Every massage therapist needs to have a simple, clear client cancellation policy that works.
So there I was, in my office, waiting for my next client to arrive.
But she didn’t.
Instead, she sent an email telling me that she had a headache and wasn’t going to be able to make it.
Cancellations and no-shows are one of the biggest pains in the well, you know, for bodyworkers.
I mean, you’re a big-hearted, skilled therapist, so you want to help people when they don’t feel well. You’re compassionate and understanding, but sheesh, it’s so frustrating!
The fact is, you need to have a simple, clear client cancellation policy that actually works.
You can be both firm and kind with this policy.
Remember, you’re teaching your clients how to treat you, and you want to be treated with respect, courtesy and kindness—the same way you treat your clients.
Being firm doesn’t mean being a jerk, and being kind doesn’t mean being a doormat.
Being firm and kind are not mutually exclusive.
A strong client cancellation policy doesn’t have to be complicated or filled with legal jargon. Mine is two sentences long. It doesn’t have to be a really huge deal, but you do have to have one and it’s got to be clear.
And you’ve got to honor it.
You have to honor it for yourself and for your clients. You’re creating a safe space in your practice—not only on the therapeutic side, but also on the business side of your practice.
Upgrade Your Client Cancellation Policy
There are two parts to a good client cancellation policy:
1. What is considered a cancellation; and
2. What happens when a client cancels.
For the first part, decide how many hours advance notice you need for a client to reschedule.
Most therapists use a window between 24 to 48 hours. I ask for 24 hours notice because that works for me. If I have 24 hours notice, I can almost always fill the spot with someone from my wait list. Use a timeframe that works for you.
The second part of the equation are the consequences for canceling without appropriate notice. I give clients one free pass (because hey, life happens …) but after that pass, they are responsible for the full cost of the session.
If the thought of that makes you feel faint, you can have a cancellation fee of 50 to 75% of the cost of the session.
Do what resonates with your heart.
I include my cancellation policy in my intake form, and every client signs it before our first session. That way, they know the score, and I don’t have to fumble around with what to say about it.
Kind, but firm.
But what do you actually say when someone cancels?
Here’s what I emailed back to the client with the headache:
Oh I’m so sorry to hear it, Susan [name changed]. Since this is the second appointment you’ve missed with less than 24 hours notice, you are responsible for the full fee ($150) of the appointment, as per the Cancellation policy that you signed with your intake forms. You can drop a check in the mail to (my address) … or you can send me the fee via Zelle, whichever is best for you.
Thanks, I hope you feel better very soon.
All the best.
Boom. Done. Kind, but firm. The client understands that I’m not mad, angry or freaking out, and she also knows that I value my time.
And now she does, too.
But what about when somebody cancels their appointment with more than 24 hours notice, and you’re not sure why?
Well, it depends on how they’re communicating with you to let you know they need to cancel the appointment.
If they have called you, you can talk with them right then and there, making sure they’re OK and seeing if they want to reschedule with you.
In my experience, most people will not call you on the phone because they don’t want to talk to you; they want to just cancel the appointment and be done.
The Client Cancellation Policy When They Cancel by Text of Email
So let’s say they’ve sent you an email or a text. What do you do? What do you say?
First, I suggest that you follow up with the person that day. So let’s imagine that Susan has sent you an email that says, “Oh, Mindy, I’m so sorry that I can’t make my appointment next Thursday. Thanks.”
OK. What do you do with that?
Follow up that day and say something like, “Hi, Sally. Thanks so much for letting me know that you can’t make it next Thursday. I wanted to check in to make sure that everything is OK with you and your family. Let me know if I can support you in any way and please drop me a line when you can to let me know that you’re OK.” This response opens the door for them to get back to you.
This is also good if you use a booking platform and you just get a notification that Susan has canceled and you have no idea why. You can reach out then via email or text or a telephone call and say, “Hey, I’m just checking in to make sure that everything’s OK with you and your family. Is there anything I can do to help?”
It’s important that you are genuine in your follow up.
You’re genuinely asking— Is everything ok? Because you never know why somebody has to cancel.
That’s the first step after someone cancels—a genuine follow up to be sure your client is ok.
Now, if you hear back from Sally and she says, “Oh, thanks so much for reaching out. Yeah. I dunno, such my kid had soccer practice and I double booked,” then invite her to make another appointment at that point.
You can say, “Oh, I’m so glad to hear that you’re OK. If you’d like to reschedule, I’ve got an opening at three o’clock on Tuesday.”
Give a specific time, rather than just saying, “Oh, would you like to reschedule?”
By giving a specific time, you encourage the person to look into their calendar at that moment to see if they’re free. And if not, you can make another appointment at another time.
That’s really important with that second follow up – don’t just say, “Hey, do you want to rebook?”
Instead, try something like, “Hey, I’m glad to hear everything’s OK. If you’d like to reschedule, I’ve got an opening at 3:00 next Wednesday. Does that work for you? If not, let me know what will work best for you, and I’ll reserve that spot in my appointment book.” Set specific times in that second followup.
But what if you never heard back from your first follow up?
The Client Cancellation Policy When They Just Don’t Respond
If you reached out a first time and you said, “Hey, I hope everything’s OK,” and you don’t hear anything back, then I suggest waiting about a week, and then sending a second follow up.
You say, “Hey, Sally, just checking in again, to make sure that all is well in your world. If you’d like to reschedule the appointment that you had to miss, I’ve got openings at 9am on Tuesday and Thursday available. Let me know what will work best for you with your schedule, and we’ll get you all set up. All my best to you.”
That’s it. So you follow up one more time in about a week or so, if you don’t hear back from the followup, bless and release, as I call it. Bless and release. Let it go.
Whatever is going on is probably not about you. It’s probably not about your bodywork.
So just bless and release the person. If she wants to come back later, great.
If she’s on the next stage of their journey, it’s great to bless and release that, as well. She’ll come back at a more perfect time for you to work together.
Or, if she doesn’t come back, then that opening allows an even more ideal client the space to work with you. I’ve seen it happen over and over and over again in my own practice, and also with therapists I’ve coached through the years.
So remember that: bless and release.
Be Firm and Kind in Your Client Cancellation Policy
These scripts I’ve shared are a perfect example of really taking care of your clients, creating a safe container for them, as I said, not only in the treatment room, but also on the business side of your practice.
Be firm. Be kind.
About the Author
Mindy Totten, LMBT, CST-D, helps bodyworkers build profitable businesses so you can serve more people and make a great living doing it.