I met Simone about two years ago. She has owned a chiropractic and rehabilitation clinic for 12 years and she has seen her fair share of ups and downs. Her clinic was a big hit when they first opened – her community was being overrun wth arthritis and overuse injuries and she was the first healthcare provider to offer a real, tangible solution. But then the recession hit. The clinic managed to keep its head above water and make a slow, but steady recovery.
When I first met her, we were at a small business conference and we had been placed in the same discussion group. The discussion topic was ‘The Biggest Profit Eaters’. Simone mentioned the daily battles that every clinic faces – rising costs, employees needing to take leave, and so on.
As she finished speaking, I asked a question, “And what about cancellations?”
Another group member immediately cut in and said, “Well, yeah, obviously. But I’m guessing Simone already does everything she can do to avoid patient cancellations and no-shows.”
Simone nodded her head and quickly listed off her attempts to quell cancelled appointments – cancellation and no-show policies, appointment reminders, and even attempts to fill cancelled appointments with an appointment waitlist.
I kept quiet and the group moved on.
The discussion wrapped up and everyone migrated into the cafeteria. I got in line, grabbed a tuna sandwich and bottle of water, turned around and spotted a half-full table. As my tray clattered down on the table, another tray clattered down right beside it. It was Simone, with her panini and iced tea. The next words out of her mouth rang true to my ears.
“So cancellations, huh?”
She said it in the most annoyed tone and I empathized with her. I told her that a therapist at the clinic I own had a waitlist that was six weeks long. Yet she still experienced daily cancellations. And these cancellations could end up hitting us where it hurts.
I also told her how our massage therapists typically charged an average of $100 for a 1-hour session. Where there was a cancellations – poof, that money disappeared. And it wasn’t just the revenue that disappeared. Our therapists spend time preparing. They review a client’s file before they come in. They set up the room for whatever particular type of session that client needs. A cancellation means that this is now wasted time and productivity goes right down the drain.
She started laughing in the most understanding way. She then told me about her cancellation struggles. At least once a day someone will call in to cancel. If they’re lucky, it’s 24 hours in advance. All too often though, it’s just a few hours before the appointment. And then she backtracked and said, “You know what, it’s way more than one appointment a day. We regularly get three or four appointment cancellations.”
Then I quickly cut in and said, “You know what though, we’ve found a way to work around cancellations. We still get them, but they aren’t as detrimental.”
She looked up from her panini and just said, “Continue.”
I asked her to first go into more detail about what she was currently doing or had tried to do to address the money pit that is appointment cancellations.
She went into detail, mainly repeating what she had listed off just an hour earlier. They had implemented a cancellations and no-show policy. And to some extent the policy helped to reduce revenue losses. But it didn’t address time spent and productivity wasted. Additionally, it irritated patients who were stuck with what they felt was essentially a fine. The decrease in customer satisfaction didn’t always make up for the recuperated revenue. And as we discussed cancellation and no-show policies in more depth, Simone quickly came to the conclusion that it addresses the symptoms rather than the problem itself.
I then asked her if she was providing patients with appointment reminders. She answered in the affirmative. She was even paying for automated appointment reminders, as manual appointment reminders were taking up too much of her front desk’s time. We agreed that they help and they can catch cancellations earlier, allowing her office more time to fill the vacant appointment. But once again, they failed to solve the problem.
Simone and I had been so entrenched in the conversation that we hadn’t noticed the dwindling crowd in the cafeteria. I checked my phone and saw that the next session was about to start. So we exchanged contact details and headed off in our respective directions.
As the day wound down, I realized I had the tool that Simone and her clinic badly needed. A tool that could turn around what their revenue looked like at the end of each month. But the conference was ending and I had a flight back home. I sent Simone a quick text.
“It was great to meet you today. But I think we need to talk further. Let’s set up a phone call for next week to finish this conversation.”
Two days later, my phone started buzzing and Simone’s number popped up, right on time. I answered and we wasted no time.
“So what about traditional waitlists? Are you using them?” I asked.
“Of course,” she said. “That’s really the only good option we have.”
Her front desk kept a list of individuals who asked that, if there was a cancellation, they were called to fill that opening, rather than waiting weeks to get in. It’s a simple and somewhat effective method. But its effectiveness has limits. Only on the rare occasion that patients call in to cancel well before their appointment did the the front desk have enough time to contact waitlisted patients and give them plenty of notice.
After hearing all of this, I knew what I needed to tell Simone.
“Okay, maybe it’s time to try something new.”
“I’m listening,” she said.
I then dove back into the story that I had told her when we were sitting in the cafeteria just a few days earlier. I told her that I’m a solution-oriented person and that I wasn’t willing to let my clinic lose revenue from something as basic as appointment cancellations. So I did a little bit of brainstorming and a little bit of research.