me within 2 hours of their scheduled appointment time to say that they needed to reschedule. I take time to mentally prepare myself for their appointments (small amounts of research, listing topics for discussion, etc.), so I feel a bit deflated when things don't proceed as scheduled. Also, as other appointment requests come in, I have scheduled around these clients' meeting times.

A doctor's appointment I had to reschedule a few months ago warned me that I'd be responsible for the cost of the visit personally if I were not to provide 24 hours' notice. (They let me off with a warning this first time.)

I think it's a bit rude (or at best, an imposition) to reschedule things at the last moment, but it's also 'less than friendly' to bill someone for the full hourly rate when you haven't delivered any value to them. Should I just think of the 'fee' as an 'annoyance tax'?

Is billing for missed time a sign of being professional, or is it just being a money-grubbing jerk?
posted by Wild_Eep to Work & Money (25 answers total)
What business are you in?
posted by jjg at 7:23 AM on October 24, 2005

Maybe you should bill them at a reduced rate (50%?) for the time they missed if they provide less than a day's notice?
posted by ludwig_van at 7:35 AM on October 24, 2005

And what's your normal billing basis -- do you charge by the hour? Do clients visit you, or do you visit them?
posted by beagle at 7:36 AM on October 24, 2005

My inclination is to be nice the first time, but to let them know that they will be charged for the visit in the future if they don't give you 24 hours notice of the cancellation.
posted by alms at 7:36 AM on October 24, 2005

I think the answer depends on what your options are if you have a free slot. Doctors in surgery are there at work to see people. Missing the appointment means downtime for them.

If you are in an office job, and have other things to do than meet people, well, you could do some of those things, like filing.

Bill for the cost of the meeting, rather than the length of the meeting. So if you have to repeat prep work, add that to the 'research' item on the invoice, for example. If you cancelled another meeting to make this appointment, figure out the cost of the cancelled meeting and bill that.

But yeah, it's easier and fairer to average this cost out over several missed appointments and bill that amount, with fair warning, no matter what the circumstances.
posted by cogat at 7:40 AM on October 24, 2005

I'd personally add it into any work I ended up doing for them later as an "annoyance tax", as you say. That way it's invisible to them but you still get the satisfaction.
posted by wackybrit at 7:44 AM on October 24, 2005 [1 favorite]

If you have given your new client a price list which explicitly mentions what you will charge for missed appointments (and preferably why you do so) then I would go ahead and charge them/warn them this time only. If you haven't done this then I would recommend you produce such a sheet, distribute to all clients and just warn the transgressors this time.
posted by rongorongo at 7:48 AM on October 24, 2005

A late change booking penalty will likely reduce your customer numbers. If you're already booked solid you can risk it, otherwise you're likely to generate ill will and less profit.
posted by krisjohn at 7:50 AM on October 24, 2005

I work as a computer consultant. I am the IT department for a number of small businesses in my area, as well as several home-office businesses.

I also program for the web, and consult with clients who want to enhance their web presence to increase revenue and add value to their clients.

I generally charge by the hour, but some projects are a pre-defined fee.

So, sometimes I'm at their site, sometimes I'm on the phone, and sometimes I'm just working at my office.

The clients who needed to reschedule were both scheduled for hour-long phone meetings they themselves requested.
posted by Wild_Eep at 8:14 AM on October 24, 2005

Why should you lose money? Because life happens, sometimes things come up at the last minute and the world goes around and around.

But you don't have to lose money, just factor in the costs of missed appointments into your billing (average a year or 6 months and divide?). It's a cost of doing business, just like hiring an assistant or paying for stamps and business cards and that office chair you sit on.

Otherwise, if you want to be the petty money grubbing jerk, one freebie then a reduced charge without 24 hours notice - but remember that goodwill is a major portion of business success and ticked off clients love to talk.

Not once, not ever, in 40 years of life, have I ever been charged for a missed appointment. Besides just think of all that extra time (& time is $) you'd have to spend on explaining and documenting your missed appointment charges.
posted by LadyBonita at 8:14 AM on October 24, 2005

Depending on how replacable you are -- you didn't specify here, but from your blog, a "freelance Macintosh consultant " -- if I missed one appointment and got billed for it, I would probably just think you were being an asshole and I would go to someone else.
posted by fourstar at 8:23 AM on October 24, 2005

I agree with LadyB. During the time slots of the cancelled meetings, presumably you went and did something productive for another client, for which you will get paid. If you were my consultant and you told me you were billing me for rescheduling, I'd tell you to go jump in a lake. Needing to reschedule is a fact of life; you might have to do it yourself sometime.
posted by beagle at 8:26 AM on October 24, 2005

With regards to the possibility of losing customers, what's your policy if you have to cancel?

