Karie Bennett, stylist, writer and owner of Atelier SalonSpa and Atelier Studio in San Jose,...
Karie Bennett, stylist, writer and owner of Atelier SalonSpa and Atelier Studio in San Jose, California

As part of her ongoing blog series, Owner's Forum, Karie Bennett, owner of Atelier Salon Spa in San Jose, tackles a reader's question about difficult clients:


Dear Karie: How do you handle a difficult client? Have you ever had to ask someone not to come back and how did that conversation go?


That's an excellent question. Unfortunately, this situation has come up a few times in my 30 years behind the chair, both as an employee and as an owner.


The main reasons a client "break up" becomes necessary are: constant lateness, frequent no-shows, or sexual harassment.


From behind the chair: If a client is constantly late, I let them know that I need to finish on time, to be respectful of my other clients, who may have to pick up children from school, or get back to work. This may mean a dry haircut, or no fabulous blowout after the cut or color. Which isn't a preferable outcome. If the client can't be on time for their reserved appointment, they may try to come in as a walk-in, but since I'm booked out many months ahead, good luck! That usually corrects that behavior.


For clients who cancel at the last minute or no-show more than twice, the salon management will let them know that we can't reserve any more appointments for them without them pre-paying for the time, and not showing up forfeits that pre-pay. Since the salon books my appointments, it's appropriate for this conversation to take place at the reception desk. We let them know that we promise to respect their time, and we hope they will do the same for ours.


It's important that they understand that we're professionals, and this is our business. A clothing store sells shirts and shoes, we sell time and talent. They can't walk out of a store with a shirt and not pay for it, and they can't take our time without compensating us, or we will not let them reserve it in advance.


Once in a great while, you might have a client that is speaking in a very loud voice, using foul language, and generally disrupting the environment for other clients. It's best to address this guest in as soft a voice as possible, and let him or her know that we'd appreciate it if he or she would kindly consider either using G-rated language or a lower volume for her conversation. We would also coach the stylist on lowering her own voice and what to say to this client to nip this situation in the bud.


Any time there is inappropriately sexual or offensive conversation or contact from a client, the appointment stops and the behavior must be addressed immediately.


If your gut tells you it's weird, it probably is. Depending on your personality, anything from "That's not cool with me", to "I'm not comfortable with this conversation", or "Keep your hands to yourself or you're getting half a haircut" works, just know that there is no acceptable level here. You're not being paid to be harassed. 


I asked Atelier's General Manager, Aaron Jura, how he handles difficult clients for our salon. He has a great way of connecting with the guest and hearing what their side of the story is before letting them know that we have a zero tolerance for disrespectful behavior from either side.  He considers other unacceptable behaviors from either employees or clients to be:


  • Foul language
  • Anything that is against the law
  • Potentially harmful to other clients or employees
  • Inappropriately and unnecessarily disruptive to the salon
  • Being physically or verbally abusive towards our employees
  • Theft

It's important to keep your own emotions out of the conversation. It's a business discussion, and you need to stick to the facts, and see if you can find a solution, or recommend they seek services elsewhere.

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