Five Ways To Reduce Client Cancellations


We all wish they showed up, on time every time. In fact, life would be so much easier for us. But the truth is, clients cancel. Sometimes, much more than we want them to. And while we hear a host of reasons why they don’t show up for a session, most are unspoken.

For a fitness instructor, not only can this be maddening, but also pretty damaging to the bottom line. The good news is, there are a few simple things fitness instructors can do to help reduce client cancellations. Here are just five:

Start With This Question. 

We have to remind ourselves that just deciding to go to a personal trainer alone can be uncomfortable for a client. They can have a multitude of projections about what the session will be like, what the trainer expects, what the trainer thinks about them (clients are typically not comfortable with the way they look), and even if the trainer likes them.

And, not surprisingly, this is often a big reason clients cancel. After all, if you feel judged, looked down upon, less than, or not liked, you might not show up either.

Yet when you ask a client, What is it like for you to come here? this opens up the discussion about how your client really feels. It also allows the client to explore his/her projections (unconscious assumptions placed on you) and often, realize they are not true (most trainers genuinely want to help, and do not intend for the client to feel judged, criticized, disliked, etc).

Ask that question in the first session and it’ll help set the tone for a solid rapport and trusting relationship.  Your client will feel much more comfortable, and is also much less likely to cancel because they know you’re not there to judge them, but you’re there to be a positive force in their quest for change.


Ask, Don’t Tell.

Trainers are looked at as THE authority and clients come to sessions expecting answers.

However, the problem is, autonomy is a universal need. And research in behavioral economics shows that people are much more likely to follow their own intentions than those placed upon them.

It’s the difference between asking someone what they are going to do (about a problem), and telling them what they should do.

Here is a classic example: if you want your client to exercise three times during the week, instead of simply telling him/her to exercise, ask, What do you intend to do on the days you don’t come to session? Basically you are asking the client to predict her own behavior, and when clients do this, they have a natural tendency to justify their decisions.

And as personal trainers, nothing is better than the client who convinces themselves to come to each session.


Use A Self-Assessment.

Self-assessments might be the most underused tools in the industry. Not only do they give valuable feedback to the client and the trainer about where the client is at, but they also have been proven to improve a behavior….and that’s a big deal.

Interestingly, the minute we assess a desired behavior in ourselves, we tend to improve it. It’s sort of like, if we know being polite is important, we suddenly become much more conscientious.

In terms of reducing client cancellations, self-assessments work in much the same way. For example, you can ask the client to rate himself/herself, using a scale of one to ten, on how likely he/she is to make it to every session.

Or, used the other way, the client can be asked to rate himself/herself on how likely he/she is to cancel session.

Self-assessments can be used intermittently (maybe every five sessions), for a specific behavior (like to reduce nighttime eating), or every session, as a behavioral primer. Like asking someone how polite they are, asking the client how sure he/she is that he/she will show up to the next session, interestingly, can dramatically improve the odds.  


Employ A Commitment Strategy.

The term commitment strategies, came from the field of behavioral economics, but we all have probably been using them informally for years.

Essentially, commitment strategies are devices that we put in place to shape and improve behavior.

For example, if we want to exercise more, we might start with a plan to run ten miles per week. Next, we would give one hundred dollars to a good friend to hold for us, until we reach our goal. At the end of the week, if we have not run the ten miles, we lose the money.

Used even more powerfully, should our friend go use the money for something we want, we are doubly motivated, because not only do we lose the money, but we lose out on what our friend gains. And loss aversion (the desire to avoid a loss) is a much more powerful motivator than positive gains (giving yourself something when you reach that goal).

When you want to reduce cancellations, commitment strategies can be used two ways. The client can be asked to design one for themself, similar to what is described above. Or, you can offer the client the option as part of the training.

For example, after paying for 5 sessions, you put a set amount of the client’s money in holding, which he/she gains back, when he/she makes it to all 5 sessions.  Talk about motivation!!


Identify Sabotagers.

Sabotagers are the people who derail us from our goals.

They may not always intend to, but the backhanded comments, subtle questions, or even outright criticisms have a tendency to make us doubt ourselves.

For clients who are working hard to instill new healthy habits, the negative influence of sabotagers could be even more damaging.

Why does it happen?

Those close to them (family and friends) are used to seeing them in a certain way, and the shifts in attitude, confidence and identity can be perceived as extremely threatening.

While family and friends may encourage your client to improve physically (get healthy), they may unknowingly resent the underlying emotional changes that support the physical change.

Being sabotaged in this way can be a big reason that your client cancels.

So what can you do to help your clients?

First, by asking them to identify those who are likely to sabotage their success, you help your client accept that sabotagers are an inherent part of the transformational process, as well as give them a framework to effectively deal with it.

Perhaps, most powerfully, you help them see that YOU are a major part of their support network.

A final, simple yet proven technique is to ask your client to invite the sabotager in question to one of your training sessions.

By having them on hand, not only can you reinforce how important their support is, but you may even gain them as a client or a referral source!

Have fun changing lives!

Claire Dorotik