Pop quiz for sports academy owners: How much money do you lose each month from clients who cancel at the last minute or just completely fail to show up for appointments?
Years ago when I was first building eSoft Planner, I worked with one of my new scheduling software clients to help them figure that out, and the answer was startling. They were losing 13% of their revenue to late cancellations and no-shows, and their profitability was taking a serious hit as a result.
This is definitely not an isolated problem.
These losses are a serious threat for sports academies, because they cause the cash flow problems that can close sports academy doors.
That’s why I decided to put together all the best strategies I’ve found for guarding your business against losses from no-shows and late cancellations.
The Foundation: A Refund Policy
First things first. Without a clear, enforced refund policy, you have no hope of keeping cancellations under control.
Your refund policy should explain what will happen when a client has to reschedule or miss an appointment. Standard procedure is to let them reschedule with no penalty as long as they cancel is 24 hours in advance.
Many facilities give away one “freebie” for a client’s first missed appointment or late cancellation, but then expect them to pay full price for each missed appointment after that. Others like to use a sliding scale of penalties, with a higher charge for each subsequent missed appointment (for example, the first missed appointment they might pay 25% of the total lesson cost, the second they might charge 50%, etc.). Still others never charge full price for a missed appointment, but do keep a standard non-refundable deposit.
I’d suggest keeping it as simple as possible. Either give one time free, or don’t give any refunds except for those you decide to give off the record (for extenuating circumstances for your best clients, for example). But whatever policy you have, it’s important that you generally stick to it or it won’t be taken seriously.
So, let’s say you have a refund policy that expects full payment for no-shows or cancellations without at least 24 hours notice.
You won’t be able to collect those payments if you don’t have access to your clients’ money.
Requiring upfront payment from your client when they schedule a lesson does two things: it makes sure that you can collect payment in the event of a no-show, and it makes the client less likely to miss the appointment in the first place because they know their money is on the line.
It also sets the tone that you’re serious about protecting your instructors’ valuable time.
One easy way to collect upfront payment is to sell packages of lessons. Selling packages benefits everyone – clients get a discount for buying in bulk, and you get a cash flow boost and the security of knowing those appointments will be paid for.
Besides the cash flow benefits, packages are also a great sales tool because you can create them based on your clients’ individual performance goals. That’s why we developed eSoft Planner to let you make custom packages on the spot that combine classes, clinics, lessons and rentals.
Reminders, Reminders, Reminders
Most of your paying clients are busy parents who have to juggle their kids’ schedules as well as their own.
Any way you can remind them about their upcoming lesson – phone, email, text – do it.
They can typically opt-in to these reminders themselves if you’re using a scheduling system like eSoft Planner. The email and text messages usually do the trick to make sure they’re aware of their upcoming appointment, but a personal phone call is also a nice touch, especially if the appointment is for a new client or isn’t part of a regularly scheduled series.
Depending on the client and the situation, you might also use the phone call to remind them of your refund policy.
Incentives to Keep You Posted
Even with a solid refund policy, upfront payments, and plenty of reminders, you’ll still get last-minute cancellations. Life happens, and your clients get sick, injured, and stuck with other emergencies.
In these cases, it’s important that your clients know it’s never too late to tell you that they won’t be able to make it. Even cancelling right as the appointment is supposed to begin can save your trainer some time and let them start another task sooner. With super-late cancellations, you can also announce the opening to the athletes currently in the facility. With some luck, someone who is just getting out of a class or is there for a rental might be interested in the time slot – especially if you include a discount.
To give your clients a strong incentive to call you if they can’t make an appointment, consider giving them a refund or a partial refund for the lesson if it ends up being filled. You can also encourage them to find their own last-minute replacement, maybe by letting their teammates know about the opening.
Make sure that the email address and phone number you’re sending reminders from is checked regularly. These replies provide a convenient way for your clients to let you know if they can’t make it. You should have a standard procedure in place to respond to rescheduling requests.
Filling Last-Minute Openings
If you get a late cancellation far enough in advance, you may also try to fill the opening by announcing it to your other clients.
This is a no-brainer if the cancellation is for a lesson with an instructor who has a waitlist or is especially popular.
The best way to do this is to use your scheduling software to create a list of athletes who’ve had lessons with the instructor in the past (you guessed it: eSoft Planner can do this) and shoot them an email to let them know the instructor has an opening.
Also, if you have a last-minute deals email alert list, you can discount the opening and add it to the email. (Click here to read the full post I wrote on how to fill last-minute rental openings.)
However, you don’t need a full email marketing system to try to fill a late cancellation. Just use the phone and call the clients who might be interested. You may even decide to give your front desk staff a commission if they can find a replacement.
Finally, make sure your clients understand your refund policy and payment policies when they get started, preferably with a signed client agreement.
In the agreement, add a few lines about WHY you keep your policies. Keep a friendly tone. Try something like this, adapting the language to your own services:
Our trainers depend on the income they get from lessons / personal training, so unfortunately we can’t refund any fees from no-shows or cancellations made less than 24 hours before any appointment. We hope you understand that this policy helps keep our prices lower, makes sure our instructors are paid fairly, and keeps our doors open for business.
If the agreements are mostly for personal-training types of appointments, consider adding a line about how part of your job is to keep clients accountable to their fitness goals, and the refund policy adds to that accountability.
Some facilities, especially fitness centers, may encourage trainers to use the time that was originally allocated for the cancelled session to work on the client’s fitness plan or diet plan. If you go that route, make sure your clients know that they’ll still be getting benefits from the time they paid for, even if they didn’t use it for the training itself.
What are your best practices for dealing with late cancellations and no-shows that I didn’t mention? Leave a comment and let me know.
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