top of page

Dealing with Late Clients

Updated: Feb 10

When a client shows up even just a few minutes late to their scheduled appointment, it can cause a domino effect, impacting the rest of the day’s appointments. Not only does this hinder productivity and leave your staff frazzled, but it can dampen the experience for the clients who show up on time. Late shows are a frustrating reality for anyone in the service industry, but there are some things you can do to address and manage past-due arrivals in your veterinary practice.

First and foremost, create a formal late policy. This can entail any or all of the options below, but it should be formalized, documented and clearly communicated to all clients. The last thing you want is to end up with an angry client taking things out on your front desk team when they are told they can’t be seen for their originally scheduled appointment. This isn’t good for your staff, and it looks bad to the other clients who are waiting.

Assess the level of tardiness. If a client is only running a few minutes behind, it may be possible to still see them. However, the doctor may need to shorten the length of time he or she will be able to spend with the client and patient. Make sure the client understands that the appointment is being abbreviated and explain to them in a friendly, professional manner that it’s because they arrived late. Accountability is of the utmost importance.

Put the onus on them. If a client arrives for their appointment too late to be seen right away, one way to handle it is to treat them as if they are an emergency walk-in and place them on the waiting list for the next available opening. This does two things. It helps keep your schedule on track for your other clients, and it makes the experience a little less pleasant for the late-shower. Knowing there are consequences could deter similar behavior in the future.

Provide options. If you don’t or can’t accept walk-ins, offering to reschedule is another option. Simply explain to the client that the doctor had to move on to the next appointment in order to stay on schedule, and then provide a few alternative days/times that would work to reschedule them. Or, you might offer to keep the patient in question for the day so you can squeeze in their appointment when there’s an opening. Think of the various options that are feasible and that you feel comfortable with.

Train and prepare your staff. Whichever option you prefer to go with when dealing with late clients, it’s your front desk team who will be tasked with delivering the news. You want to make sure they’re well-prepared on the policy and capable of communicating that policy in a way that keeps things calm and prevents escalation. If you have to role-play with them until they get it down, do so. The more comfortable they feel with managing tardy clients, the easier it’ll become for everyone.

Last, but not least, be willing to cut ties. If a particular client makes a habit of always showing up late to appointments, it may be time to consider severing ties with them. It’s unfair to your staff and other clients to have the schedule disrupted every time the client in question brings their pet in. If you’re at this point, and you’ve tried all the other options to deter the behavior, simply suggest that they might be better off with a provider who offers a more flexible schedule.

Late shows may be par for the course in the veterinary industry, but they don’t have to completely derail your productivity. Knowing in advance how to deal with these situations can help keep your schedule on track, your staff on task and your business running smoothly.

Our Advice on Dealing with Late Clients in 2024

Why is creating a formal late policy necessary for a veterinary practice?

Creating a formal late policy is crucial for a veterinary practice as it sets clear client expectations and helps manage the schedule efficiently. By documenting and communicating this policy, practices can mitigate disruptions caused by late arrivals, ensuring a smoother workflow and minimizing stress for staff and clients. It also aids in maintaining fairness and quality service for clients who arrive on time, ultimately enhancing the overall client experience and practice reputation.

How should a veterinary practice assess and manage a client's delay?

A veterinary practice should assess a client's tardiness by considering the amount of delay and its potential impact on the day's schedule. Management strategies include shortening the appointment while ensuring the client is aware and understands the reason or treating them as an emergency walk-in with a waiting list slot. This approach maintains accountability, keeps the schedule on track, and emphasizes the importance of punctuality, balancing operational efficiency with client service.

What are the benefits of treating late-arriving clients as emergency walk-ins?

Treating late-arriving clients as emergency walk-ins benefits a veterinary practice by keeping the daily schedule on track and minimizing disruptions for on-time clients. This approach also imparts a natural consequence for tardiness, potentially deterring future late arrivals. It ensures all clients receive care while maintaining a structured workflow, ultimately supporting the practice's commitment to efficiency and high-quality patient care.

How can training and preparing staff help manage late client situations effectively?

Training and preparing staff equips them with the skills and confidence to manage late client situations effectively, ensuring they communicate the practice's policies calmly and clearly. This preparation helps maintain a professional atmosphere, prevents escalation, and facilitates client understanding and compliance. Well-informed staff can gracefully offer alternatives, such as rescheduling or emergency wait-listing, which keeps the practice running smoothly and preserves positive client relationships even in challenging circumstances.

Under what circumstances should a veterinary practice consider cutting ties with chronically late clients?

A veterinary practice should consider cutting ties with chronically late clients when their behavior consistently disrupts the schedule, negatively impacts the staff's ability to provide timely care, and detracts from the experience of other clients. Suppose repeated attempts to address and rectify the issue through communication and implementing late policies fail, and the client is unwilling to change. In that case, severing ties may be necessary to maintain the practice's operational integrity and ensure the well-being of other clients and patients.

What's it like to be a
DVM Elite Member?

Hear from Practice Owners
in our community
Dr. Diana is blown away
Dr. Randy & Beth are transformed
Dr. Leslie can't quite believe it

Dr. Cathie
DVM - Wisconsin

December new clients up 28% over last year!


Dr. Peter achieved time freedom while increasing productivity by implementing the DVM Elite system.


Dr. Laura created a happy and healthy company team and culture through the DVM Elite Dream Team.

randy and beth.png

Beth and Randy were able to maximize their room workflow and productivity for greater profitability.


Dr. Leslie was able to increase her profitability through DVM Elite's Key Strategies.

We do it ALL!


bottom of page