People want what they can’t have. They also want things that other people want.

The concept of scarcity can help a business sell just about anything, and it can also help your patients and customers keep their appointments.

In marketing, scarcity works by creating the perception that a resource is limited to make it more valuable. Sometimes the supply of something is indeed limited, though it’s not unusual for a company to exaggerate a sense of scarcity to urge a customer to act.

There are three different ways to communicate scarcity, and all have a powerful effect on the human psyche:

  1. People who can access rare items feel like they are getting exclusive access. This feeling is akin to being a VIP.
  2. Scarce items are perceived as more valuable. Because there is less, there can be more demand, driving the price up.
  3. Those who have access to scarce items can be seen as more powerful.

Diamonds are a classic example of the scarcity phenomenon even though diamonds actually aren’t rare at all. In fact, they’re more common than most precious stones. And yet, they are more expensive because the owners of diamonds have artificially limited the supply to the masses. They’ve also created sophisticated advertising campaigns communicating how desirable they are. They are considered the ultimate status symbol.

People seek out diamonds and are willing to pay more for them because they think they’re scarce when the scarcity is artificially created through diamond sellers.

Scarcity isn’t just about securing a physical good. It is also helpful in creating a sense of urgency. A sale that ends in 24 hours or a store that has limited hours will also help to encourage people to act now and act quickly.

So, how can you use the concept of scarcity to encourage customers to keep their appointments?

Here are our top 9 tips for creating scarcity in your business:

1. Announce a Price Increase

The costs of goods and services are always rising, and customers know to expect the announcement of a price increase from time to time. When current customers are grandfathered in at their current price, they feel like they are getting more value for the price they have always been paying.

If you announce a price increase in advance, then your customers will understand that they have a limited time to make it to their appointment before the price of an office visit or procedure rises.

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2. Set Limitations for Rescheduling Appointments that are Not Kept

When a patient or customer calls and says that they are not going to be able to keep their appointment, many people respond by saying, “no problem, let’s go ahead and get that rescheduled”. This communicates two things that we don’t necessarily want to communicate. First, that them breaking their appointment is no problem, and second, that it is going to be easy to get them rescheduled.

Make rules about when you can get someone back on the schedule. For example, one office that we spoke with has a rule that they can’t reappoint a broken appointment within one month of the broken appointment. This changes the conversation to look more like this, “oh, I’m so sorry to hear that. Our schedule is pretty full, but let me see when we could get you in. It looks like the soonest we can get you in would be _______ (date more than a month away).

While the person may still choose to break their appointment, they will be more hesitant to do the same thing the next time they call. You have communicated scarcity.

3. Limit Your Hours

You’ve probably seen other offices with incredibly long days. They might start seeing patients as early 7:00 a.m. and then go until 9:00 p.m. When you’re open this many hours, it can give the impression that people can come in at any time. And, it’s no wonder they would think that because they literally can.

To combat a potentially lackadaisical attitude about keeping appointments, consider limiting your posted hours. You might publish hours that are something like this:

Monday – Thursday: 9:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.

Friday-Saturday: By appointment only

Sunday: Closed

When your patients know that your hours are limited, it’s in their best interest to keep their appointment or risk not being able to secure an opening at a time that’s convenient for them.

4. Offer “By Appointment Only”

Notice in the above example that Fridays and Saturday hours were only available for appointments? This message conveys that if a patient books an appointment, the time slot is specifically available for them and no one else. The doctor is making it a point to see them in particular instead of having openly available hours.

When a patient has an appointment in one of these specially designated times, it’s more like an official plan, like having lunch with a friend, not just an appointment during traditional office hours.

5. Book Appointments Close Together

When your patients or customers show up for their appointments, your office will give the impression of working like a well-oiled machine, with people coming in and out. There will be a constant buzz of activity.

Conversely, if patient appointments are spread too far apart, then there might only be one or two people in your office at a time. It can give people the idea that your office isn’t busy so people can come in and out whenever they please.

6. Create FOMO (Fear of Missing Out)

By having a lot of people coming in and out of your office close together (courtesy of booking close together), you are able to show that your office is popular, and people are clamoring to get in. You could very well be seeing all of your patients in a single 90-minute window, but to the outside world, it looks like you have a steady stream of patients all day long.

This perception also serves to create scarcity because when patients see how busy you are each time they go to your office, they might worry how long it will take to secure another appointment if they cancel the one they have on the books.

7. Offer VIP Treatment

People love the idea of having exclusive access to something. Not only does it provide them with distinction, but it also affords them a better experience. That’s why people love to fly first class or secure VIP tickets at a concert or event.

You can offer the same type of experience for your customers. The concept is similar to larger hotels that have a Preferred Guest line or a special floor that only their special guests can access.

To implement this strategy, create a VIP club for patients who consistently show up for appointments and offer them something that not all of your patients get. For example, you can give them special gifts (within the requirements of the law) or offer express payment options so they don’t have to wait to have their payments processed at the end of an appointment.

8. Tell Patients What Your Availability is Rather Than the Other Way Around

When a patient is making an appointment, it might be tempting to ask, “When would you like to come in?” After all, they know their schedule best, and probably have an idea of what works for their calendar. However, too much flexibility can be a bad thing, especially if you’re trying to communicate scarcity.

Instead, limit the patient to a couple of options and let them choose from those. If the initial times don’t work, prompt them about their schedule so that you can discover what limitations they’re facing.

For example:

Office Manager: The doctor has availability on Tuesday at 11 a.m. or Wednesday at 3 p.m. Which of those times would you prefer?

Patient: Oh, actually, I can’t make either of those times.

Office Manager: I see. What tends to work best for you? Mornings or afternoons?

Patient: Ideally, the earlier in the morning, the better.

Office Manager: Great, the doctor does have just a couple of morning openings next week. How about Thursday at 7:30 a.m.?

Patient: That works great.

Throughout this dialogue, the office manager never relinquished control or gave the patient free rein to schedule their own appointment. If a patient knows that the doctor’s time is limited, then he or she is more likely to honor it.

9. Use an ASAP List and Use that to Let Customers Know That There are Others Who Would Like to Get In

People, in general, are decent human beings. Few will schedule an appointment with the intention of breaking it. Still, some people do find it tough to manage their schedule, and when they’re juggling a lot of commitments, it can be easy for them to get overwhelmed and decide that making it to their appointment is low on their list of priorities.

For this reason, it’s helpful to inform a patient why it’s important for them to keep their appointment. When you contact them for their appointment reminder, remind them of the reason they booked the appointment and let them know that if they need to cancel, to let you know as soon as possible so that someone else who’s on the waiting list for a visit can utilize the appointment time.

This type of message conveys that your schedule is completely booked, and people are waiting to be seen. Not only does this encourage the patient to keep their appointment, but this information is likely to stick with them if they are considering a cancellation. They’ll logically conclude that if they cancel now, it might be a while before they can secure a new appointment.

Helpful Tip: Don’t create “false” scarcity.

It’s never good form to mislead a patient about how busy you are or create a false sense of scarcity. The idea behind scarcity in these instances is to encourage patients to follow through with care while allowing your office to operate at a profit and maintain an organized schedule.

The list of tips in this guide should motivate your customers to keep their appointments without you having to resort to anything “tricky” to get compliance. By respecting your patients and their intelligence, they’re more likely to appreciate your office and your business as well.