Recently I made the decision to move my salon, Nailed It, to a larger location in order to accommodate our growing clientele. One evening during the move, as I was crawling around on the floor, covered in construction dust, trying to find a way to secure a power strip to the bottom of a glass nail table, the phone rang. When my employee glanced at the caller ID she sang out, “You’re in trouble,” because it was my hairstylist on the line, calling to find out why I was a half-hour late for my appointment.
Sometimes it happens to the best of us, and it’s a problem that every salon occasionally has to deal with: clients who book appointments and then show up terribly late or, even worse, don’t show up at all. Unfortunately, clients who miss appointments without calling to cancel are wasting your time as well as preventing you from filling your day with appointments that produce revenue, and while it’s impossible to completely stop no-shows from happening, with a little planning you can reduce them greatly and minimize the effect they have on your bottom line.
It’s always best to think proactively and stop a problem before it starts. To do that, you should have a clear policy in place for handling problem clients before you need to use it. Make sure your policy is posted on your web page and that your clients have read and understand it. Then, stick to it! It may be difficult to turn away a client who shows up late, but if you don’t enforce your policy it becomes meaningless. If you say on your website that you’ll refuse service to anyone who is more than 15 minutes late, then do it. Allen Mierisch, owner of Imaginations Hair Salon in Racine, Wis., says, “I let my clients know that my schedule is usually completely full up to three weeks in advance. So if they’re late, and I have to turn them away because I don’t have enough time to complete their service, it’s going to be a while before I can get them rescheduled.” Typically you only have to enforce the policy once for the client to realize you mean business and start showing up on time.
It’s also important to understand that you teach your clients how to behave. If you don’t respect their time, you can’t expect them to place any value on yours. When you’re always running late, either because you’re doing services on clients who showed up late or you’re overbooking your schedule, then you’re telling them it’s OK for them to be late as well since you probably won’t be ready anyway.
Additionally, you should always make sure you have the correct contact information on file so that you can confirm their appointments in advance, or follow up if they don’t show up for their booking. Even regular clients sometimes change their phone numbers, so ask if it needs to be updated when they rebook their next appointment. Then, be sure to give them an appointment card, even if they say they don’t need one. “I don’t care if I see them entering the appointment into their phone, I give them a card anyway,” Mierisch says. “Even if it gets tossed in their purse, chances are they’ll see it between appointments and it will help them remember their commitment.”
Once you have your policies in place, almost everyone agrees that the next step to preventing no-shows is to have an appointment confirmation procedure worked out. What’s not so easy to decide is the best way to get those reminders out, who to confirm with, and when.
“I only call to confirm appointments with new clients, and I don’t actually ask them to confirm,” says Mierisch. “I ask if they still plan on coming to the salon for their appointment because if not, I have someone on a waiting list who is willing to take their spot.” Even if you don’t have an appointment waiting in the wings for an available slot, giving a person the opportunity to bow out of their commitment without feeling like they’re disappointing you may get you a more honest answer. Whether you only confirm with new clients or send out reminders with each and every booking, it’s important to remain consistent. Mierisch says, “If you do confirmation calls for every appointment then your clients are going to learn to depend on them, and if you forget to make a call, don’t expect them to remember to show up.”
Confirmation calls aren’t the only way to remind your clients of their appointments though, and while some research suggests that phone calls are more effective at preventing no-shows than other forms of communication, it only works if you’re able to speak with the person over the phone. Leaving voice messages is no more effective at getting your clients in the chair than a SMS text or e-mail. Since most nail salons don’t have the time or resources to devote to calling a person repeatedly in order to speak to them directly, an automated confirmation system can lower your stress level while increasing your revenue.
There are many calendar management systems that will automatically send out confirmation e-mails or SMS texts 24 hours before a scheduled appointment. At Nailed It, we use Store Vantage (www.storevantage.com), a web-based calendar program that includes, at no additional cost, the option to set up automatic appointment reminders for each new client entered into the system. Since your calendar is hosted on a web server, it also gives you the ability to book appointments from computers connected to the Internet, or any smart phone, a feature that provides you with the opportunity to increase your revenue even when you’re away from the salon.
If you already have a salon management system in place that doesn’t support confirmation reminders, or you are looking for a more interactive solution for your business, Demandforce (www.demandforce.com) integrates with many popular business management software packages and takes confirmation texts and e-mails to the next level. When a client receives a reminder through Demandforce, she is asked to confirm the appointment by sending a reply text or by clicking an e-mail link. If she doesn’t confirm, you then have the option to give her space away to someone else. Demandforce also works in conjunction with Google Calendar, blocking off the time on your client’s personal calendar when she confirms the appointment, and sending additional reminders through Google.
After the Missed Appointment
If, despite all of your efforts to confirm the appointment, a client still doesn’t show up, it’s important to give them a call. This accomplishes a few things: first, you can make sure they’re all right and show them that you care for their well being. Clients are less likely to no-show in the future if they feel they have a relationship with their service provider. You can help nurture that personal connection just by checking in on them. Secondly, it can help diffuse any embarrassment they might feel if they simply forgot their appointment, especially when you tell them “I’m just happy you’re OK.” Then, after you’ve reassured them, you have an opportunity to reschedule the appointment and not miss out on the potential for future revenue. However, if you don’t make that call, chances are you’ll lose the client forever.
At Nailed It, our policy for no-shows is to forgive and forget the first time it happens. Even with all of our confirmations and safeguards, life can swing out of control and appointments get missed. In those situations, we always want to proceed with care and compassion rather than trying to shame clients into good behavior. Otherwise we could drive away good people who just happen to be going through a rough patch in life, like I was when I recently no-showed for my hair appointment. By being gracious and understanding, after I apologized profusely and promised it would never happen again, my stylist secured a customer for life.
Occasionally you will run across someone who repeatedly misses appointments no matter what you do. You can try to counteract the effect they have on your revenue by not allowing them to pre-book appointments. Instead, have them call on the day they would like to come in to see if there’s any availability. If you rarely have last-minute openings available in your schedule, try putting them in at the end of the day. Then, if they don’t show up, at least you can head home early. When their habits become too disruptive to your business, it’s time to let them go.
It’s never an easy conversation to have, and in this case it’s better not to have it face-to-face in order to avoid a scene at your salon. Give them a call or drop them an e-mail, and simply tell them you believe their needs would be better met at a different salon. If you’re able, recommend a nearby place that has walk-in availability. Be polite, but firm. Remember that they aren’t just wasting your time, they’re costing you money.
Just remember that whatever policies and procedures you ultimately put in place, the best way to prevent no-shows and late arrivals is through outstanding customer service and quality. Because if you are known for the amazing nails you do, you’ll build a clientele that would rather die than miss their appointment.
Nail tech Anne Schlegel is the owner of Nailed It! (www.naileditsalon.com) in Racine, Wis.