Does this sound familiar? A personal training client cancels two hours before a session because something came up at work. Your personal trainer says, “No problem.” After all, the trainer does not want to upset the client and lose his or her business. The next day, the same client never shows up for the rescheduled session. Then, a few more clients call who are not feeling well.

At the beginning of the week, your personal training department had 140 hours scheduled. By the end of the week, due to 28 cancellations, you only serviced 112 clients. That represents a loss of $1,680 that week (assuming your club charges $60 per session) or a loss of 20 percent of your business. And 20 percent is conservative. Personal training departments and businesses that do not have a solid cancellation policy and procedure in place are not as successful as they could be because the loss due to late cancellations eats up all their profits.

Fortunately, that does not have to be the case because you can ensure a more viable business for you and not upset your clients too much by following a detailed procedure and plan, such as the following:

  • First appointment reminder. As soon as new clients are booked for their first session, your trainers must remind them of the importance of the cancellation policy, noting that the clients must give 24 hours notice of cancellation so the trainer can book someone else into that open slot. This ensures clients are aware of the policy and reminds them of the value of your trainers’ time.
  • Letter to new clients. As soon as new clients enroll, give them a copy of the cancellation policy letter.
  • Sign off on new client agreement. Ensure that all new clients sign off on the client information questionnaire, which clearly lists the cancellation policy:

I understand that Northwest Personal Training and Fitness Education bills its personal training clients on a pre-pay basis. Once my trainer and I have decided upon the type of training package and payment plan I will purchase, payment must be made before the sessions are conducted. Credit cards, cash and checks made payable to Northwest Personal Training and Fitness Education are all accepted. I understand that all personal training sessions are non-transferable and non-refundable. I also understand that all private personal training sessions must be redeemed within one year of purchase.

I have read and understand this term:________(initial)

I understand that Northwest Personal Training and Fitness Education operates on a scheduled appointment basis for all private training sessions and thus requires that I provide 24 hours notice when cancelling an appointment. No charge will be levied should I cancel with MORE than 24 hours notice given. Should I cancel a session with LESS than 24 hours prior notice, I will be charged in full for that session, and my personal trainer will use that time to work on my fitness program. I understand that Northwest Personal Training and Fitness Education recommends that all canceled sessions be rescheduled to ensure consistency and fitness progress.

I have read and understand this term:________(initial)

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  • Reminder in first session. Trainer reminds clients of cancellation policy in their first session and the importance of it to them and the trainer.
  • Letter in the event of an issue. You should present clients who are chronic cancellers with a copy of the cancellation letter to remind them of the policy.

When clients cancel on short notice, do the following:

  • Have your customer service rep (CSR) contact the client to reschedule the appointment with the same trainer or another trainer.
  • If rescheduling is not possible, the CSR should record the cancellation in the computer and in the client file, then deduct the session. (If the trainer wants to waive the cancellation, then the trainer must discuss it with the customer service manager).
  • CSRs inform the trainer of the cancellation.
  • Even when the client cancels, the trainer must use the time to plan out something for the client because the client will be paying for that time.
  • Do not have your CSR be the “hammer,” so they should not speak to clients about the cancellation policy during the call. It’s all about timing.

Here is how a conversation may go:

Sally: Hi, I can’t make it to my session today.

Justin: No problem. And what was your name? Who were you scheduled with and for what time? Is everything OK? Is there another time today that would work better for you? I could even put you in with another trainer?

Sally: No, I really can’t do it today.

Justin: Okay, I’ll let Rob know and make a note in your file. Is there anything you would like him to work on for you like a new home exercise program or any research on the Internet? Do you have your next appointment scheduled?

Sally: No, whatever he thinks is best, and yes, I’m planning on being there on Friday.

Justin: Great, we’ll miss you today but will look forward to seeing you on Friday. Take care.

The CSR will then speak to the trainer and let him or her know the situation. The CSR will confirm with the trainer that he or she will still check in the client for a full session, then the trainer still gets paid the training wage, the client is charged for the session and the trainer uses that time to work on something for that client. This way, the client feels like he or she hasn’t just paid for nothing.

At the next session, this is how the trainer can handle the situation:

Rob: Hey, Sally. It is so great to see you. Did you get everything done you needed to take care of last week?

Sally: Yeah, it was such a crazy day.

Rob: Did you make up for the lost workout?

Sally: Yes, I did, and it felt great.

Rob: That’s great. Now last week while you were away, I took that hour to put together some great information for you on maximizing fat loss. I'd like you to take it home and read it, and then I can answer any questions for you later.

At the end of the session, Rob would have the client sign in for two sessions instead of just one.

Everyone in your business must understand that a cancellation policy is there for three reasons: the financial success of the business, stability in trainers’ income and the adherence and commitment factor for the clients. The more lenient you are with a cancellation policy, the easier you make it on your clients to skip their workouts. Successful businesses know that a cancellation policy for a personal training business is a must. By implementing a step-by-step policy, clients will understand this policy from the beginning, and it will help to avoid any uncomfortable situations later.

Sherri McMillan, M.Sc., has been inspiring the world to adopt a fitness lifestyle for more than 20 years and has received numerous industry awards, including the 2010 CanFitPro International Fitness Presenter of the year, 2006 IDEA Fitness Director of the Year, the 1998 IDEA Personal Trainer of the Year and the 2005/2006 ACE Fitness Educator of the Year – Runner Up. Her million-dollar training studios in Portland, OR, and Vancouver, WA, have received Better Business Bureau Business of the Year recognition. McMillan is a fitness trainer, a fitness columnist for various magazines and newspapers, author of five books and manuals, a featured presenter in various fitness DVDs, an international fitness presenter, and a spokesperson for Nike, Nautilus, Twist Conditioning and PowerBar. She can be reached at www.nwfitnesseducation.com or www.businessofpt.com.