Broken Appointments

Broken Appointments


I was sitting at my desk first thing in the morning when I heard a door slam, followed by heavy stomping along the corridor. Just then Mary-Anne burst into my office very upset.

“Why are people so inconsiderate?” she asked. “The client I had booked in for this morning has just phoned to cancel stating that she is too busy! Her friend is in town and they want to go shopping together, and she would like to come next week instead. What am I supposed to do?  Sit and twiddle my thumbs for the morning, until my next client arrives later this afternoon?  And only yesterday I turned someone away who wanted that appointment as she was coming into Sydney for the day from out of town.”

“Whoa, wait a minute”.

Mary-Ann had been a student at the New South Wales College of Natural Therapies where I lectured for up to eighteen hours per week. These were long days, but with a variety of students and of subjects including chemistry, biochemistry and nutrition, the day was always interesting.

Mary-Ann had graduated a few months earlier and was starting to get into practice by using one of my clinic rooms and working, with me in a mentoring role. In addition to my own office I had two others in which various people, including student graduates worked in from time to time.  In addition, my reception and waiting area occupied the largest room that had a sectioned-off area.  This was ideal for doing massages but did not offer much verbal privacy. Some of the graduates liked to start their practice by offering massages. All in all, it was generally a hive of activity, although all the student-graduates were expected to move on in time and develop their own practices.

Many of the students started out with lovely ideas that turned out to be impractical. Working in my rooms gave them a chance to figure out just how they wanted to run their own practices. Mary-Anne was a case in point. She was not comfortable around money, even saying that it was ‘grubby’ and she wished she did not have to charge at all. She felt that finances should be the least of her concerns.  Her focus was on helping people, giving them what they wanted, when they wanted.  She swore she would make her practice as relaxed and client-friendly as possible. In this context, she had insisted, for she was rarely quiet in classroom discussions, that she would never charge cancellation fees, and would always put the clients’ needs first.

As I reflected on this, I challenged Mary-Anne. “Wait just a moment, what is the problem? You previously said that you would understand if people had to cancel appointments or didn’t turn up.”

“Yes, but how am I supposed to make a living? She wants to meet up with a friend and go shopping so I am dumped! What am I supposed to do until my four o’clock shows up – if she does?”

Poor MaryAnn was clearly in the dumps, and I could understand that, but I knew that this was a valuable learning opportunity for her.

I encouraged her to ask herself what was good about this?  A common strategy of my own in such situations.

”How about you take the time to read up on the topic for our next study group?”

It had only taken a couple of months for the realities of running a practice to sink in for Mary-Anne.  She had to come into the clinic first thing in the morning, she had the room to pay for and she had turned another client away only the evening before.

My next client arrived, but I arranged to talk to Mary-Anne at lunchtime.

“Do you see why we charge a cancellation or no-show fee?” I asked.

“Yes, but this rarely happens to you!”

“Exactly. This is likely because we require 48-hour notice if people wish to cancel, and warn them of the fee ahead of time,  so we rarely experience cancellations for relatively trivial reasons. If their reason relates to something unavoidable and outside of their control I can easily not charge the fee, in fact I often don’t, but the option is always there.

Clients generally fail to recognise the problems and disappointments that cancellations can cause.  Nowadays my concern is generally for the clients that could have had the appointment that was cancelled, not the loss of income, but it is different when one is starting out and trying to develop a practice and earn an income.

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