10 Strategies to Help Your Patients Keep Appointments
Everyone is busy, and convincing your patients to keep appointments, especially for routine and non-urgent office visits can be a challenge. Looming work deadlines, family obligations, and social commitments can all seem more important in your patients’ minds than a routine oral hygiene appointment or an eye exam.
However, missed appointments can be detrimental to your practice, and your clients also suffer by not getting the care they need. If you’re dealing with cancellations because your patients are busy and strapped for time, we’ve got 10 tips that can help you increase your show-up rates while also strengthening the relationship you have with your patients.
Remind Your Customers About Their Appointments
Arguably, the most effective strategy is to simply remind your customers that they have an upcoming appointment. Relying on your busiest customers to automatically remember their appointments is going to result in a lot of missed and forgotten office visits.
Even your most organized customers will probably appreciate a quick call or text reminding them a day or two in advance. But before you start bombarding your patients with appointment reminders, there are some best practices to keep in mind. For most scenarios, there’s an ideal window of time to reach out to the customer. That timeframe is typically 24 to 72 hours before the appointment. It’s close enough to the appointment time to serve as a reminder, but far enough away for them to make rescheduling arrangements with your office if that is necessary.
With today’s systems and technologies, you also have several options to deliver your appointment reminders, such as:
- Phone calls
- Text messages
Texting is a convenient method that’s easy to set up, and with Weave’s smart appointment confirmation options, it can be configured to work with almost any customer base. If you’re not sure what your customers prefer, ask them. For more tips on best practices for using your appointment reminder software, check out this article called Three Reasons Your Practice Should be Using Automated Reminders.
Make it Inconvenient for Customers to Cancel
As much as we dislike it when customers cancel, we often make it very convenient for them. A cancellation call often goes something like this, “hi Jenny, this is Jared. I have an appointment scheduled today, but I am not going to be able to make it.” To which Jenny would respond something like this. “No problem Jared, let’s go ahead and find a time that will work for you.” At first glance, this seems like a great way to handle a cancellation call. But, if you look a little bit closer, you have made it very convenient for your customer to reschedule which will likely lead to more reschedules and cancellations in the future.
Instead of letting customers do something very inconvenient for your office while finding another time that “works for them”, set some rules about how your staff is able to reschedule customers. Those rules could look like this:
- If a customer cancels their appointment, they are not allowed to get back on the schedule for at least three weeks. This communicates that your time is scarce and in high demand. Your front office could say, “is there anything we can do to help you make it to your appointment because we wouldn’t be able to get you in again for at least three weeks”. The customer might still cancel their appointment, but they will be less likely to cancel again next time.
- If a customer cancels their appointment, they are not allowed to take a prime-time appointment spot when they reschedule. Again, you are communicating scarcity and making it inconvenient for them to reschedule. If they ask for a convenient time slot, your front office can say something like, “that time is very popular and is typically booked months in advance”. Then they could give them some options for other times that are available.
Many offices are hesitant to implement a policy like this because they are worried about offending customers. This is a legitimate concern, which is why having a policy that is adhered to with every patient is so important. If you have the policy set in stone, you can train your customers to understand that your time is valuable. If you adhere to this policy with every customer, you may lose a few customers over it, but your schedule will be significantly more productive because of the time that you won’t lose to broken appointments.
Ensure Your Information is Up to Date
If you’re sending appointment reminders, it’s important to remember that this system is only as good as the accuracy of your contact information. If your customers’ phone numbers and email addresses are outdated, then they’re not going to get your messages.
We recommend checking in with customers every 6 months to 1 year and asking them to confirm that their contact details are current and accurate.
Manage Your Schedule
No one likes to be kept waiting, and while some wait time is inevitable, take a look at your office flow to make sure your customers aren’t waiting longer than they should. If your customers are waiting for several minutes, then they might feel like their time isn’t’ being valued. They’re busy, remember?
