We’ve all been there. A client calls to cancel 20 minutes before their treatment and asks for their deposit back and we don’t know what to say. Refund, and all will be well, but we will have lost that booking space? Or tell the client we can’t refund and we are holding their deposit and risk a tirade of abuse?

It’s a tricky line to tread and I hear many salon owners are frustrated that their clients simply don’t understand why we must enforce cancellation policies. Here is the thing; the last 2 years have trained people to see things differently. With closures, and viruses and rules and changes, people have become a little more uncertain as to how things work.

How can we legitimately enforce a cancellation fee if the client has covid for example? We certainly don’t want them bringing it into the business, do we? Likewise, it has become apparent that it is often used as an excuse to escape the fee that may be enforced. It’s a bit of a minefield and it’s incredibly stressful for you. Let’s look at how we can overcome this in the best possible way.

Firstly, why is a cancellation policy vital?

I would always recommend any business offering a service style experience that is time dependent and offers a cancellation policy. When you trade time for money – like we do in our industry – we have to make sure that time booked is money delivered even if the client cancels at the last minute. If not, we risk our business being unsustainable. Our hourly slots operate similarly to the seats on an airplane. They are limited, in demand, and once that plane has taken off, that seat can’t be resold again. Now, if you reserve a seat on a plane, it’s expected that you pay for it when you reserve it. You can’t just turn up at the airport and expect to pay when you check in. And it’s rare to be able to get a refund unless the airline cancels the flight. So, why would we look at ourselves any differently? Firstly, it creates commitment from your client.

What should a cancellation policy look like?

Cancellation policies are very much adaptable to you and your business.
In my spa, we took a 50% booking fee that was movable or refundable up until 24 hours prior to the appointment time. But for some, 48 hours or 72 hours are required, 100% is requested and fees are only movable and not refundable. Of course, you have to make sure that your policy suits you – but ultimately, it’s there to protect you and your business.

What I rarely see is a specific covid policy – and this seems to be what creates a grey line. A clearly defined set of instructions that clients can find easily will help them to understand the steps they need to take and how that will impact their deposit. For instance, you may say that if you test positive or are experiencing symptoms within 24 hours of your appointment, your deposit will be moved to another booking.

How do you enforce a cancellation policy and when do you make exceptions?

This is when it can get a little difficult. We know why we have a policy in place, and we can justify it. But this doesn’t mean the client necessarily does. So, first of all, let me remind you that it IS OK to enforce a policy, even if your client gets upset providing you’ve been transparent and clear about it. Here are some ways you can be very clear about your policies:

  • Use an online booking software where your policy can be clearly displayed and requires the client’s consent prior to booking
  • Have a clear outline of your policy visible in your premises
  • Have a clear outline of your policy on your website
  • Have a link to your policy on the bottom of your email signature
  • Occasionally communicate via socials and email about your policy
  • Explain why the policy is in place
  • Ask new clients verbally to make sure they are aware of the policy and reiterate it to them
  • Being upfront about the policy in every possible way will eliminate issues further down the line. The clearer it is, the more they will be aware, and the more you can enforce the policy

When should I make an exception?

Again, this is personal preference. You might choose to have a certain list of excusable circumstances. You might choose to make a decision based on the individual cancelling.
Many salon owners will take into consideration how long they’ve looked after that client, how regularly they visit and their relationship. If someone has been a keen and monthly client who always turned up on time, a possible last minute cancellation due to a tummy bug would probably be excusable. However, a new client who consistently messes you around would not be so. The main rule is to be FIRM BUT FAIR. This is your business and you set the parameters within which you work so you can choose how to move forward.

But on a side note, let’s remember that cancellation policies are in place to protect your business but also to ensure the client follows through with that bit of self-care. It creates a commitment from them to you. You may choose to reiterate that commitment too – knowing that there may be circumstances when you can’t deliver a treatment or service i.e. an unwell team member or an unexpected close of the premises. What can you offer to ensure the clients feel compensated if this happens? Creating a two-way policy also shows great customer service. In addition, it’s important to remember there will, on occasion, be last minute cancellations, payment or otherwise. Having a list of ‘cancellation plans’ can be really useful to have on your desk so if you find yourself at a loose end, you can attack the ‘want to do’ list and find a positive use of the time.