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Dealing with Late Clients

Updated: Aug 26

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.

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