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Do you have a cancellation policy? Why or why not?

My time is valuable. When clients cancel and I don’t charge them, I lose income. My rent and bills don’t change because of these cancellations. I inform my clients of my cancellation policy right away and ask them to sign a form saying they understand the policy. I have a 24-hour cancellation policy, but if I see that someone has several cancellations, I schedule him on a week-to-week basis. With all this being said, I use common sense. If someone has a good track record and there’s a legitimate problem such as a death in the family or a car accident, then I may make an exception.

Holding on to clients who are not showing up can hurt your business. I have had clients stop training because of my cancellation policy. At first it bothered me because nobody likes rejection. However, after I put my feelings aside, I realized that their leaving was for the best. As in any relationship, you make hard decisions and move on. That is what being a business owner is all about. You will go broke if you make business personal. I find that most clients accept my cancellation policy.

I also hold myself to the same standard. If I cancel on a client, she earns a free session. Most clients want you to hold them accountable. That is part of the job. At the end of the day, if you don’t respect your time no one else will.

David L. Franklin

Certified Personal Trainer, DLF Fitness

Washington, DC

In my 13 years as owner of a Pilates and personal training studio, I’ve found that our biggest hurdle has always been cancellations. Although the training hours initially booked ensure a profitable margin, the cancellation factor often affects the bottom line. A 24-hour cancellation policy has been in effect since we opened. We have asked clients with last-minute emergencies to call with no penalty up to 6:00 pm the night before. As studio owner/manager, I receive calls even when the studio is closed, and I make exceptions for medical emergencies and certain situations. We have a set amount of equipment in the studio, with five reformers/towers and five chairs. Late cancellations affect the equipment allocation and reduce studio profitability even further.

The cancellation policy is clearly stated on our website and in the material the client fills out on signing up. The client also gets a copy of the policy. Unfortunately, clients have abused the policy. Trainers have been allowed to make the call whether or not to charge a client for a cancellation; however, as manager of the studio I have the final call. The trainer is often caught in the middle when the client appeals personally to him or her. The trainer doesn’t want to lose future business with the client, and a cycle of abuse begins if the client cancels often. I have had to step into the situation on more than one occasion to intervene with a client. New trainers learn the lesson after too many last-minute cancellations
affect their pay and profitability, as well as the studio’s bottom line.

And, yes, I have been guilty of allowing one too many late cancellations. In the last few years, my clients have learned that they will lose the ability to book with me if they cancel too many times, and I have “fired” clients in the past. All of our current trainers realize that a client who continually cancels costs the trainer more than he or she brings in, as the trainer is unable to book that slot with another client. The situation has grown more difficult over the years, as e-mail and texting have made it easier for clients to cancel a session without talking face to face with the trainer or studio manager. Often when talking to a live person, the client hesitates to make the cancellation and ends up coming.

After comtemplating and researching online booking for many years, as of January 1, 2010, the studio is utilizing MINDBODY® online booking and scheduling. It is our belief that this will take the trainer out of the middle, as it automatically deducts late canceled/missed sessions from the client’s account. As studio manager, I can always override for emergency situations. Regardless, this issue will always be the most difficult part of managing a studio for us.

Patricia Massey Welter

Suncoast Pilates & Personal

Training Studio

Palm Harbor, Florida

I know most trainers have a cancellation policy, but I do not. If someone does cancel and wants to terminate our contract, I refund the unused portion of sessions. If a client cancels a single session due to illness or because “something came up,” we simply reschedule. There is no penalty for the cancellation, even if it is at the last minute.

Before I agree to work with clients, I ask them to complete a “readiness for change” questionnaire. We discuss at length the stages of change, where clients fall in these stages, the obstacles encountered in the past and strategies for overcoming those obstacles. Clearly, a series of missed appointments is a signal that immediate intervention is needed. When that happens, it’s back to figuring out what led to the “back slide” and how to move forward. To penalize a client at this point by enforcing payment for services not rendered doesn’t seem the best strategy to me, although I suppose one could argue it may be just the “stick” that’s needed!

Brenda Salas

Wellness Coordinator,

Montgomery College

Rockville and Germantown, Maryland

We definitely have a cancellation policy at The BioMechanics. It is my belief that every fitness professional or studio should have one, because it is an essential component of a company’s customer service policies. We provide the terms of the policy verbally and in writing to clients at the outset of working with them.

The value in having a cancellation policy from a customer service standpoint is twofold. First, it allows you, as the professional, to maintain regularity in your schedule (and income), since clients are far less likely to cancel if they respect you as a professional with solid business practices. (But more important, clients are less likely to cancel if they know they will be charged for the missed session!) Second, having a cancellation policy sets up clear expectations for your clients regarding how missed sessions will be handled. This issue is important because clients can become upset if they don’t know in advance what will happen if they miss a session, particularly when you charge them for it.

Our policy requires a client to give 24 hours’ notice in the event of a cancellation, or he or she will be charged the full amount of the session. (Genuine emergencies may be excused on a case-by-case basis.) However, we also believe that the cancellation policy should apply favorably toward the client as well. Therefore, if we have to cancel a session on a client with less than 24 hours’ notice, the client will receive a free session from us. This mutual respect for each other’s time and the clear expectations reflected in our cancellation policy have successfully prevented our clients from abusing it.

Mary Bratcher, MA, DipLC

Life Coach, The BioMechanics

San Diego, California

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