There's nothing I resent more than doctors who have punitive policies if you miss or are late for an appointment, but think it's ok for them to miss or be late for an appointment. It implies that their time is valuable and mine is not. (e.g. I find that specialists are routinely half an hour or so late, but when I called ahead of time to say that I would be ten minutes or so late, they say "too bad" and cancel the appointment). I see them anyway, because crap insurance (or "good insurance" as they call it here), doesn't let me go to any doctor I want. When I have a choice (i.e. in Canada) I switch away from doctors who waste my time.

Which is to say: Do you waste their time? If so, and if they have a choice of giving their business to someone else, you'll probably lose customers if you bill people in any visible way for this. If you're policy when you need to cancel compensates them for their wasted time, or if they essentially dont' have the option of going elsewhere, then you can go for it.
posted by duck at 8:37 AM on October 24, 2005

I definitely do not waste my client's time. (Which may be why I'm sensitive about this topic.) I agree with duck whole-heartedly, which is why I'm a bit conflicted.

There are only a few local people who do what I do here, and I (for now) have the lowest rate of all of them. I often gain clients from these other two, and haven't ever lost one yet.

That being said, downtime may be 'productive' (misc. office tasks), but not necessarily 'billable'.

So far, billing for my short 'research and prep' time (which I've never done before) in lieu of the 'missed hour' seems like the fairest compromise, as long as the research was specific to that client's project.

...but I hate that I have to think about this at all.
posted by Wild_Eep at 9:03 AM on October 24, 2005

Wild Eep, when I was in tech, I always built such things into my costs. Unless the reschedule is for months later, I don't see why it should be a big deal since the prep work is still good--although I do understand the lost revenue from other clients you could have handled had you known about the free time in advance. Or are they also cancelling altogether?

If a client was a repeat rescheduler and business was good enough, I dropped them first chance I got. Usually clients who were habitual reschedulers were also bad clients in other ways, too.
posted by Mo Nickels at 9:37 AM on October 24, 2005

Yeah, billing "research and prep" would either have to apply to each and every appointment, whether rescheduled or not, and would still only cover the one appointment that actually happened.

In other words, if you did research for a client, the client rescheduled, and you charged (for example's sake) $50 for research, then wouldn't you kind of have to deduct $50 from the new appointment, since you're implying that the research cost was "built in" to your original appointment charge?

If you want to charge a cancellation/rescheduling/convenience fee, then I'd call it that. I think it's gonna end up with many headache-inducing negotiation arguments otherwise.
posted by occhiblu at 9:43 AM on October 24, 2005

I had some clients when I was freelance who wanted me to be available on a moments notice for day-long projects and seemed completely unable to plan ahead. My solution was to make myself available only with longer notice and flat-out be unavailable a few times and say "gosh, sorry, someone else already booked me up for today - how's tomorrow?"

Once that cost them some business a few times they agreed to a weekly minimum, whether they used it or not. In doing so they worked much harder to make sure they had stuff for me to do, which was fine with me.

Mind you, the first time they had three weeks in a row with no bookings for me they paid for them and cut me loose indicating they felt we "needed to reach another arrangement." Thankfully I found richer pastures and simply never worked with them again, and my life was the better for it. But I expect otherwise they'd have been back at my door a few months later and we'd have done the same dance.

So my point is that I think you can expect that these kind of people are never going to be managed into being good folk without ongoing, continuing pressure. People who waste your time are always going to keep trying to do so. They can't help it and probably don't want to. But my best success in such things was always to make sure that inconveniencing me inconvenienced them - somehow they found a way to not continue to inconvenience themselves.
posted by phearlez at 10:06 AM on October 24, 2005

Usually clients who were habitual reschedulers were also bad clients in other ways, too.

I cannot agree with this more wholeheartedly. See the "Angel Customers and Demon Customers" book--I only read a few pages, but the title pretty much says it all, and I immediately felt its relevance to my business: Some customers are not worth the effort, and you do not want them. Somehow, we got this "the customer is always right" philosophy hammered into our heads, but it's not true at all. Good customers are always right. Bad customers should be turned away, simple as that.

Of course, how much you're willing to put up with before classifying someone as a bad customer is entirely up to you, but you shouldn't hesitate to do it once you realize that they are an undue drain on your resources.

Oh, and what I would do by default in this situation: Make a fair and reasonable cancellation fee, anywhere from $20 to the full cost of the appointment, state the fee clearly when they book the appointment, let them off the hook the first time, but make it very clear that they will be billed in the future, and then bill them if it happens again. Of course, if they are a particularly good/bad client, I would adjust accordingly.
posted by trevyn at 11:42 AM on October 24, 2005

Wild Eep: Yes, you should bill your clients for missed appointments.

