What if YOU have to Cancel on a Client?

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cancel last minute meme

In personal training, a client canceling their session on you is a common occurrence.  But what if you have to cancel on them?  How should you handle it?  That is the theme of this article and it is an important one.  In my opinion a trainer cancelling their sessions – and how they handle it – is the number one way an otherwise good trainer will lose clients and ultimately lose their job.

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Life happens.  The kids get sick, you get sick, the power goes out, there is a horrible traffic jam on the way to work.  You cannot control everything and sometimes even the most organized and dedicated trainers will have to cancel a session.  It should happen very rarely, but at some point it likely will happen.  What should you do and how should you handle it?

Relate this to a situation you are likely familiar with – a client canceling on you.  If they give you tons of notice it isn’t as big of a deal.  If it happens extremely rarely and they seem to put their best foot forward on all other occasions, you will be more forgiving.  Clients will treat you the same way.  If you can give them more than a days notice that is not so bad and everyone can re-arrange the schedule.  If you are going on vacation and give plenty of notice I have found clients to be fine with that, particularly if you attempt to fit their sessions in before or after you leave.  But the thrust of this article is how to deal with last minute cancellations.

If you have to cancel last minute, still give as much notice as possible.  Even an extra 15 minutes might save the person the headache of showing up and waiting for you.  Try to contact them via various methods so they are not wondering where you are.  Call them, text them, message them, call the gym if necessary and leave a message with the front desk attendant.  Even if it is overkill it shows you care and are concerned about their time.

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Don’t lie about why you missed the session.  When we put ourselves in a position where we look bad, we want to save face.  It is a natural instinct.  It appears to be helpful (to us) if we can place the blame elsewhere.  It is very common for people to white lie (or worse) in these situations.   “Oh the traffic was so bad, that is why I am 30 min late,” or “my relative is sick and so I couldn’t make it in”.  There might have been some traffic and maybe you have a sick relative but just be honest.  “I messed up, I am really sorry, it is my fault, and I won’t let that issue happen again.”  People respect when someone just fesses up and takes the blame.  And if they find out you were lying and/or exaggerating (and with social media it isn’t that hard – if your relative is so sick you cancel on me, why is there a picture of you partying on Facebook the night before?) that will really sour the relationship.

Offer a make-up session.  If you cancel the session last minute or no show, you should immediately offer a make-up session.  The goal for the person is still to get their workout in.  If you are canceling with short notice, this is a significant inconvenience for the client.  You in turn should be willing to inconvenience yourself with a make-up session.  Ask the client what are some times they can still train and do your best to fit the missed workout in so they can still progress toward their goals.

Remember, most clients don’t workout that frequently anyway.  This is a broad generalization, but an easy way to look at it is as follows:

                Training 4 x week: Optimal Results

                Training 3 x week: Good results

                Training 2 x week: Minimum necessary for results, good for maintenance

                Training 1 x week: Minimal results for beginners; minimum for maintenance

It is a rare client that trains 4 times a week.  This means we are left with clients training 1, 2, or 3 times a week.  The client will cancel occasionally anyway and they will go on vacations, etc so most clients are lucky to truly average training 2 times a week every week over the long haul.  If you compound that situation with regular cancellations on your part you are really hindering their fitness progress.  If you have to cancel the session, do your best to give a make-up session.  If the client can’t do that, so be it, but it should be offered.

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Give the client a free session.  When a client signs up with a trainer, if they cancel they are still charged.  Part of the justification for that is people do need motivation to get their butt in gear and there is a penalty for missing the session.  The same needs to be true for a trainer.  If you cancel last minute you should offer a make-up session AND you should give the client a free session.  This will help keep you honest and will help keep the cancelled sessions down to an absolute minimum.

Do a periodic assessment of yourself.  One of the nice things about personal training is that you are often your own boss in most respects.  Even if you work for a gym, once you are established most gyms leave you alone as long as you are making money and clients aren’t complaining.  But there is a negative to this as well, in that you can become compliancent and you may not hold yourself up to a high enough standard.  You may not even be aware of the habits you are forming.

