How to Handle Missed Appointments

A Blog Post by Brian Miller

I got up early on a Saturday morning, usually one of the few days I might get to catch up on my sleep. A new client had signed up, which for a new coach is quite affirming. This client had a very demanding job and lived in a different time zone, so we ended up scheduling at 6:30am on Saturday morning. The early rise was rough but the joy I always received from coaching this client was worth the effort.

Preparation is key to me so I wanted to be sure I was in an environment conducive for a great coaching session. I decided to go to my church office for this call, which required a little more effort and a drive in the dark. Settling into my chair, I powered up the computer, pulled my headset over my ears, and waited for my client to call.

6:30am – He didn’t call.

6:34am – He didn’t call.

6:41am – He didn’t call.

Sometimes people forget. Sometimes something comes up. I had determined at this point in my career to give my client 15 minutes before I gave up.

6:45am – He still didn’t call.

Here is where it all went wrong. I was irritated. It might not have been as bad if I hadn’t gone to so much effort. I texted my client that he had missed the call. He responded quickly and apologetically. He had forgotten.

I was still in a slow broil. My contract says that if you miss an appointment without prior notification, it is still a paid appointment. This wasn’t any problem. He had purchased six sessions. It wasn’t like I was going to have to bill him, but something insidious inside me felt the need for one more step. I texted him and let him know that this would be a paid session. He responded quickly, “That’s fine.”

We never coached again. He passively refused to set up another appointment. I called my mentor coach (mentor coaches are a must) and told him what had happened and how I responded. He had two observations.

  1. I was right to charge him for the session.
  2. I was wrong to tell him.

The contract was clear. The only reason to tell him was to inflict a bit of injury to compensate for the injury I felt in being forgotten. It was inappropriate. If I had known this, I might still be coaching him. He was a joy to coach. And I might be coaching his peers as well. He had already mentioned it.

Here are five ways to avoid missed calls and the messes they create.

  1. Send a prep form to the client a week before the appointment to create steps toward your appointment.
  2. Send a reminder (email or text message) 12 hours before the appointment. Include information on how to connect.
  3. If a client is 5 minutes late, send a reminder (email or text).
  4. If the client consistently cancels or forgets, have a conversation (phone or in-person) to re-establish your agreement. Inconsistency will damage the coaching effectiveness.
  5. If the client behavior doesn’t change, end the coaching relationship (phone or in-person). You would be co-dependent to continue in a relationship that is not working appropriately.

Going back to my mentor’s advice, I was right for there to be a consequence to the client’s faulty action. I was wrong in the way I carried it out. Often, we are hesitant to show any negative reaction for fear of upsetting the client. This has been a hard lesson for me to learn.

The first three ways to avoid missed calls are preventative. If you take these three steps, clients will unlikely ever forget an appointment.

If forgetting is nearly illuminated and you’re still having problems with a client missing appointments, it is time to have a conversation with the client. This conversation should be at the beginning of your next appointment not added on to the end. As the coach, you should guide the exploration into what is causing the problem. This may feel like you are high jacking the client’s agenda, which you normally would not do. But this is a process issue and must be resolved to insure fruitful coaching results.

If the client is still not able to establish regular coaching appointments, something deeper is wrong. It is possible you somehow did not establish a strong enough relationship prior to the beginning of coaching. It is also possible that the client is not healthy enough for coaching and needs to pursue another avenue of help. There are many other possible problems as well. There might be some opportunity to explore what might be more helpful to the client other than coaching, but be careful not assume exactly what the problem is.

What do you do to avoid missed appointments?

My friend Mary Selzer sent me an email with this addendum:

When I have a new client, I send an email reminder a couple of days before. Once they get in the routine, I don’t send reminders anymore. If they happen to miss, I fill the time with another activity and don’t contact them until the next day – “I thought we had an appointment yesterday afternoon, but I may be mistaken. Did we miss a call?” That sort of makes them feel a little more guilty because they think I waited an entire day to hear from them. 😊 Rarely do they miss again. The few who are inconsistent are the ones who don’t see the value in coaching and they eventually disappear, which keeps me from having to break up with them.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

One thought on “How to Handle Missed Appointments

  1. Hi Brian! thanks for this coaching post. I haven’t had anyone cancel on me or been late, but that is probably because I have not had a lot of coaching sessions going on lately. To be honest, I probably would have responded the same way you did. Thank you again for sharing what your mentor told you and the steps to help us and our clients be on the same page from the get go. Reminds me that I need to prepare a pre form too. Good Stuff!

    Thanks CAM!

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