It takes just a glance, a minute of conversation, or a canceled meeting for your client to form an opinion. There are times when canceling a meeting is unavoidable. Maybe you accidentally double-book an appointment, or you get the flu.
Things come up. It’s a normal part of doing business. Almost everybody has to cancel meetings. But remember to do it in the right way. If you cancel a meeting without grace or tact, you risk losing business opportunities.
If you can’t avoid canceling a meeting, remember the following:
In a panel discussion titled Empathy in Business, Amplifier Ventures’ managing director Jonathan Aberman listed empathy, along with self-awareness, as the most important attributes of an entrepreneur.
Angel Cabrera, President of George Mason University, also cited empathy as one tool that enables a business to bring people together.
When you cancel a meeting, you want your clients to understand your situation. If they do, they’ll likely give you a chance to reschedule. Even if the client feels miffed, a reasonable explanation is likely to placate them. Let’s face it: canceling meetings is inconvenient and annoying for the other party. Especially when done close to the scheduled meeting date.
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When you cancel, you’re likely disrupting your client’s schedule. Put yourself in their shoes and visualize the situation from their perspective. How would you react to the same situation? A little empathy goes a long way.
As a general rule, cancel a meeting several days in advance. If you need to cancel the day or hours before, be transparent with your clients. They will understand if inclement weather, a delayed flight, or a family emergency will keep you from attending.
Especially if you’re the requesting party and need to cancel, it’s courteous to apologize. Instead of sending an email or text message, give the other person a call. That adds a personal touch. Your client may not religiously check email, and a text message may not reach him or her right away.
A phone call also allows you the opportunity to convey how sorry you are to cancel. It also gives you a chance to reschedule. Always start your phone call by asking the client if it’s a good time to talk. They may be attending to something important, and you need to be sensitive to that. If the client asks that you call back, then, by all means, call back.
If you call and the client doesn’t answer, leave a voicemail. It’s also a good idea to try and talk to someone who can pass along your message. At this stage, you may also send a personal apology email and a request for a new meeting date and time.
Keep your apology humble, sincere, and professional. Apologize for the turn of events but don’t linger on the subject. Focus on rescheduling so both you and your client can get back to business.
Don’t lie. If your client suspects dishonesty, that hurts the business relationship you’ve built. Tell your client the real reason you need to cancel. That boosts your chances of getting a reschedule. When you state your reason, be concise and direct about it.
For example, you might say, “I’m really sorry, Mark, but I’m going to have to cancel our appointment. I’ve accidentally double-booked our time with another client.” If your reason is personal, there’s no need to divulge the specifics. It’s fine to say you have a “family conflict,” or other generalization that describes your situation.
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When rescheduling a meeting
The proper way to ask for a meeting reschedule depends on how close to the appointment day or time you need to cancel. According to Mark Suster, a partner at Upfront Investments, when you cancel and reschedule a few days in advance, a personal email is usually acceptable.
It cannot be emphasized enough. If you need to cancel a meeting the day before or on the day of the meeting, the reason must be compelling. A phone call is also appropriate in this case. If they agree to a reschedule, you can offer to meet the client at their own office. This saves them the trouble of traveling to your office.
When requesting a reschedule an hour before the meeting, according to Suster, “the sky better be falling.” Otherwise, you risk damaging your relationship. Particularly if you can’t reach anybody to cancel the meeting.
If you miss the rescheduled appointment, think twice about requesting a second one. That can get pretty exasperating on the client’s end. If the meeting is vital to your business, Suster suggests sending an apology note together with sweets to the client’s office. If it’s a lunch meeting, volunteer to foot the bill. These and other similar gestures can help restore their trust.
People cancel meetings all the time – and often, for reasons beyond their control. While that may be the case, the fact remains that you’re inconveniencing others. Remember to apologize, be courteous, and make amends when canceling a meeting. These just might earn their goodwill back and agree to meet with you another time.