Circumventing Late Fee Anger

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Doctor's offices usually charge a fee if you don't show up for your appointment. There are a handful of people in this world that respond to these fees by saying "I should not have been late. I apologize. It was my fault. How much do I owe?" Most other people make excuses and try to get out of the extra fees. "Traffic was bad. My kid was sick. I got stuck in a meeting. I just forgot." These are the things they say, and they expect them to work. I used to give these excuses too. I expected service providers of all kinds to be flexible to my needs… until I ran a business that relied heavily on scheduling.

It is very difficult to schedule labor when your customers show up at random, so like most businesses, we instituted policies to deal with absences. I came to view the situation in a very different light.

There was too much traffic? You should have left earlier.

Stuck in a meeting? So was I, but I ended it to meet you like we agreed.

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I never felt good about imposing the penalties, and it was a rare customer who agreed to pay them without an argument.

A few weeks ago I started going to a new doctor, and was made to sign a document explaining their late fee policy. It was unique. If you miss a scheduled visit, you are charged a $20 fee. If you are late by more than 10 minutes, that qualifies as a missed session. But the doctor's office doesn't keep the money. All money from late fees is donated to the local children's hospital.

I haven't missed a visit, but if I did, I can't imagine arguing with the penalty. I think it's brilliant. It turns the debate from a me vs. them fight for my money to a decision about whether to give money to a third party charity. In essence, it diffuses customer anger while still imposing a penalty. It reminds me that innovative solutions to business problems do exist, but they sometimes require you to step a little bit outside the lines of conventional wisdom.