Illustrations by Katrina Peterson The client is always right, yes? Well, actually, no. From time to time, your salon will encounter one of those clients who isn’t happy no matter which service provider she sees. You can refund her money and suggest a different team member, but she still isn’t happy. She might complain about your parking, your front desk staff, your décor, your coffee, and your retail products, in addition to her service. Your attention is demanded to resolve the issue, which means you have to tactfully comfort and support your staff while trying to appease this client. And when you finally figure out there’s no pleasing her, you have to find a way to cut her loose while minimizing the damage.
Kitty Tierney, owner of Impressions Salon and Day Spa in Mequon, Wisconsin: “We did immediately fire a new client once when she came to the salon and said she did not want one of them (pointing to an African-American stylist and using a very prejudiced term) doing her hair, so we asked her to leave by saying, ‘We don’t want anyone who thinks that way in our salon.’ The staff cheered.
“If someone is mean and unrealistic, I’m going to deal with the client personally. But if a client does something like bounce checks, I’ll take action, and I’ll require she uses a credit card. Of if she’s a constant no show, I’ll send her a letter saying something like, ‘Carrie loves doing your pedicures, but out of the six you’ve recently booked, you’ve only showed up for one. Carrie has lost ‘X’ dollars due to your cancellations. In the future, please make appointments on same-day only.’”
Byran Nunes, owner of Blo in Raleigh, North Carolina: “Again, this is a fear-based problem. When all we do is complain outloud about the client, all it does is involve an audience (your staff) who has nothing to do with the situation. Generally, these clients have given you many opportunities in the past to handle these situations, and often they are acting subconsciously because this behavior has been rewarded somewhere in their past. It takes a very centered and non-threatening person to establish proper boundaries.
“We coach our team to establish the rules of playing in the sandbox with the guest. This is not a publicly traded company that is going to reward demanding, unreasonable and rude behavior. Examples of this are clients who are constantly late, don’t show or cancel at the last minute, as well as guests who are consistently trying to manipulate salon incentives to benefit themselves or who constantly negotiate pricing. And, clients who are never happy with the final result, but who refuse to participate in a proper consultation. When clients are rude, I get involved right away. Blo is an extension of my home, and they are invited to my home. We let them know we aren’t the right fit for their needs.
“Also, our cancellation policy is really strict and we implement it. We ask clients to be on time. If you don’t show up for your appointment, you can’t book another one until that time is paid for. If you cancel the same day, we’ll give you an option to come later in the day, but there is an additional $20 fee.”
Don Bewley, Founder of Eufora: “When a client has an issue with her service, you have to be careful how you handle it. I had a close friend whose client came in and complained to the owner and the owner publicly sided with the client— my friend never forgot it. When she finally quit she told the owner, she never forgave him for that incident.
“Naturally, not everyone can service to everyone’s expectations, but it’s our job as a team to try and keep each client happy. If you have to reassign a complaining client to a different stylist, let the stylist know it’s the client’s issue, not hers.”
Ginny Eramo, owner of Interlocks in Newburyport, Massachusetts: “I fire them! I have no problem with that, but I do it with a lot of honesty and tact. I never do it face to face, but over the phone. We genuinely try to make people happy, but when a client is abusive to the staff, I draw the line. I say, ‘I’m really sorry, we’ve done our best to meet your expectations. It’s in your best interest to visit another salon.’ And, I do it without being confrontational. There’s never an argument, they are just silent.
“I’ve done it less than 10 times in 23 years, but I keep a file of problematic clients, so if it comes to a point where I need to end a relationship, especially if there is sexual harassment, I have documentation.”
Christine Zilinski, owner of Salon Concrete in Red Bank, New Jersey: “We have a Guest Feedback Form and Survey that clients complete after their service. This helps us track each client visit. It is important to have a tracking device so you can understand the client’s pattern. Document anytime there is an issue and have a lead person or the owner contacted. This person should sit down with the service provider and talk about the issue and the client consultation.
“We create solutions for this client, but if it isn’t working and the client has complained more than four or five times, chances are the person is not recommending people to the salon and is just not a fan. When the client has become too much work, it’s time to fire them. The conversation could go something like: ‘Based on our history together, I’ve noticed a pattern. We’ve kept track of your visits and understand that you haven’t been happy. We may not be the right fit for one another, and we’d like to recommend a salon where you may be happier.’
“Don’t place blame, and take equal responsibility. It is important to maintain a relationship with this person, because you don’t want them to bad-mouth your salon. They may still recommend people who will be a good fit for the salon. If you approach this situation the right way, there can be a happy ending for both parties.”