Policies Are Made To Be Bent


A recurring theme I see in massage blogs, magazines and Facebook groups is owning our worth. This gets tested when we’re presented with situations that we’ve created policies to address, such as cancellations, late arrivals and expiration dates. The pervasive advise I see is to stand your ground and enforce your policy, but is that always the best plan of action?

Balancing our gratitude for our clients with honoring our value can be tricky. Our policies aren’t just about us. In this spirit, I’ve created  policies based on how I would want and expect to be treated from experiences I’ve had with businesses that I wish had been handled differently.

Many years ago, I was seeing a massage therapist once a month. I had been a consistent regular client for some time when I got a phone call from her telling me I had missed an appointment. Perhaps I had scheduled it incorrectly in my phone (which is entirely possible). I know I hadn’t received a reminder (I may have even told her I wouldn’t need one).

I have to admit, although I had been providing massage for a number of years, I didn’t feel I should have to pay for it. I felt that either she or I must have made an honest mistake and that since it hadn’t happened before, I should get a break. I honestly don’t remember if I paid her for that appointment or not, but that experience shaped the policy I currently have.

My original cancellation policy was fine until two and a half years into business. All of a sudden, I had several opportunities to enforce it. I realized that what I had conceived early on wasn’t serving me anymore, so I overhauled it. Since then, I’ve lost two regular clients due to enforcement. Both had been repeat offenders. I had let them slide more than once and had been very clear that a cancellation fee would be imposed the next time I didn’t get adequate notification.

Perhaps they felt that they were doing me a favor by paying me for the services they received or that our long-standing relationships and past compensation should have covered the appointments they missed. I’m sorry they chose to stop coming in rather than valuing my time and abilities, not to mention considering the needs of other clients. In both cases, their standing appointment slots filled immediately. It was obviously time for them to move on.

Recently, an established client didn’t show up for her appointment. When I called her, she said she had forgotten since it wasn’t scheduled for her usual day and time. This client has been with me for over three years and had never done this before. I told her she could use her “Oh, shit!” cancellation, and I took a walk to pass the time. But a few months later, she had a similar situation. She had been up with her sick daughter the night before and overslept. I told her I could see her later that day and that she would owe an extra $20 for the late-notice cancellation.

By the time she came in, I had given this a lot of thought. She had been a wonderful client for a long time. Being in the medical field, I knew she understood the inconvenience that those kind of cancellations cause. But I just didn’t feel right about that additional fee in that particular case. She’s extremely supportive of my practice and we have a great history. I told her that I wasn’t charging her the cancellation fee, but if she had another such cancellation within the next six months I would. She was quite grateful and I’m certain I earned more than $20 from that decision.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t enforce our business policies. There are times when we have to stand our ground because we’re being undervalued. It’s true, we teach people how to treat us. I hope I’m teaching my clients to see the big picture as it relates to our interactions. Getting a massage isn’t always the most important thing on the agenda. But how do we know when to bend and when to be tough?

  • First off, sending ALL clients appointment reminders automatically from my online scheduling software sets a precedent for what they can expect from me as a business owner and reduces missed appointments. There’s a link to my cancellation policy in every confirmation and reminder email, so everyone has the chance to familiarize themselves. One elderly client who is particularly forgetful gets a reminder call from me on all three numbers I have for her. This may sound like overkill, but it keeps her treatment on schedule and makes my income from her predictable.
  • If I get enough notice to realistically fill their appointment slot on a first offense by an established client, I tell them I was able to fill it. This is in line with my unwritten three strikes rule (not all policies have to be shared). If the notice is extremely short, I give them the choice of redeeming their “Oh shit!” cancellation or paying a cancellation fee. This way, I’m playing it off as enforcement rather than letting it slide.
  • If I’m earning a substantial portion of my regular income from a specific client, they have more appointments than someone who visits less frequently. That means they get more chances to show up. I don’t have a set amount of time between offenses that determines what action I take. Those decisions are made on a case-by-case basis. In the long run, I’ll probably make more money by not enforcing my policy for a fluke missed appointment. The risk of alienating an overall exceptional client isn’t worth a one-time payment.
  • Past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior. I’ve found that if a first or second appointment has a late notice cancellation, more will follow. Therefore, newer clients get less leeway than more established ones. If they understand and pay the cancellation fee, that tells me they want to do business with ME, not just get a massage. It also prevents future occurrences.

There are so many possibilities when it comes to business relationships and the personal circumstances of our clients. What might be perceived as being unable to stand up for ourselves is often a case of meeting clients where they are. The better I’ve done that, the more the practice I love has grown and the deeper my client relationships have become!

Do you enforce your cancellation policy consistently? If not, why? If you don’t see a comment box below, please click the Leave a comment 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!
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