Attracting & Retaining Clients

How To Deal With Difficult Clients: A Guide To Help You

updated on

February 13, 2024

Health and wellness professionals have the tricky tasks of working with a full spectrum of characters. Some clients breeze in with a sunny disposition, while others come with a cloud of complexity. The best in the field don’t just have a stethoscope or a yoga mat; they’re equipped with the right soft skills to handle all weather patterns, but let’s be real - some days you just wish you had a magic wand. That’s why we created this guide for dealing with even the most challenging clients.

Let’s take a look at the most common offenders.

The Ghost aka No-Show

The ghost is the client that never was. They book an appointment, and then they don’t show up. No phone call. No text. Nothing. This is the most expensive client to have because they waste your time - time someone else would have paid for.

Now you have decisions to make. Will you allow them to schedule again? Will you charge them for that appointment? Do you have to call and confront them?

Here’s the best way to avoid no-shows:

  1. Create a cancellation policy, and share it with clients before their first appointment. It should lay out the consequences for no-shows, like requiring full or partial payment. Here’s a free cancellation policy template, if you need it.
  2. Use software that offers a "No Show Guard"  - this is software that requires that your clients agree to your cancellation, late, and no show policies. With this tool you can also require that your client pay in full, or partially at the time of booking incase they don't show.
  3. Send appointment reminders. Use scheduling software for booking appointments, so clients automatically receive sms reminders.
  4. Collect payment information at time of booking, so you can enforce your cancellation policy - without having to make an awkward phone call.

It’s also wise to create a strike system. Frequent offenders are bad for business. At what point will you stop allowing someone to book appointments? Make these decisions before it becomes a problem.

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The Late One

Late clients can wreck your schedule for the whole day, if you let them. We’ve all been late to a meeting or an appointment before. Things happen. However, there’s a certain kind of person who is always late. Sometimes, it’s just a few minutes. Sometimes, it’s much more than that.

What do you do about it? Create a policy for late arrivals and include it in your cancellation policy.

Here are some guidelines for creating policies around late arrivals:

  • Decide how late someone can be to still receive their service. Anyone who arrives later than that falls into the no-show category.
  • If you offer timed services, like an hour massage, take it out of their time.
  • Have clients sign a consent form that includes your cancellation and late arrival policies before their first appointment. Digital consent forms will ensure even first time clients know the rules.

The Never Fills Out Their Forms

No one likes paperwork, and some people will try to get out of filling it out. There are many reasons clients resist filling out forms. They might not think it’s really necessary. Maybe they’re worried about privacy when sharing their health information, or perhaps they’re just busy.

Filling out intake forms should be mandatory in your practice, whether you're a massage therapist, PT, wellness coach, or nutritionist. You just can’t do your job without that information, and it’s vital to protect yourself against malpractice lawsuits, as is liability insurance.

Simple Solution:

Use HIPAA compliant software to send digital intake forms to clients before their first appointment; so they can fill them out at their convenience. If they don’t fill it out before they get there, have a paper copy waiting for them. No exceptions.

The Rude One

Health & wellness businesses serve a full spectrum of people. Some are stressed out or in pain, which can cause them to behave poorly. Here’s the thing, it’s one thing to be grouchy and another thing to be rude. You and your staff deserve respect.

At my doctor’s office, there’s a small sign on the front desk that says, “You’ll be charged $25 if you’re mean or aggressive.” I’m not sure if this is enforceable, but it keeps everyone on their best behavior - even in a place no one wants to be.

If someone is being rude to your staff, have a private conversation with them. If they’re just having a bad day or in a lot of pain, show understanding and set boundaries on what will and will not be tolerated inside your practice. If they’re not receptive or adherent to that, politely ask them to leave.

The Just One More Thing

Ever have someone make a request at the end of the session. “Before we’re done, could you work on…?” They know it’s almost over and don’t want it to end - OR maybe the session is almost over, and you haven’t addressed the thing that’s most important to them.

This can be stressful when you help people for a living. You don’t want to say no, but your next appointment starts soon. The way to avoid this is by doing a thorough intake and assessment at the beginning of the session, as well as discussing goals for treatment.