Now, there is obviously the whole range of letting them off the hook, over giving a discounted range to billing the full amount. How much you can get away with billing them depends on a few factors.

Not the least important one is the power relationship between you and them. How urgently do they need you? How urgently do *you* need *them*? If they are ticked off by your billing them for lost time, will they dump you? Are you easily replaced? Or are they dependent on you and your expertise?

Another factor is whether they are a client that you maybe want or can well afford to lose. If you are ticked off by their antics (and it sounds like you are) and think that they are easily replaced, just bill the hell out of them (all within reasonable bounds, of course), and if they run, let them.

If they are a good client that you definitely want to keep, then the best course of action might be to mention casually on the phone that you prepared for the meeting and that the next time you might have to bill for the lost time. And with good luck, they'll get the hint.
posted by sour cream at 11:56 AM on October 24, 2005

If you have a client bringing in a lot of revenue over the course of months or years then fighting this battle doesn't seem very prudent. If you have a cheap client who doesn't value your time or service then I say screw the nickel and dime approach and find a reason to politely cut them loose. Of course, most clients fall in between. In those situations I suggest compensating your time through other types of billing. You'll get paid and they will be none the wiser. I think most clients would be insulted by getting billed a small fee for missing an appointment and probably perceive it as petty without really getting the point.
posted by quadog at 12:09 PM on October 24, 2005

They're going to cancel.

So, ask your client what they feel is reasonable. They'll pony up anywhere from 10-50% when it's short notice. Since they'll set the amount, they'll pay it. And it's better than zero, which is what you're collecting now

Bonus, you didn't piss them off and lose them as a customer.
posted by filmgeek at 12:39 PM on October 24, 2005

P.S. only in the <24hr situation
posted by filmgeek at 12:39 PM on October 24, 2005

There are hidden issues involved in this matter. I suspect that if a client called with a sincere apology, you'd react differently than if they seemed to be taking your availability for granted.

Figure out what aspects bother you most, and in which situations you can let it pass. Then address the things that are the real problems for you.

As a client, I haven't been irritated to be told at the beginning of the relationship, "I'm sorry, but there will be a fee for missed appointments. Hate to do it, but for some reason there have been more last-minute cancellations recently."

I did have to cancel w/o sufficient notice once, and when I mentioned I knew about the penalty I was told by the agency, "It's only one time, so I don't see any need for you to pay for the meeting we missed." I got the message: "Don't make a habit of it, " and I appreciated being given a pass.

If an individual client becomes more trouble that you consider worthwhile, speak up, raise your rates for them, or whatever would be most satisfying to you.
posted by wryly at 1:21 PM on October 24, 2005

i work with doctors who will bill for missed appointments in cases when someone does not call or does not give adequate notice...and why shouldn't they? some doctors are backed up for weeks on appointments, and if you don't give notice, you are denying someone else the opportunity to obtain valuable care as well as denying the physician the opportunity to be paid for that time.

i would say that the best policy is to make sure the client knows your cancellation policy at the time the first appointment is scheduled. don't bill someone for lost time if you haven't made that policy clear at the outset. also, you should make the billing contingent on whether you can make arrangements to use that scheduled time for another client. if you find that you can use that time constructively for another client, you could inform the missing person that you won't charge for the missed appointment for that reason (which appeals to a sense of fairness); if you can't fill that time, you could either inform the client that you attempted to fill that time to prevent a charge but could not; or, particularly the first time it happens, you could remind your client of the policy and let the client off the hook this time.
posted by troybob at 2:28 PM on October 24, 2005

A therapist in private practice can take a range of positions with re to your question. Generally, the client is responsible for payment for that booked time, and this is made clear at the beginning. If a big, unavoidable emergency comes up, that is one thing. If the person forgot, or had something else come up, that is another thing. If your work is independent and you rely on that income to support yourself (as opposed to working for a company or agency or clinic), and you value your work and what you do, then a hard line is in order. If you are just beginning, and do not have a solid reputation yet, then the situation becomes more flexible. Whatever the situation, it is important to discuss it with your client first thing at next meeting and come to an agreement re future missed episodes if there is not one in place up front. All things considered, without a serious illness or emergency arising, the client is responsible for compensating you for your time, if they have failed to give you sufficient notice (e.g., 24 hours).

Troybob's points are well taken, and Duck is right on re doctors cancelling appts, but in my experience that is rather rare, and in this case you are the doctor and your patients are causing you grief by not showing up. "Burn me once" is a good approach to this problem. 'burn me once fooey on you, burn me twice fooey on me.'

A straightforward talk with your clients re this problem is the best approach. Don't ignore it.
posted by madstop1 at 5:16 PM on October 24, 2005

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