I had to cancel a full day of appointments due to a family emergency. My secretary called all the clients to reschedule their appointments. This went smoothly except there was one client that she couldn’t reach. She even took the phone number home with her and tried several times in the evening and also early the next morning. She couldn’t leave a message because there was no answering machine or voice mail.
Unfortunately, as we later learned, the client had gone to a workshop and was planning to come for her appointment directly from her workshop. She lives about an hour from my practice, and the workshop she had gone to was an hour from her home in the other direction. This meant that she drove two hours to get to the appointment, and then had to drive an hour home without seeing anyone. Needless to say she was quite angry and she made quite a fuss with my secretary.
My secretary was calm in handling the client, she knew it was the situation and not her that the anger was directed. Both my secretary and I feel badly that this happened. The client refused to reschedule an appointment. What can you do when you can’t reach a client in an emergency situation?
A. First let me applaud your secretary for taking the telephone number home with her to try calling after hours, and also for maintaining her composure during the client’s complaint. These are the kind of “extra steps” that demonstrate your effort to provide a good service experience with your clients. Unfortunately, there were forces at work that you could not control, specifically, your client had no means of receiving messages in her own absence.
While no one anticipates the need to cancel appointments as being routine, it’s a good idea to plan around this possibility. As part of the information you have on file, you might ask your clients how to reach them in an emergency. They may give you a cell phone number, or the number of a friend or relative with whom they always “check-in”.
It is also helpful to have a cancellation policy in place, with copies provided to clients, so that they know what it is. A 24-hour notice is usual, but there could still be a situation where even 24-hours isn’t available due to the nature of the emergency.
You might consider including in your policy a suggestion that clients who live a certain distance away, particularly if they don’t have voice mail or cell phones, to call to confirm their appointments. You’ll have to weigh this against the possible message you think that request would send.
Send your client a letter apologizing again for her inconvenience, and offer her something of value as a “goodwill gesture”. This might be a gift certificate to a favored store, a gift basket of gourmet goodies or flowers sent to her home or office, or a free service or consultation on one of your service areas that you know she’s been wanting.
If your client continues to refuse to reschedule an appointment, let it go for now, but do follow-up again in six to eight weeks. If she still is not interested, you’ve done your best. And, frankly, it may be for the best.
Make sure to express your appreciation to your secretary for the efforts that she took to try to make this a good experience for the client. An unexpected “thank you” gesture goes a long way. Her actions are to be commended.