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Aug 20

Who Pays When a Client is Late?

Posted by: Steve Marr

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When I make an appointment with a client in my consulting work, I set it with a specific starting time. Sometimes, the person arrives late or may not even show. When this happens, what do we do?

I established a policy that states if a person is significantly tardy or fails to show for two appointments, there will be consequences. A person who has trouble arriving for an appointment on time or misses two appointments has a chronic problem related to meeting their commitments. This is something I do not ignore.

I keep my phone line clear for 15 minutes after the agreed appointment time. If I don’t hear from the person within those fifteen minutes, I'm free to go on to other work commitments. Furthermore, if I scheduled a 60 minute appointment and the person calls and arrives 10 minutes late, that appointment just became a 50 minute appointment at the same charge. Why should I bear the cost of someone else’s lack of planning?

A sign in a dentist office read something like “if you arrive late we can make up the time by skipping the freezing of your tooth.” If the dentist enforced this step to reclaim the patient’s tardiness, the customer would likely jump out of the dental chair!

When a client misses appointments altogether, I bill them for 50% of the time. I use the 50% number because I want them to feel some pain, but I don't want them to feel I am taking advantage of them. 

The principle that guides these policies is that I believe the customer needs to bear consequences when they fail to honor their time commitments. In some instances a business may believe they are unable to hold a customer accountable. For example, a hairdresser may feel that if they bill a customer for missed appointments; the client will never return. We all have these reality constraints and need to make judgment calls. In my situation, I need my clients to be engaged in the consulting process and treat the time as extremely valuable.  If they don’t, I know they will not follow through with changes that strengthen their business. For me this is part of the process that helps me eliminate clients who will not engage.

Looking at the situation from the other side, we need to honor our appointments and allow others to hold us accountable for our slips. For example, I was engaged with a client in a very intense issue.  I believed I should not break off the meeting; however, I was going to miss an appointment for a haircut. I insisted that I pay for the missed appointment.  After all, it wasn't my barber’s fault; it was mine.

Jesus said, “All you need to say is simply 'Yes' or 'No'; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.” (Matthew 5:37, NIV) Make this a rule for you and your customers. 

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