patient making it to their doctor appointment because of an appointment reminder

The Appointment Reminder Checklist

A tool for figuring out your business’s best approach to appointment reminders

Since you’ve found your way to the Reminderly blog, odds are that you’re a business owner, manager, or employee of an appointment-based business and are concerned about no-shows. Missed appointments are a big issue for healthcare practices and service businesses of all kinds: they cost money and time, add stress to the day, and result in unhappy clients. Thankfully, automated appointment reminders have proven truly effective at quickly reducing the no-show rate for businesses in many different industries.

With Reminderly, you can fit your automated reminders to your needs, whether you’re a small business working with a specialized clientele or a large office with an extensive patient or customer base. By customizing your appointment reminder templates—email templates, reminder text message templates, and/or reminder phone call scripts—you can optimize your communications to best suit your particular customers. Going one step further: by overlapping two or all three of those reminder channels, you are sure to get through to the large majority of potential no-shows. And friendly reminder messages have side benefits too, like reinforcing your brand identity or offering additional avenues for promotions or updates about your business.

In this blog post, we’ll look at an easy-to-use checklist for deciding which channels you should be using for your business, as well as the best timing to use them. But before we get to the checklist, let’s take a look at why such customizing your reminder messages is such a good idea in the first place.

Not all no-shows are the same: three stories

No-shows are more or less all the same in terms of their effects: lost revenue, interrupted workflow, stress for the staff, and upset clients. That said, the causes of no-shows are quite various. Here are three of the main factors that lead to no-shows:

  1. The type of appointment
  2. Demographic factors (age, socioeconomic status, etc.)
  3. The client’s intrinsic motivation (their inner feeling that they need what the appointment will deliver)

Let’s look at three examples to help fill-in the picture.

Example 1: Marilyn can’t get to the dentist

Marilyn is an elderly lady who lives on her own and relies heavily on the help of her daughter. Her next appointment at the dentist—a regularly scheduled dental cleaning—is approaching, and she’s well aware of the appointment and has arranged for her daughter to pick her up and drive her there. The day before, however, her daughter’s car breaks down and is towed into the shop.

Amidst the stress of dealing with her car issue, Marilyn’s daughter forgets about the dental appointment, and Marilyn doesn’t want to bother her about it. Even though it’s last-minute, she wants to call the dentist and let them know she can’t make it. But she keeps business phone numbers in a notebook in a low cabinet that’s stuffed with other books, and she’s worried about falling if she bends over to pull it out. Even though she’s embarrassed about it, she simply misses the appointment. She isn’t able to notify the office until they call, 10 minutes after her appointment time, to ask where she is. When the office manager hears what happened, she sympathizes with Marilyn and decides to waive the no-show fee.

Analysis: In this case, Marilyn’s intrinsic motivation is strong: she wants to make the appointment. Being elderly, single, and reliant on others for transportation are the key factors in her missed appointment.

Example 2: Antony misses his physical

Antony is a construction worker in his late fifties who has recently gone through a divorce. His adult daughter worries about his health, and at her request he makes an appointment with a doctor to have a routine physical done.

Antony provides the doctor’s office with his contact info, and although he has a cell phone, in the intake paperwork he puts down his landline as his phone number. The office sends him a series of sms reminders, but these appointment reminder texts don’t go through because they’re sent to a landline. (They wouldn’t have this problem with Reminderly, as our software automatically detects when a phone number is a landline and makes a voice call instead.) The dentist’s office also sends him several appointment confirmation emails, but Antony doesn’t open the emails because the subject line doesn’t make it clear that the doctor’s office is seeking a confirmation.

As the upcoming appointment gets closer, Antony has a vague sense that it’s approaching, but he can’t actually remember the appointment date, start time, or even the provider name. He’s also worried about taking the time off work, especially since the divorce has taken a toll on his finances and he doesn’t understand how the pricing works at the doctor’s office. After the appointment time comes and goes, Antony sees an email notification stating that he missed his time slot and that, according to their cancellation policy, a no-show fee has been charged to his credit card on file. Feeling guilty, Antony doesn’t contest the fee, but he has no intention to reschedule now or to try to visit that office in the future.

Analysis: In this case, one factor leading to the no-show is that Antony’s landline and answering machine doesn’t register the automated texts being sent to him. He’s also in an age group that, on the whole, is less comfortable with email than younger age groups. Lastly, his intrinsic motivation to make the appointment is low, as he’s worried about taking off work, plus the original impetus to make the appointment came from his daughter rather than himself.

Example 3: Jordi misses his appointment with a realtor

Jordi is a 26-year-old software designer living in a big city. He’s been making good money at work the last few years and has decided to look into buying his first home, so he sets up an appointment to meet with a realtor.

