The Blog.

How to get a latecomer to turn up early

9 Feb 2015 | Communication

If you run a business where customers being on time is pretty key to the smooth running of your operations, I’m probably one of your more um… problem clients.

I’m the one who tends to turn up a few minutes late – not quite late enough to miss my appointment altogether, but enough to put a bit of strain on your schedule if you’ve got back to back appointments.

I often get asked by clients if I have any tips for getting people to turn up to meetings on time. Even if you’re not a business that runs on appointments, those 5-10 minutes where you’re waiting for half the room to turn up, plus the extra time to recap for the really late ones who turn up after you’ve started – those minutes add up!

Speaking as a natural latecomer (is it me or do those last 5-10 minutes between on-time and late actually speed up?), I think it comes down to two things.

Fear and reward.

Most of my clients don’t see the ‘slightly late’ side of me, because frankly I’m terrified of being the trainer who turns up late for a ‘time management’ session. That joke is only funny for the delegates! So I veer on the side of being super early. In fact, there are times when I’m so early you’ll probably find me having breakfast in the coffee shop before I’m supposed to ‘arrive’.

The same goes for trains. I prefer to get the earlier train rather than the one that cuts it fine. I leave myself half an hour to make the 5-10 minute drive to the station, because I know that no matter how much I smile, beg or bribe, that train will not wait for me.

My fellow Ninja Jim told me about a senior executive who claimed she never had a problem with tardiness, because if you were late to one of her meetings you had to answer a question – from the book. Which book was that? 101 questions about sex.

Fear can certainly work, but it isn’t always appropriate, or the best tactic. I know a few teams where that last tactic would probably create more delay in meetings rather than prevent it!

So what about creating an incentive?

Over the years I’ve discovered how our school parents evening works. If you turn up before your appointment, you get to look through your child’s work before you see the teacher. Of course, you can still look at the books after the appointment, but I always felt like I’d missed the opportunity to talk about it by then. So nowadays we always turn up 10 minutes early to look at the books.

I had two other appointments last week, at the dentist and at a salon. Both were the sort of places that needed clients to turn up on time for their operations to run smoothly, but probably also wanted to create a relaxed atmosphere where their clients felt looked after rather than harassed.

Both had a waiting area with a rather nice looking selection of teas and coffees (and apples at the dentist!) but neither of them had advertised this fact.

I mentioned this to the girl at the salon and she said they even had a chill out room upstairs that clients were free to use. Now as it happened that she was so efficient, she completed a 10 minute leg wax into a 30 minute appointment slot, and had time to make me a cup of tea afterwards.

(Side tip: give yourself margin in between appointments)

But it did strike me that they could have turned a potential problem into an opportunity to enhance the customer experience. Imagine if they had included in their appointment confirmation:

“We look forward to seeing you! Your appointment is at 2pm, but feel free to come earlier and put your feet up in our chill out room and enjoy a cuppa on us.”

Not only would this encourage customers to turn up early – rather than aim for on-time and end up slightly late – it would also add to the ‘treat’ factor of a going to a salon (yes even for a leg wax!)

The same goes for your meetings. What if your meetings always started with something non-essential but rather fun, that people wouldn’t want to miss? A hot bacon sandwich? Drinks on you? Or even just the pick of the best biscuits or the comfiest seats.

That person who’s always late – is there something they want your help or input on? Tell them you can have ten minutes of your time before the meeting. Then if they’re late, it’s their precious minutes they’re burning.

What can you create before the meeting, to encourage latecomers to arrive early (or just about on time)? 

Over to you. Let me know what you think, what you’ve tried, or what you’re going to test…


  1. Richard Tubb

    A very useful read Grace and as a natural latecomer myself, I try to live by the phrase “Early is on time, and on time is late” to curb my tendencies to cut it fine!

    One of the most frustrating elements of tardiness is if you’re running a team meeting or a Conference call. People always arrive late. I was taught to set such appointments for an arbitrary number before the hour (say 0957) rather than on the hour and watch as people arrived on time. Odd, but it seems to work!

    • Grace Marshall

      Oh I like that idea! I’d heard of setting the length of meetings in arbitrary numbers, e.g. 23 minutes instead of 30, love this idea of actually starting at an arbitrary number. Reminds me of train times too, which is probably more likely to nudge me towards early mode!

Image if author Grace Marshall

About Grace

I coach, train, write and speak on productivity. I help people adopt new ways of working and thinking about their work to replace stress, overwhelm and frustration with success, sanity and satisfaction.

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