Ways to Prevent Student Appointment ‘No-shows’

13 March 2020

You've hired and trained your staff. You are striving to continuously improve the practices and processes of your academic center. You have enhanced your list of services and put the word out to faculty and deans. Students are discovering you and traffic is growing. The center is bustling and your staff are busy trying to serve each student during peak times; however, things can come to a halt when students aren't showing up for their appointments. Students who would like to be seen aren't able to make their appointment because another student booked the time and then never showed. Perhaps you are getting complaints about there not being enough availability. Often you'll see the amount of appointment 'no-shows' is growing.

You are not alone. This has been a challenge among most colleges and universities from time to time. Part of the issue is derived from the students perception that advising, counseling, and tutoring or other such services are being offered to them at no cost and so it is of little consequence whether they show up or not. Though these services aren't actually free because tuition and student fees help to pay for them, students don't generally think in these terms. The perceived monetary value of these services is low. It would be interesting to know if students could see the cost of the services as a bill if they'd so easily let their bookings slip by.

A good resource for ideas of how to combat unattended appointments can be found through colleagues and college networks. Online communities and list serves are filled with questions such as, "how do I reduce the number of no-shows to my tutoring center," or ,"does anyone have a policy for no-shows that works?" The no show policies that are shared seem to range from small and fairly loose - with an emphasis on making the student feel more welcome - to being punitive and even making students pay fines for missed appointments. Whatever your no-show policy may contain, we've learned over the years that this problem doesn't go away without some effort and some good strategies.

To help you, we've come up with the following tips for how to combat and reduce the number of no-shows.

Increased and clear communication:

1) Ensure confirmation emails are sent automatically to students when they schedule their appointments. Select a software provider that offers both text and email appointment confirmations and reminders that can be customized to have tailored messages from you to your students. We provide such reminders as well as the option to attach Google or Outlook calendar invitations to these confirmation emails so that they can be added to calendars with the click of a button.

"...it is important to be clear and express expectations for your students."

2) Schedule additional reminders to be sent. One confirmation email or reminder is likely not going to cut it. We recommend at least one timely reminder be sent to students via both email and SMS text message. Though the ideal time frame depends on the time management practices of each student, we'd recommend one reminder sent at least one week out and then again one day in advance.

3) Provide clear instructions and expectations. In the email, text, or push notifications that are sent it is important to be clear and express expectations for your students. If your center has a cancellation deadline or policy be sure to make that known. To recognize the cost of the service being reserved for them you might lay it out visually for them. The more the students can see and understand the reason for a cancellation policy and the value of the staff members' time, the more likely they will take more responsibility for the appointment.

Preventative rather than punitive:

4) Use restrictions to limit numbers of no-shows. One great feature we have in our software is the ability to limit the number of no-shows a student can have within a specific time period. Many clients we work with limit their students to 2 or 3 no-shows within a semester and then the student can only use walk-in services or they must get permission from an administrator before scheduling another appointment. This is a low penalty consequence that helps to teach students more self-efficacy and commitment.

Solutions: Center Management

5)  Target students who make their first appointment. Building a personal connection from the beginning will ensure students feel welcome and increase the guilt factor related to missing an appointment. A personal phone call is very effective. You might not have the resources to call every student who makes an appointment, so you might start by reaching out to students who make their very first appointment with your center to give them one-on-one attention and start building your relationship with them.

6) Take advantage of center tracking data to determine best times to staff your center and when to switch between walk-in and appointments only. Data supported decisions related to staffing your center will ensure students can still receive the help they need where they might have otherwise been turned away while your staff awaited their appointment with a late or no-show student. Several centers limit their appointment times to the hours when traffic is slower and do first-come-first-serve walk-in or group sessions when the traffic is higher.

Attract more students to your center:

7) Create additional attractions. Provide food, charging stations, lounging areas, and other inviting aspects that keep the students coming. Be sure to post these items in your center information on the home screens and most frequented pages of your website.

"offer prize drawings where entries are made by visiting your center and keeping their appointments"

8) A Personal touch. Reach out with personal phone calls to those who missed so they understand the impact and begin to take responsibility for the time they wasted.

9) Giveaways and drawings. Speak with your college bookstore and procure some items that can be given away or offer prize drawings where entries are made by visiting your center and keeping their appointments. Warn students in their confirmation emails or reminders that if they don't come to their appointments they'll be ineligible for the drawing.

10) Create a rewards program or give honorary titles through badges. Students love being recognized for their efforts as much as your staff does. Design programs for students to where they can earn learning credits in your tutoring centers or be recognized with badges after meeting with their advisers on schedule.

Let us know how you reduce no-shows for student appointments your center in the comments below.

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