It’s vital that to these conversations, so you’re both on the same page and know what to expect. Without it, you can’t develop a proper treatment plan. This conversation is a chance to educate clients on what it’s going to take to reach their goals and make recommendations. If you know you can’t get to everything in one session, discuss options for a series of sessions and/or booking a longer appointment next time.

The Subtle Suggester

Working alone with clients, in an intimate environment puts you in a vulnerable position. Most people in the world are good and decent. However, there are a few bad apples.

For massage therapists, there is a creepy sort of client you’ll likely encounter at least once in your career. This client has inappropriate thoughts about what might happen in your treatment room and takes small actions towards playing that out. They’re usually not blatant or dangerous, but you’ll pick up an icky vibe from them. 

They might ask you a series of first-date-like-get-to-know-you questions. They may shift the sheets a little lower, or perhaps it’s something a bit more obvious. Trust your gut, and don’t put up with it.

Keep it professional. You’re in charge of what happens in this room. Maintain boundaries. If someone makes you uncomfortable or is otherwise inappropriate, end the session. Tell them you have a no-tolerance policy for this sort of behavior. Then, block them from scheduling online and flag their file.

Consent forms
 outlining what treatment is, professional work attire, and keeping conversations focused on health will all help avoid uncomfortable situations like this.

Tips to handle difficult massage clients

The Schemer

Some people are looking for a deal and believe every price is negotiable. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, but it’s uncomfortable when someone puts you on the spot by requesting special treatment.

There’s a good chance this client is one of your regulars. They like you and appreciate your service. They can afford to pay full price, but they’re not swimming in cash. If they can get it for less, they will.

Be prepared for these clients by creating specials and packages that discount services when they spend more. For instance, you might create a spa package by bundling several services and add-ons together. You could also create a package for a series of sessions for a flat fee that cost slightly less than paying for one session at a time.

When someone asks for a discount, tell them about available packages. This strategy is a win-win because you get paid faster, and the client gets more value.

The Hypochondriac

These clients can be great for business because they keep coming back. However, they’re tricky to deal with because they're always worried about something new. How this presents in your wellness business will vary based on what type of provider you are.

These clients may ask your opinion about something you’re not qualified to diagnose. Even if they say something like, “I know you’re not a doctor, but what do you think of this?” Be careful of how you phrase your answer. If it’s not legal for you to diagnose patients, don’t tell them that they have or don’t have a specific ailment. 

Instead, listen patiently because they most want to be heard. If you have a perspective that might ease their mind, share it. If you don’t or you think they might have a real medical issue, refer them to the appropriate provider

The Chatty Cathy

You know these people. I mean, you really know these people because they talk endlessly when you see them. It starts in the waiting room, continues throughout their appointment, and they linger long after their session is over. You probably even like them, but they make you run behind and impact other client’s experience.

3 Tips For Quieting Them Down

  1. Be an example of the behavior you want to see. Talk in a soft voice when in places other clients may hear you. Guide clients away from other guests before engaging in the conversation. 
  2. Put up a sign in the waiting and checkout areas to be quiet.
  3. Wrap it up. If they’re chatter is taking away from their session, point it out to them and make a suggestion. If they are lingering too long, tell them your next appointment is about to start and say goodbye.

The Awkward Silent Type

Ever had a client come in that just seems odd? They don’t say much, which is hard to work with, and their awkwardness makes you feel a little awkward too. Most likely, they’re just uncomfortable and not sure what they’re supposed to do.

It’s up to you to make them feel comfortable and lead them through your process. You can ease the tension by being friendly. Share something relatable about yourself or engage in casual conversation to break the ice. 

Then, take charge of the experience. Explain to them what to expect during the session. Ask them the questions you need answered. Assure them that they can ask questions too or give feedback at any time. Your confidence and ease will give them confidence. If you’re warm, they’ll eventually warm up to you, but it might take a few sessions.

The Best Software For Managing Clients

Managing clients is a lot easier when you have systems in place. Practice management software can transform the entire client experience from steamling booking processes, to enforcing your cancellation policy, to documenting treatment plans in SOAP Notes.

ClinicSense takes a lot of the work out of managing clients, even the difficult ones. Here’s how:

Ready to take the work out of managing clients, start a free trial of ClinicSense.

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