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Bodywork Buddy Blog

Bodywork Buddy: business management software for the solo therapist that keeps you organized and makes tax time a breeze.

Monday, June 18, 2012

The Late Client

Round table discussion time! 

Here's a common problem for massage businesses:

The Late Client Scenario 
Despite having a cancellation policy in our brochures, telling clients when they call, and even taking credit cards for evening and weekend appointments, I would say our #1 issue that upsets clients is if they are running late.
We do tell all new clients to arrive 10 minutes early to "fill out paperwork and use the bathroom so that it does not cut into your massage time" and most do.  However, on two occasions this past month, people call to say they are running late 10-15 minutes.  Our response, "Ok, just get here as soon as you can and we will have you do the paperwork afterward so you can get the most of your time."  Some are understanding, but there are others who ask if they will be cut short.
"Unfortunately, your therapist may be able to go over a few minutes, but she does have an appointment scheduled after you".  (We do have 15 minutes in between to change sheets, say bye to clients, etc, not to go over on time.)  This sends the client spiraling into why that's not fair, they want to reschedule, etc.  I apologize and explain their appointment was scheduled from 10-11, and while the therapist does have some wiggle room, that time was reserved for them.  "You were told at the time of scheduling about our cancellation policy.  Unfortunately, if you want to reschedule, there is a $30 fee."
I obviously let things slide as much as I can and make it work in the clients favor when possible (and when they are kind about it) but I would be interested in how other therapists handle this. 
 How have you handled this situation?  What has worked well in your practice to enforce a cancellation or late policy?  What do you do when a client gets upset over your policy?

Cindy Iwlew is co-founder of Bodywork Buddy Massage Software, a complete online management solution for independent massage therapists that includes online scheduling

She continues to operate her own private massage practice of 13 years, and has been an associate instructor for Ashiatsu Oriental Bar Therapy since 2007.


  1. Upfront signage and diligent staff scripting could help prevent instead of having to cure each problem.

    On the brochure, website, eNews, spa signage, etc. state "Don't lose table time by arriving late for your appointment - we still have to finish on time!" or more to the point "Late arrivals will finish on time" - and script front desk staff and Massage Therapists with a simple statement just like this.

    When your policies are displayed and broadcast widely, people will gradually begin to comply.

    Repeat offenders should be put on "watch". Management must have protocols in place for handling this. Remember that what works in business is not always what people want.

    Although I agree it's nice to extend the service a bit if possible, too much waivering sometimes opens the door to more wide-spread whining. Good luck!

  2. If people are upset - that is their problem really and maybe not a client that you want to keep on your schedule. People who arrive late and expect the full hour, don't respect your time. That can be a big drain on the business and massage therapist. You have to remember it is just business, not anything personal. It is hard to be a hard nose sometimes, but it really is just saying that you respect your own time and work. It is setting boundaries that support your business model and your self that creating the foundation for a strong business that can last many, many years.

    1. Great point, Julie. Sometimes it's a glimpse of future problems with those clients, and it might be good to ask ourselves "is this client worth it?".

  3. If it's a first time client or a newer one, and they actually say something about being late I just am vague and say "We'll try to get most of your session in" - just to be non-confronty with them so that they don't balk and try to reschedule the time.
    I do leave 30 minutes in between appts, and I budget about 5 mins for returning clients and 10-15 for new ones, so I'd be ending an hour session that starts at 1:00 at 2:05 or 2:15 anyway.

    If I start to see a pattern with them - I do one of 3 things
    1- tell them their appt time is 15 minutes earlier than it really is
    2- tell them (when they schedule) that I have someone "right after them" (which isn't always a lie)
    3- start ending the appts on time "on time" - not the aforementioned :05 after.

    Wishy washy, non confronty... that's me.. but I'd rather not come off like a b-word enforcing my polices, I'd like to slyly enforce them.

  4. In my own practice, I allow a 1/2 hour between clients to handle the sheets, payment, and rescheduling. There is some wiggle room. If they are late and don't call, I go for a run. I have the luxury of also working at a big spa, so I have 2 sources of income and can afford to be a little more understanding of life getting in the way.

    At the spa, there is no wiggle room and we no longer have pagers, so everything ends on time. We have 10 minutes between clients. There is not enough time to cater to people who can't get their shit together enough to read the literature provided to them and remember all the reminders that the reservationists have given them. I don't really mention that they are late. It can backfire. I slow the strokes as much as possible so that it feels like a slow, contemplative massage. That usually works.

    1. oh great suggestion on the slow work, Kathleen. Thanks!

  5. I book an extra 30 mins between sessions so if the client is late I will usually let it slide once and still give them the full hour session. However, if the client starts to become habitually late I will tell them that I only have X amount of time to work on them and I will work on a target area instead of giving them a full body session. If the problems continues to happen I will not allow the client to book appointments in advance, they can either walk in or call a couple hours before to see if I am avaliable.

    1. Interesting, Kristin - thanks for sharing! I'm curious, how do the clients react when they learn they are no longer allowed to book in advance? has it been a problem / do they get an attitude?
      I think it's a good solution.

    2. so far I haven't had anyone get to that point where I need to enforce that particular rule, but its there just in case. Usually after having their sessions cut short a couple times they start to arrive on time if not a little early.

  6. All good points, I had three clients yesterday that were late. It's nice to see what other therapist do. I try to give them 15 minutes extra if I can, not always possible. It's important to stick to your rules that are laid out in the information when they make an appt.

    1. 3 late clients in one day - yikes! That can really ruin your schedule. Thanks for sharing, Todd.

  7. I currently work at my schools clinic and our only recourse if they are late is to inform them we have other clients afterwards and cannot punish them with less time because they were on time. There are no penalties for no shows or last minute cancellations and its frustrating because we only get paid when we work on clients....
    When I open my own little spa, I plan on handing out and having clients sign paperwork so we have an understanding. Plus having my policy posted on my website and sending voice and email/ text message reminders multiple times to help them keep their appointments.

    1. That's great that you have a plan now to implement when you're on your own. Good luck and thanks for sharing!