Late clients: better late than never?


The late client, sister to the no-show, can topple your schedule and turn your practice into a three-ring circus. Use these four strategies to manage past-due arrivals.

Your first appointment no-shows. Wait, no she didn't, here she is, half-an-hour late. "Late arrivals put a tremendous stress on the team," says Dr. Mary Ann Vande Linde, a practice management consultant with Vande Linde and Associates in Atlanta. "One person can put you 20 to 30 minutes behind.

"The client arrives late, and the receptionist gets stressed trying to handle it—and before you know it, other clients are angry because now they have to wait, you're late for surgery, and team members have to take a late lunch. The situation dominos through the day, and you and your team members are stuck working late."

Use these dos and don'ts to handle the fashionably late with style.

1. Don't let late clients cut. What priority do late clients get? The same as an emergency? They shouldn't, says Dr. Vande Linde. "Putting late clients in front of those who arrive on time will just put stress on your team, because now they have to appease clients who were on time for their appointments but now have to wait."

2. Don't make the client the enemy. Reprimanding, lecturing, or dwelling on when clients were supposed to arrive will just make them defensive. "They know they're late," says Dr. Vande Linde. "So approach it from a 'here are the options from where we are now' standpoint."

3. Do offer options. For example, you could schedule a new appointment: "Dr. Sobusy had to see the next appointment to stay on schedule, but we could schedule you at 3:30 this afternoon or tomorrow morning at this time if that works." You could treat the client as a walk-in: "Unfortunately the doctor had to move on to the next appointment, and we'd be happy to squeeze you in when he has a break between appointments if you'd like to wait." You could offer to board the pet for the day: "We know you're probably just as busy as we are, so if you'd prefer, you can leave Butterball with us for the day. You can pick him up at the end of the day, and you won't have to wait."

4. Do train for trouble. Prepare your front desk team so they know what to say to late clients. For instance, your receptionist might say, "We always enjoy seeing you Mr. Toolayt, and we want the doctor to be able to give you and BonBon the full attention you deserve. So let's see which of these options works best for you." Scripting and role-playing will help your team have the right words on hand at the crucial time.

Inevitably, some clients will get mad. "Late clients who become belligerent and have an audience cause your team the most stress," says Dr. Vande Linde. She suggests that if a client is getting very upset, the doctor, practice manager, or owner take him or her into an exam room or comfort room and have this conversation: "We love having you as a client. However, getting far off schedule compromises what we do. And we want to offer everyone the best care possible. What solutions do you see that might work well for both of us?"

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