Canceling an appointment on short notice. Charge a fee or scot free?
April 17, 2015 5:07 PM   Subscribe

My client bought a gift certificate for Valentine's day. She made an appointment/reservation with me over 3 weeks ago, to redeem the certificate tomorrow. She didn't respond to any reminders until 2pm today. Do I charge her a cancellation fee, as outlined in my company policy?

Yes, I sent her reminders! One a week ago*, one three days ago*, and another one yesterday... but she didn't reply to anything until 2pm today, saying "I also wanted to let you know I have been ill this week and share some additional information with you. As I mentioned before, we are ready for our lesson but you may want to reschedule after we talk."

*I know she opened these emails, as I use an email management system.

I have not phoned her yet, as I was working all day today and I avoid phonecalls during work. Also, I'm a bit put off by the buzzfeed-style "You won't believe what happened next" nature of the email.

I've already told her we can reschedule via sms, but I'm not yet decided whether her personal circumstances should have any effect on whether or not I charge a cancellation policy. …especially since she's had ample opportunity to let me know I could have taken other work tomorrow.

Should I enforce my own policy? Or just suck it up and let her reschedule?
posted by ChefJoAnna to Human Relations (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: That sounds to me like, "I have an embarrassing illness and don't want to write it down, but I'm contagious so we should probably cancel." If so, it could have been something she came down with last-minute, so maybe she couldn't have given notice.

I would talk to her and find out the story. Go in with the assumption that, if she could have foreseen this and given you notice, then she should have and you'll charge a fee. But if it came up last-minute, maybe don't charge the fee. And either way she should be able to reschedule, no?
posted by LobsterMitten at 5:18 PM on April 17, 2015 [5 favorites]

You certainly *could* reasonably charge her the fee, but I find that the goodwill I gain for forgiving isolated late cancellations is worth it. But I would definitely charge for repeat offenders. Also, for me, not being sick is pretty critical, so I want to make sure not to give clients incentive to show up with their nasty viruses. That colors my view on cancellations.
posted by ktkt at 5:33 PM on April 17, 2015 [11 favorites]

I also hate it when people do the " wait until you hear... " and seem to beg for my rapt attention (like, way more than it should, I've faded away from people who do this). But, this is a professional relationship, so I generally swallow the minor annoyances unless there's a truly detrimental pattern. Plus, it may not be a drama thing as much as an awkward thing, and if she knows you avoid calls she may have decided email would be more efficient, but it could be something she doesn't feel comfortable saying over email (some people are very security conscious). Or maybe it's something she's tried to type out but doesn't feel like she's explaining adequately (it's something embarrassing or convoluted).

She did sort of leave it open to you, so I'd definitely listen to her story. If she's got a true emergency or is a good client in general (or even just acceptable), I'd probably let it slide. You could even be explicit and say "don't worry about the fee, I can waive it this time" (Adjust phrasing accordingly) so she's aware you're doing her a "favor. "
posted by ghost phoneme at 5:36 PM on April 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

If you've already told her she can reschedule without mentioning the cancellation fee, you've kind of missed the window.
posted by jacquilynne at 5:45 PM on April 17, 2015 [3 favorites]

Best answer: If she's been sick all week and you sent reminders three days ago and yesterday, she had time to assess whether she'd be well in time for her appt. So I'm inclined to charge her. But you'll have to be prepared to lose a client even if you're within your rights to charge.
posted by cecic at 5:52 PM on April 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: So I just phoned her. Contagious. Bigtime. But she's had it for a week, so yeah, she could have called me already.


I don't want to be a pushover, but I'm also not trying to be a dick, you know?!

@jacquilynne I need to answer you first: I forgot to add that I include wording about the cancellation policy & resulting fees directly on the certificate, so this isn't something out of the blue. Nobody can say, "I had no idea there'd be a fee if I schedule then cancel!"

@LobsterMitten She's had this highly contagious disease for a week, she just didn't contact me until this afternoon. And yes, of course rescheduling was always on the table.

@ktkt As a niche business, I don't get a lot of repeat clients, so there's very little opportunity for a person to be a "repeat offender". I thanked her profusely for the courtesy of letting me know she's got a highly communicable disease and not exposing me to it. My whole job is going to clients' homes & making food. Do I want to be the next Typhoid Mary? nnnnnnope.

@ghost phoneme After that 2pm call this afternoon, she's sent 3 emails & 2 more voicemails, so it was a barrage after 3 weeks of no communication. Usually gift certificates are redeemed as much as 6-8 months after they're bought; there's no contact until they've scheduled their date.

@cecic You hit the nail on the head. She knew, she didn't contact me. I lost out on potential work for today. But the good thing is, she already paid in full for the certificate, so that money's MINE. ...and I'll still honor that, eventually....

My resolution: I told her that I'd only charge her half of the fee that's stated on the certificate, and that I would extended the expiration date of the certificate by 2 months. (I don't "enforce" the expiration date, but it helps to remind people that they should redeem them.)
posted by ChefJoAnna at 5:57 PM on April 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

Eh, people who have highly contagious/awful illnesses tend to be focused on the vomiting/pain/inability to breathe/whatever the symptoms are. Obviously your business is the most important thing on YOUR mind, but keep in mind it was probably very low on her list when it came to dealing with whatever illness she had. If it were me, I would waive the fee because even if you don't get repeat customers, it sounds like the sort of thing where word of mouth could gain (or lose) you business, so it does matter to make people happy.

