How to Create a Cancellation Policy That Sticks

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If you’re scheduling meetings, classes, virtual consultations, in-person appointments, excursions, or something else entirely, your time is precious—don’t let it go to waste on unexpected no-shows and cancellations. Having a clear cancellation policy will help set expectations with clients who book time with you so your calendar stays full and your cash keeps flowing without interruption.

Don’t have one yet? Here’s how to create a cancellation policy that works for your clients and your business whenever and however you book time.

What is a cancellation policy?

A cancellation policy is a written set of rules clients must stick to if they need to cancel or reschedule their appointment (or if you do). It’s a must-have to set your business up for success, helping you manage your schedule and compensating you for any lost time or revenue if you’re unable to fill a slot due to a last-minute change.

While your cancellation policy will be unique to your business, there are several important elements that will make it strong, easy to follow, and enforceable.

What to include in your cancellation policy

  • A cancellation window: Specify when clients must cancel or reschedule their appointments if they can’t make the original time. Do you need to know 24 hours ahead of time, or 48? Clearly state all deadlines to avoid confusion and late cancellations.

  • Late cancellation fees: What’s the penalty for notifying you outside of this window? Share the fee you’ll charge if clients cancel their appointments after the deadline. Include the amount, as well as how or when it will be charged.

  • Your no-show policy: What happens if clients don’t show up at all? Explain your policy for clients who fail to show up for their appointments without canceling or giving notice of any kind. Specify any additional fees you’ll charge for no-shows.

  • How to contact you: What’s the best way for clients to contact you if they need to cancel or reschedule their appointment? Do you prefer they reach out to you by phone, email, text, or your online booking system? Provide up-to-date contact information so they can get in touch with you at the right time.

  • Exceptions: Will you make exceptions for emergencies, inclement weather, or other extenuating circumstances? If so, explain that in your policy. Provide instructions if clients need to request an exemption or provide proof.

  • How you’ll enforce your policy: If you charge a fee for late cancellations, for example, let your clients know how you’ll collect the fee and if there are any consequences for non-payment. Will you charge the card on file, refund a partial amount of their payment to the original payment method, or something else?

  • A note on policy changes: If your cancellation policy may be subject to change, include this detail along with how clients may be notified of these changes. Encourage them to review the policy regularly for updates.

  • Personal responsibility: Don’t forget that you may need to make changes sometimes, too. Let your clients know what will happen if you personally have to cancel or reschedule your time with them so you always stay on good terms.

Cancellation policy examples

What does it look like when you bring all of these elements together? Here are a couple of examples of cancellation policy wording for anyone selling time and services.

*These examples are for creative inspiration only and are not intended to be used as templates or as legal advice. Please do what is right for you and your business and consult a legal expert if needed when drafting your cancellation policy.

“To maintain consistent and high-quality care for all of our clients, appointment changes must be made at least 24 hours in advance of the scheduled appointment time. If you need to cancel for any reason less than 24 hours prior to your appointment, you will be charged a $50 fee to the card on file. If you do not show up for your scheduled appointment and do not provide sufficient notice, you will be charged the full session fee. We reserve the right to make exceptions in the event of emergencies at our team’s discretion. If you have any questions about this policy or need to make adjustments, please contact our office at the number below so we may make appropriate accommodations for your time and well-being. This policy is subject to change and the most up-to-date version can be found on our website.”

“As your captain, I rely on your commitment to our scheduled trips. To ensure smooth sailing, I have set the following cancellation policy. If you will not be able to set sail, please email me at least 48 hours before your scheduled departure time to cancel and receive a full refund. If you cancel less than 48 hours before our scheduled departure time, you will incur a 50% fee. No-shows will be charged the full amount. Your safety is my top concern, so in the event of inclement weather, I will contact you within 12 to 24 hours prior to departure to reschedule or refund your deposit to your original payment method, whichever you prefer. I thank you for your understanding and look forward to sailing with you on the high seas.”

How to ensure your cancellation policy works as hard as you do

Rolling out your cancellation policy is as important as writing it. Follow these best practices when considering how you’ll set up your policy and hold appointment-holders accountable.

Communicate your cancellation policy

You may have heard this one before: communication is key. Ensure clients are aware of your policy before and after booking by making it:

  • Easy to understand by using plain language

  • Hard to miss by displaying it in your website’s FAQ, on your client scheduling page, in your workspace or studio, or other areas that see high traffic

  • Part of your booking process by building it into client intake forms, appointment confirmations and reminders, and more

Educate your staff

If you have a team behind you (or even if you’re a team of one!), train everyone on your cancellation policy. Your staff should be able to effectively communicate the policy to clients and enforce it when necessary.

Stay flexible (but not too bendy)

While it’s important to consistently enforce your cancellation policy, be willing to make exceptions in certain circumstances, such as emergencies. This flexibility, while limited, can help maintain positive relationships with your clients.

Provide other options

Offer clients alternatives to canceling appointments, like rescheduling or transferring the appointment to another person. This can help minimize the impact of cancellations on your schedule.

Ask for feedback

Ask your clients for feedback on your cancellation policy and how it could be improved. With these insights, you can make adjustments to better meet the needs of your clients while protecting your time.

Make changes as needed

Regularly review your cancellation policy based on feedback and performance to ensure it’s getting the job done. If necessary, make adjustments to better support your clients and further reduce the rate of no-shows and late cancellations.

Use scheduling software

Establishing a clear and enforceable cancellation policy is crucial for appointment-based businesses. It helps keep your schedule running smoothly while protecting your revenue. To make the process even simpler, trust Acuity Scheduling to take the load off your shoulders.

Using Acuity’s scheduling software, you can easily set limits on when clients can book, edit, or cancel appointments, automate important tasks like appointment notifications and reminders, and require clients to agree to cancellation policies and terms when they book to minimize missed sessions.

With the right cancellation policy in place, and the right scheduling software taking work off your plate, you can focus on providing the excellent service that makes clients show up for you time and time again. Wouldn’t that be great?

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