Not All Cancellations Are Created Equal

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Cancellations suck, especially when they happen with too little notice to fill them. Often, this is the case when clients are sick. So what’s the best policy for cancellations due to illness?

Most of the advise I’ve seen from other massage therapists asks clients to cancel if they are sick. This approach is meant to protect us from catching something from a client and missing work. It seemed reasonable, so that’s how I structured my first illness cancellation policy. This sounds straight forward enough except that not everyone has the same interpretation of what it means to be sick enough to cancel, so I listed every cold and flu symptom I could think of to make it clear when I’d prefer they do so. I sent an email to all of my clients listing the symptoms and telling them that if they arrived sick, I’d refuse service to them and charge them for the appointment.

The problem with that was twofold. Not only did some clients miss my email, it didn’t account for how long symptoms had persisted or honor the judgement of grown adults to make their own decisions. Sadly, I found that some clients just didn’t get it even though it seemed obvious to me. It also didn’t include my responsibility to alert clients in the event that I have a cold but feel well enough to work.

I decided to include notifying clients if I was sick in my second attempt, inspired by the self-serving policies of former employers. In those cases, we were told to call in if we were sick but when we did, we were treated like we were just trying to get out of working. Usually, there was no one available to take our place so we ended up going in. Our clients weren’t told we were sick because these companies didn’t want to miss out on any income, so our unsuspecting clients would come in for their massages only to find their therapist coughing, sneezing and sniffling. Feeling trapped, they always went ahead and got their scheduled service, probably perturbed and unable to fully relax.

If I have a cold but feel well enough to work, I text clients the night before (or that morning if I wake up that way) so they can decide if they want to keep their appointment or reschedule. Cancelling clients under these conditions seems drastic to me since many are more concerned about missing their massage than getting sick from me. Adding that to my policy has gone well.

What wasn’t resonating with me was charging people for cancelling when that’s what I was asking them to do. Illness is simply too difficult (if not impossible) to predict and it didn’t seem fair to penalize people for doing the right thing even if it was short notice. It also didn’t seem fair to charge people for cancelling due to poor driving conditions. How bad would I feel if a client got into an accident coming to their appointment because they were worried about being charged if they cancelled last minute when driving could be dangerous? If that happened, they’d most likely miss their appointment anyway.

I thought my policy was as good as it could get until I had a few clients cancel within hours of their appointment, saying they had been sick the day before (or when they woke up) but thought they would feel better in time for their massage. The objective to any cancellation policy is to ensure as much income as possible by discouraging cancellations but this was backfiring. If I had known these clients were sick the day before, we could have made a plan together and possibly avoided their slot opening up too late to fill.

This fall, I went back to the drawing board. I sent this email to all my active clients:

Hi {name},

In an effort to maintain realistic policies that serve all clients and myself, I’m making some adjustments to my policy regarding cancellations when you (or me) are sick.

  • If you have any cold or flu symptoms when you receive your appointment reminder (even if they are mild), please notify me as soon as possible so we can decide the best course of action together.
  • If you develop cold or flu symptoms between receiving your reminder and your appointment time, please cancel. The more notice I have, the easier it is to fill cancellations. I’m also completely open to you finding your own replacement.

If you arrive sick without prior notification, you may be refused service and charged in full for the session.

If I have cold symptoms but feel well enough to work, I’ll text you to ask if you want to keep your appointment. I certainly don’t want to get you sick! Weather-related cancellations are exempt from the cancellation policy. I truly value your patronage and welcome your feedback.

Be well, Cath

When clients came in, I asked if they had received the email and if they had any questions or feedback. This allowed me to verify understanding of the policy and make any clarifications. Of course I didn’t see every client who I emailed but at least I know my most frequent customers have been informed. My goal is to improve communication so I have the chance to come up with an alternative plan. If nothing else, knowing someone is sick the day before cuts down on surprises.

Perhaps I’ll need to further tweak this policy but so far it’s working well. I’ve come to realize that business policies are merely a framework to guide individual situations rather than rules that force compliance. As much as we may want a predictable income, unforeseen cancellations come with the territory. The point of having a policy is to weed out those who don’t value me or my time far more than securing payment for services I don’t deliver. Besides, it’s hypocritical to enforce policies that I wouldn’t want to be subjected to. Letting go of what’s not working and trying another angle keeps it real in the practice that I love!

Do you treat cancellations due to illness differently? If so, how? If you don’t see a comment box below, please click the Leave a comment/comments link to share. Thank you!

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About deepheeling

I'm an Ashiatsu barefoot deep tissue massage specialist dedicated to sharing my journey to creating a successful business that I love!
This entry was posted in Boundaries, Business Practices, Communication and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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