Jordi and the realtor speak on the phone on a Monday but, since they both have busy schedules, they can’t find a time fir their appointment till the next Thursday afternoon (10 days later). Jordi likes the realtor when they speak on the phone, but as the days pass between their call and the appointment, a major issue flares up with the software project Jordi’s currently working on. The problem makes him a bit worried about his finances, as he wonders if he’ll need to switch jobs in the next few months. But mostly, his work just occupies all his focus.

Without having received any appointment reminders or other follow-up from the realtor, when the scheduled time for the appointment rolls around on Thursday, Jordi decides he doesn’t have time to make it that day. He remembers the appointment but decides to flake out, simply not picking up when the realtor calls to ask if he’s still coming.

Analysis: In this case, the fact that Jordi is relatively young influences the outcome—he’s never been to an appointment like this before and finds it easy to flake out. He also has low intrinsic motivation, as he starts to worry about his finances and thinks he can just find another realtor later.

Thinking through the factors that cause no-shows at your business

Of the three examples given above, do any ring true as stories that might cause a missed appointment at your practice or office? As you can see, people become no-shows for very different reasons.

It's best to calibrate your appointment reminder messages based on your clientele and the most common reasons that they miss their appointments.

Appointment reminder checklist part 1: which channels (email, text, phone calls) should you use?

Based on your clientele’s age...

Does your clientele lean to the older side (50+, but especially 65+)?

  • This group is slightly less conversant with email and has a lower rate of text message use, so you want to include reminder phone calls as part of your reminder strategy.

Does your clientele lean to the younger side (49 and below, but especially 35 and below)?

  • In surveys, this group names text messaging as its favorite way to correspond with businesses, so you want to include sms reminders as part of your reminder strategy. It’s also very important that your reminder app offer two-way communication (which Reminderly does), because these customers report frustration when they can’t text back. The younger your clientele is on average, the less likely they will be responsive to phone calls.

Does your clientele span a wide age range?

  • The wider your clientele’s age range, the more you’ll want to consider sending reminder messages via all three channels, to cover your bases.

Based on how much preparation you need them to do...

Do you need your patients or clients to fill out paperwork ahead of time?

  • If so, you’ll ideally send the links to that paperwork via both email and text message, so that they can use either their computer or smartphone to fill it out, as they prefer.

Do you want them to absorb certain information ahead of the appointment?

  • If you hope your clients will absorb information about, for example, your pricing structure, important documents they should read or bring to the appointment, or the parking situation at your office, you should probably use email reminders and/or phone call reminders to convey this info. Relying solely on text messages, the most space-constrained of the three channels, isn’t a good idea in this case. With Reminderly, it’s easy to design an appointment reminder email template that includes the basic links, attachments, or other info you want associated with different appointment types. Likewise, you can write an automated reminder phone call script that encourages people to go to your website or call with questions.

Appointment reminder checklist part 2: what’s the optimal timing to send your appointment reminders?

Based on the appointment types you offer...

Do people tend to have higher or lower intrinsic motivation for the appointment type you offer?

  • It’s hard to generalize about how intrinsic motivation correlates to people’s behavior, because people’s motivations are so different. For instance, one person might dread their biannual dental cleaning, while another looks forward to it because they love their teeth feeling so clean. So, it’s important that you calculate your business’s own no-show rate and work off that data.
  • Even so, you can make starting assumptions based on your observations—if you find that most of your clients seem eager and happy to come in, perhaps just one or two quick reminder messages are enough. If you notice that many of your clients seem to resist coming for the service, you may want to up the reminders in both frequency and volume. Using the customer name at the start of the reminders is also a good idea, to help personalize them.

Based on how far clients travel to reach you...

Do many of your clients rely on others for transportation and/or need to drive more than 20 minutes to reach your office?

  • If someone relies on others or on public transportation to reach your office, it increases the odds they won’t make it. Likewise, the longer a patient or client has to travel to reach an appointment, the more likely it is that they become a no-show.
  • So, if many of your customers travel from places outside the vicinity, you’ll want to add day-before and same-day reminders to your reminder strategy. Adding that bit of pressure closer to the appointment is a good way to encourage people to figure the travel time into their planning for the day, or at least to give you at least 24 hours notice when they cancel so you can fill their time slot from your waitlist.

Based on your waitlist...

Do vacated time slots fill quickly with people from your waitlist?

  • If not, getting cancellations the day before or morning of an appointment doesn’t leave you enough time to refill that slot. Consider starting to send reminders a week in advance and again 1-2 days before the appointment. Sending these reminders across two or all three of the channels will help reach more people.
  • Reminderly offers a waitlist manager that can automate this process. When an appointment becomes available through a cancellation, we automatically alert everyone on the waitlist. Once the slot is booked, we confirm with that person and also let later responders know that the time has been taken.

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