And for the record, sorry, but as a customer if the reason I needed to cancel was a highly communicable disease, I would be pretty pissed about having to pay a cancellation fee. I'd pay it if I had to, but you can bet it would negatively color my experience and I would not be recommending the business to friends. This is different from someone who just flaked. What would you do if she said "Fine, if I have to pay the fee then I want to go forward with the appointment tomorrow and get you sick!" Presumably in that case YOU would cancel, so rescheduling is in everyone's best interest at this point in the game.
posted by rainbowbrite at 7:07 PM on April 17, 2015 [10 favorites]

She may have been holding out hope she would feel better by the appointment and I feel like you're seeing malice where it's more niavity or lack of consideration. I think you're within you rights to enforce your cancellation policy, but be aware you might lose her as a client or recommendation. Just make sure when she reschedules that she's aware she will need to pay you the fee.
posted by HMSSM at 8:14 PM on April 17, 2015 [12 favorites]

Mod note: One comment deleted. ChefJoAnna, no biggie, but AskMe isn't a space for back-and-forth exchanges. We pretty much ask posters to limit their responses to brief clarifications only. You can read people's answers, ignore the ones that you don't find helpful, and mark the ones you do. Thanks.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 8:56 PM on April 17, 2015

I don't think you're being particularly unreasonable or anything, mind, but I think this is something that it's sort of easy to forget as a person in this situation--and I've been there myself, with work--but sick-enough-to-cancel-appointments is pretty regularly also sick-enough-not-to-be-on-top-of-your-calendar. Again, I think you're totally within your rights, because it's policy, and policies are good! But having the policy doesn't mean you can't have empathy for the situation, and I think displaying empathy about that sort of thing is in the long run way better for client relations. Like, it's okay for her to have cancelled abruptly for totally understandable sick-related reasons and also for you to have to charge the fee because charging the fee is the way you ensure that cancellations don't get your car repo'ed or something. Give yourself some permission to make business decisions like that without having to make the other party the bad guy. It's less stressful in the long run.
posted by Sequence at 9:09 PM on April 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

You are within your rights to charge a fee for cancellation but you should know that the chances of her dropping a bomb on your yelp/google ratings AFTER her session are close to 100%. Is a bad review and no referrals from her worth it?
posted by saradarlin at 9:26 PM on April 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Massage therapist here. Late cancels, no shows and late arrivals who still expect their full hour (or whatever time period they booked) are a HUGE problem in my industry. Having worked at a variety of places with different cancellation policies/strictness of enforcing those policies, I've ended up with very strong opinions about what works and what doesn't. In most cases you should enforce your cancellation policy; to not do so teaches your clients that your time is not really valuable and you're likely to end up with repeat bad behaviour.

I will now cut people some slack in two situations: a genuine emergency or sudden illness that happens one time; and a new client who had trouble finding my business or misjudged traffic.

But it is disrespectful for someone to have a pre-existing illness and not notify you until the last minute. That's jerky behaviour. That's not a client you want. You want people who respect your time, not people who camp out on your schedule until the last minute, leaving you no time to schedule anyone else in this slot.

I've never once--not once ever in 6 or so years--seen a client bitch on yelp because of an enforced policy that they were previously informed of. The tiny number of clients who have bitched in person are clients I don't want! The more clients like this you allow into your work life, the less room on your schedule for good, respectful clients who value your work.

If you don't feel comfortable charging full price or redeeming the gift cert, consider charging a smaller fee for late cancels. One chiropractor I worked for charged $25 for late cancels but full fee for no shows. This reflects the fact that a no show wastes more of your time. She also gave new clients one "get out of jail free".

Places that don't have or don't enforce late cancel and no show policies end up with more instances of each.

I've also noticed that people who pay less in the first place (such as Groupon and Living social peeps) take it less seriously and are more likely to flake out...and then to bitch when you redeem their voucher as per the guidelines they agreed to. People who pay cut rate for services are also strongly likely to tip less and refer less.
posted by mysterious_stranger at 1:46 AM on April 18, 2015 [3 favorites]

I'm going to throw in for empathy. It's possible the client hoped they'd be better and so kept putting off rescheduling until the last minute. Sure it's a bit thoughtless but a sick person isn't presumably doing their best or necessarily thinking clearly.
posted by R343L at 4:09 AM on April 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'd be interested to know what your reminders-- and any verbiage on your gift certificates-- look like. Reminders from a dentist usually say "You have 24 hours to cancel; otherwise you will be charged a fee of $X." I have a feeling my dentist, at any rate, would probably not charge you if it was a real emergency. In fact my impression is it's common in all kinds of situations to say, "I'm not going to charge you the fee this one time." The wording is really there to target people who don't take their appointments at all seriously.

First offense with anything-- there could be any of a zillion reasons why this person didn't respond or cancel. Having someone say, "You're not going to believe this" or similar does suggest to me that they have a little too much experience making excuses. But you just don't know and I think you should assume the best and not charge her.
posted by BibiRose at 7:15 AM on April 18, 2015

You should not charge her.
posted by J. Wilson at 7:16 AM on April 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'm with J. Wilson and others: I'd let it go. Possibly tell her "I thought about it, but under the circumstances I just don't feel right charging you a cancellation fee. I'm looking forward to a wonderful lesson with you when you're fully recovered, and I hope you'll share your experience with your friends on facebook and yelp." Which is maybe not the smoothest way to drop a hint, but if it was my business, I'd gamble the fee against the possibility of having a happy customer and maybe even a good review. Back when my wife and I had our website development biz, we spent $0.00 on advertising: all of our business was via word-of-mouth. We never knew who might be out there saying kind words about us - but we had more business than we could handle.
posted by doctor tough love at 8:26 AM on April 19, 2015

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