Why Cancelled Lessons Can be a GOOD Thing for Driving Instructors

Following last week’s article where we highlighted the 5 Main Reasons Why Pupils Leave Driving Instructors (And How to Avoid it), Driving School Dave explains why those dreaded cancellations may not be quite so annoying after all… 

car on road

One of the most common problems facing driving instructors is cancellations. It is a fact of life that you will get these no matter how professional you are or what safeguards you take. Like a pub landlord who has ullage, a shop keeper who has petty theft and the baker who throws good cake away at the end of the day, you will have to accept this as part of your profession.  

The forums are full of the usual advice: 

  • Bin them if they cancel, they’re a waste of space 
  • “Always charge them. I’m not a charity
  • Go around their house and demand the money 

I also frequently see analogies used with things like plane tickets. If you don’t go on the flight you won’t get your money back.” But surely that can’t be used with driving instruction, a service industry. Perhaps more appropriate comparisons can be drawn from industries like hairdressers, dentists and garages. I know they say they’ll charge but I’ve never experienced that. Yes, I’ve forgotten appointments too! (Not for the hairdressers 🤣 – for the garage.) 4 years on I am still using that garage.

Now, putting aside the total lack of respect for the pupils from some of those ideas, let’s look at this from a business point of view and how cancellations can be the best thing ever. 

Cancellations can be the best thing ever

Do not let cancellations get you down or worried. Build them into your working model and budget for them. At the worst, cancellations can account for around two lessons a week. That is not to say we cannot try to reduce them. 

Texting pupils before a lesson can often remind them and lower the rate of cancelled (and forgotten-about) lessons. Use a simple text template that says something like:

Driving lesson text reminder

But it doesn’t stop there, there’s always more you can do to stop cancellations.  

  • Ensuring you always turn up (and on timedefinitely helps by setting the standard.  
  • When you fill in the pupil’s record card, write down the date of the next lesson to help them plan their week around it. 
  • Try to find a regular slot that fits in with the pupil’s other activities, so they have the same time and day every week just like their college lessons.  

Having said this, you can do everything possible and still get cancellations. But it is how you handle the actual cancellations can really make or break your future as a driving instructor. 

When a pupil cancels a lesson, you must follow this one simple rule that works almost every time:

This easy rule will help you retain pupils, stop cancellations and could be pivotal to how your pupils (and potential pupils) perceive you as a driving instructor. 

  • Do not immediately charge them. 

It’s good practise to ring the pupil the night after the cancellation (or no-show) and express concern, ask them if they are ok. Show regret by asking I am sorry I missed you, is everything OK? They will explain the reason. Sometimes valid, sometimes foolish, however the important thing is to get them back in the car for the next lesson.  

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Simply re-arrange the next lesson and ensure you send a text to confirm. On that next lesson mention nothing until after the lesson. Tell them how much you are enjoying teaching them and here is where you can politely remind them of any cancellation clause and inform them next time you will have to charge them. Nine out of ten times there will be no other problems. Let’s see how this works:

Scenario #1

Pupils cancels on lesson ten and you ring them up and say they will have to pay double next week. The likelihood of the pupil showing for that lesson is slim.

Probable Outcome

You will lose payment for lesson ten and all the subsequent 40 lessons.

Scenario #2

Pupil cancels on lesson ten; you ring up and show concern then book in lesson eleven. They will most probably show up.

Probable Outcome

Lost payment for lesson ten but will get payment for the subsequent 40 lessons – in fact you will still get the payment for lesson 10 as they will still need that lesson sometime!

I would go so far as to say how you handle your cancellations can increase your business, as instructors who handle their cancellations fairly but firmly will attract more pupils. You must look at the bigger picture when handling cancellations – not just at the immediate lesson. 

During my many years as a driving instructor, I took on lots of pupils who told me their previous instructor was rubbish (sometimes much stronger words.) The reality was, the previous instructor was trying to charge them for a missed lesson.  

Now, not only would they tell me about this ‘rubbish’ instructor, but they told all their friends. The instructor may have been a great instructor with regards to teaching, but they now have a reputation not akin to their actual teaching standard. With word of mouth, this can be enough to finish you as a driving instructor if you live in a small town or village. 

It’s important to remember that pupils are generally young people, and as such they see other things as being more important than their driving lessons. Sometimes they genuinely forget and just need a little help. They certainly need treating with respect  remember, they’re also a paying customer. 

Turn negatives into positives 

Part of the reason I’ve got where I am today is because of cancellations. When a pupil cancelled, I thought, “Great, I can now get a nice breakfast or clean the car.” I spent lots of time studying for my Diploma in Driving Instruction and later my degrees in Tesco car park during cancelled lessons.  

I can honestly say I’ve never worried about cancellations and my recent interest in this has only been sparked by so many online posts and discussion. This has caused me to reflect on my career in the industry. I would always have said I never had cancellations. But when I thought about it, I did. It was just that my attitude to them that was different.  

I had a lot of respect for the people I taught to drive, something that’s so often missing in the forums. Instructors referring to pupils as ‘spoilt little brats’ or ‘time wasters’ (or worse...) People and therefore pupils are interesting with all their quirks and traits. I know I have my quirks! 

facebook driving lesson cancellation
Facebook is truly a joyous place

So, if you simply change your outlook on cancellations, you can really turn them into a positive. Pupils will stay with you longer and you’ll gain their trust. There is always something else you can do with the time that’s positive. Don’t go home and watch the footy or get on Facebook and complain about them. This just causes negativity. A positive outlook nearly always attracts a positive result, and this in turn attracts pupils. 

A bad reputation is a bad reputation 

However frustrating it is, it’s important to remember that pupils and their parents do not understand why some instructors just charge for cancellations no matter what. They tell their friends their version of the story (I guarantee this will not be the same as your version.) But a bad reputation, whether justifiably earned or not, is a bad reputation.

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