Expect the Unexpected: A Playbook for Handling Unpredictable Schedule Changes

snowy freeway

No matter where you live, you’ve probably experienced erratic weather patterns over the last few years that have completely changed your entire schedule/day last minute.

erratic weather can cause appointment-based business to need to make last-minute shcedule changesIn the U.S., changing weather patterns have brought floods, storms, and huge snowfalls to new areas at different times of the year.

Weather—and life in general—is often unpredictable. Things change.

For businesses, this can present logistical problems, especially when it comes to managing unpredictable schedule changes. It can create delays and cancellations that throw your entire schedule into disarray, causing confusion and frustration for your team and your customers.

Whether it’s unprecedented extreme weather or a last-minute schedule change, no appointment is truly set in stone.

The best way to deal with unpredictable schedule changes is to be proactive. Have a gameplan for each scenario that may be relevant to your business. That way, you’ll have an actionable way to deal with the unexpected on short notice.

Here’s a short playbook to easily handle schedule changes using a service like Apptoto. This method minimizes disruption to your business and your customers’ lives, no matter the circumstance.

Late start

when clients arrive late it requires appointment-based businesses to manage entire shifts/schedule changes for the rest of the dayIf there’s a delayed start to your day, it can cause a pile-up. Even an hour late start can ripple into the rest of the day, causing all kinds of confusion, frustration, and further issues.

This is exactly why communication is so critical in these situations.

Message multiple clients or customers with a single message to let them know in advance that appointments will be starting later than expected. Then, communicate what that means for them. Be as specific as possible: will they need to wait an hour? Or will you be making additional changes to handle the shift, and your office will only be running 15 minutes behind?

Whatever the case, it’s important to be upfront and direct so people can adjust their plans as needed.

Example message:

Due to the weather, our office will be opening at 10 a.m. rather than 9 a.m. today. All appointments before noon will begin one hour later than originally scheduled. We have adjusted our appointment schedule accordingly.

Your appointment is now scheduled for {{ event.start_time }} on {{ event.day_phrase }}.

If you need to adjust your new appointment time, please call our offices at 541-555-1234.

We apologize for any inconvenience.

Skip a recurring appointment

If you have clients who come in every week or month, it may not make sense to re-book an individual appointment that may be canceled because of an unexpected event.

For these situations, you can simply let customers know that their upcoming appointment is canceled and that they can resume their normal schedule beginning the following week.

Example message:

Due to unforeseen circumstances, all appointments for {{ event.date_phrase }} have been canceled.

Your next appointment is scheduled as planned for {{ event.start_time }} on {{ event.date_phrase }}. Then, we will resume the normal schedule moving forward.

If you have any questions or concerns, please contact our office at 541-555-1234.

Manual rebook

In some cases, you may need to notify a group of people that their appointments will have to be rebooked. But rather than attempting to book those appointments automatically, you need them to take action to change their scheduled appointment to a new time.

In this case, a tool like Apptoto becomes doubly important.

You can select a block of appointments and send out a message that lets them know that the time will need to be changed and then allow them to click a link to find and select a new time.

Example message:

Dr. Miller is not feeling well today and won’t be able to make it to any of her afternoon appointments.

Unfortunately, your appointment will need to be rescheduled for a later date.

Please log into our appointment system to select a new time and date to come in.


If you have any questions or need to make other arrangements, please call the office at 541-555-1234.

Sorry for any inconvenience and thank you for your understanding.

Expected delays (internally)

Even if your office isn’t closed or appointments aren’t being canceled, many situations may cause you to run a bit behind schedule.

If so, it’s best to let people know in advance so they can make necessary arrangements (e.g., rescheduling that afternoon meeting they’ll no longer be able to attend).

This simple gesture allows your patients or clients the chance to get ahead of the shifting scheduling and, hopefully, have time to make any last-minute adjustments on their side.

Example message:

The office is short-staffed today, which is creating some delays.

We expect appointments to be running 15-20 minutes behind schedule.

As a result, your appointment may run up to 30 minutes past the scheduled time. Please be sure to make any necessary arrangements.

We apologize in advance for any inconvenience this may cause.

Preemptively handling cancelations/rescheduling

In some cases, there may be circumstances that are likely to cause your clients or patients to miss their scheduled appointments.

Even if these events won’t impact your office schedule, you can help identify these situations early and reschedule as needed.

It’s helpful to bring these potential conflicts to your customer’s attention as early as possible.

Example message:

The forecast for tomorrow includes heavy snow and schools may be closed.

We understand that due to the weather and school cancellations, some patients may not be able to make their appointment time as scheduled.

Your appointment is currently scheduled for {{ event.start_time }} and {{ event.day_phrase }}.

Our office will be operating as normal.

If you need to reschedule your appointment for a different time, please contact our office as soon as possible to make arrangements.

Contingent closing/delay

weather icon showing sun, overcast cloud, and thermometerIf there’s a threatening situation that may require a closing or delay, you may not want to take action until you see how things shake out.

It’s important to lay out the scenarios and their possible outcomes in such an event. Then, those with appointments should know right away what is happening with the schedule.

Example message:

The forecast is calling for 10-12 inches of snow overnight.

Depending on if this forecast holds true, we may close the office. To help reduce the inconvenience caused by this closing, we wanted to give you advance notice.

If we receive five inches of snow or more, our office will be closed. Please use our appointment system to re-book at a time that works best for you. http://yourcompany.apptoto.com

If we receive less than five inches overnight, then our office will be operating as normal. Your appointment at {{ event.start_time }} will remain as scheduled.

Thanks for your cooperation.

Mitigating the Impact of Schedule Changes

This collection is, of course, not comprehensive.

There are an infinite number of unpredictable scenarios that can arise. Each of them requires some level of consideration as to the best response. But in every case, knowing how you would respond before the situation occurs is helpful.

With the right preparation, you can make the unpredictable slightly more predictable.