Just like when your clients cancel you should keep a record of that for billing, you should keep a record of how often you cancel on your clients.  Again, I have not found clients to get too upset about pre-scheduled vacations and time off unless you are gone so frequently they can’t establish a regular routine.  But last minute cancellations is another story and clients will have little patience for this.  It is simply unprofessional and should be avoided at all costs if you are serious about your job.  Here is how I would look at the cancellations:

  • 1 or fewer cancellations per 100 sessions – excellent, this is the standard to shoot for
  • 1 or fewer cancellations per 50 sessions – pretty good, clients will likely not complain about this
  • 1 cancellation per 25 sessions – if you are really good in other respects this is about the most a client will put up with, and with every new cancellation (regardless of excuse) they will be thinking about finding a new trainer
  • 2 or more cancellations per 25 sessions – say goodbye to that client, they won’t be around for a long

                                                            arnold cancel meme

In summary, there may be times when you have to cancel on a client at the last minute.  If you do the following it will help minimize their frustration:

  • Contact them as soon as possible
  • Contact them through several methods so you know they get the message
  • Offer a make-up session at a time of their convienence
  • Give them another free session on top of the make-up session
  • Be truthful about why you had to cancel (with them and with yourself)
  • Record how often you cancel on clients so you will truly understand if this is an issue for you or not
  • Keep last minute cancelations to an absolute minimum (1 or less per year is the goal; 1 or more per month will cause problems)

No matter how ‘good’ of a trainer you might be on paper, no matter what certifications or education you have, if you are not there you are not helping the client.  You can't do your job if you don't show up.  If clients are not renewing with you (or even worse asking to transfer to someone else) you are not helping them.  There is a saying that half of life is just showing up – well half (or more) of personal training is just being there for the client without fail.  Make the client and their sessions a high priority and they are very likely to do the same with you. 

                               

Comments

  1. This is a great article, as a personal trainer the guilt and anxiety i feel if i ever have to cancel a session is out of control, I know a lot of other personal trainers that this is also their worst nightmare.

  2. Just had my personal trainer cancel on me today.... Because he had to go pick up a dog he was looking after.... Our session was at 9am and he let me know at 7:30am. I was annoyed and he replied negatively when I asked if I could come later in the evening. I backed down and said I'd come Friday but that would mean I'd have my other session with him Thursday at 7:30pm followed by the make up session at 9am on Friday.... I asked for a refund but he has refused.
    I would like some honest advice as to whether I should pursue this further (ie to the small claims court) or if I should just grit my teeth and leave it

    • Hi Jess - sorry you had to deal with that.  Given the information you provided I would not say the trainer handled things very well.  I think it is fair that you receive an additional session or the money back.  If they don't want to do that I would talk to their manager.  Of course when it comes time to renew your contract then you might consider looking elsewhere for another trainer.  Sorry you are dealing with that.  Best of luck with it. - Tim

  3. Annette Santana says:

    Not sure if this is still open for comments, but I am having issues with my trainer. He has canceled on me 3 weeks in a row. I told him I was considering canceling & he still wants to charge me a termination fee. Is this allowed?

    • Hi Annette,

        Sorry you are dealing with that.  You would have to read the contract to see if a cancellation fee is allowed.  I would suggest that you simply state you are not pleased with the service you are receiving and either a) you want the contract canceled now or B) if the trainer cancels again (say within 6 months) with minimal notice the contract is void.  If it is a bigger gym the trainer would likely get into trouble with their manager for cancelling so frequently, so they will probably want to avoid that.  If they are independent then it is up to them but they will not want the negative press you can leave if they choose to enforce the cancellation fee.  They should also be giving you free make up sessions to counteract the cancelled sessions.  If it is a big gym you can also ask that your contract be transfered to another trainer and there should be a fee for that.

        Not sure where you live but if you live near Northern VA I can help you find a good quality personal trainer would not do this. 

        Take care - Tim

  4. Hi, Iv been training with someone for over 6 weeks now. The other week she cancelled being ill which is fine. But this week I turned up and she came over and told me she didn't have me booked in after seeing me warm up for 5 mins. We had agreed the day 2 days prior so I did think it was strange as she didn't have anyone else booked in at that time. Please could you give me your opinion on this. Thankyou

    • Hi Amy - I am sorry that your session turned out that way.  I agree it would have been ideal if the trainer would have trained you if she was free and you were there.  In the ideal world having a routine schedule is most helpful for avoiding these issues, so if you always train Tues and Thurs at 8 am then you always know when your session is.  If she genuinely thought your session was at another time and she had something to do during that time then from her point of view I could understand not conducting the session, although if it was me I would have chatted with you about it a fair amount to see where the mix up was and then established for certain when your next session was.  I think it is fair for you to be up front with her and let her know it was disappointing she canceled and then also disappointing she wasn't available for a session to put her on notice.  If she doesn't respond positively then feel free to look for another trainer, there are a lot of good ones out there.  

      Best of luck with it

      Tim

       

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