And, if they don’t get the sense that you value their time, it’s going to be harder for you to convince them to value yours. By having your office staff greet them promptly and then allowing them to be seen with a minimal wait time, they’ll be more willing to sacrifice time out of their busy schedule to keep their appointments.
Make sure you let them know that you appreciate their promptness and attention to their health. Again, when they know that you respect their time, they’ll be more likely to respect yours in return.
Implement a Cancellation or No-Show Policy
If missed and canceled appointments have gotten out of hand, you may need to implement a cancellation or no-show policy to deal with these extreme cases. Some offices institute a nominal fee ranging from $5 to $20 to enforce their policy.
Other offices, understandably, elect not to fine their customers. Instead, they find that just publishing their policy and displaying it prominently in the office and all written customer communications is equally effective without seeming heavy-handed.
Most people are happy to comply with a request if you simply ask. So, why not ask your customers to notify you at least 24 hours in advance if they won’t be able to make their appointment? You can explain that it opens up space for other customers to be seen. When they understand that it’s polite and the right thing to do, they’re more likely to comply.
Offer Fun Rewards for Showing up on Time
Many offices have seen excellent results in show-up rates by doing raffle drawings that incentivize customers to show up on time for their appointments. An example of this in action would be to give a raffle ticket to a customer for showing up on time for their appointment. Each month, one or more tickets could be drawn, and the winner gets a prize, like an iPad, a gift certificate to a local restaurant, or some other desirable prize.
Fire Customers Who Repeatedly Miss
It can be tough to “fire” a customer, but if one of your business has clients who are constantly missing appointments and not showing any improvement in behavior and attitude, it might be time to let them go.
Consider the effect they have on other customers who aren’t able to get in to see you because this person has taken up an appointment slot. Consider the negative effect it has on your staff’s morale when they have to monitor this customer and handle no-show appointments and rescheduling challenges. Consider the example it sets for other customers who might observe this patient breezing into the office 20 minutes late or hearing your staff on the phone rescheduling yet another missed appointment.
If this person is harming your office or having an effect on the care your clients receive, then it could be time to refer them out.
Nurture Customer Relationships
Work on having a positive rapport with your customers. Make them feel like welcome friends in your office. By showing that you value the relationship you have, they’ll, in turn, enjoy coming to your office. It’s easy to cancel an appointment that you don’t look forward to, especially if you don’t like going to the office. However, if your customers genuinely enjoy seeing your staff and chatting with you about tennis (for example), then they’ll be less likely to dismiss their appointments.
Schedule Appointments When They’re Still in the Office
Before your customer walks out the door, make sure your staff schedules their next appointment. It can be helpful to discuss the calendar in person and having a conversation with someone face to face can be more compelling and memorable than a phone call, email or text. This also helps the patient experience momentum and the positive reinforcement that comes with taking care of their health.
For example, if your patient has just had their teeth cleaned, your staff should schedule their next cleaning on the spot. The patient is already feeling great about the steps they’ve taken to maintain their oral care, and they’ll be more likely to take the commitment of their next appointment seriously when they make it in your office rather than waiting three months later when they schedule a cleaning just because they know they’re supposed to. This also gives you and your office staff a chance to explain the importance of the appointment, so it’s etched in their mind. This applies to any service that your business has provided.
Identify and Track Cancellation Reasons
Using a system like Weave, you can easily document and track cancellation reasons. Taking a data-driven approach allows you to identify patterns and then proactively adjust your procedures to increase show-up rates.
For example, let’s say your office staff notices an increase in cancellations between 5 pm and 6 pm. Maybe your clients are having a hard time getting out of work or they’re stuck in traffic. You could consider moving these customers’ appointments or building in a time cushion and explaining to your customers that you know traffic can be hectic and that you’re okay with them being a little bit late in these instances.
Whether you choose a low-tech or high-tech system to manage your appointments, the key is to pick a method and stay consistent.