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

Are you an artist? Or, are you simply taking an order?

We all just want to make the client happy. That's our main goal. But what if your client wants something that isn't right for her. What is your responsibility? Please her, even though you know it isn't the right cut/color/texture/style? Or be the professional artist with experience and let the guest know her expectations are out of range and make suggestions? 

Because if you knowin your bones, in your very soulthat she doesn't have the skin tone to pull off burgundy, or that her hair is too delicate to withstand another round of bleach-pulled through-highlights, you have a responsibility to let her know, and give her alternatives. If you proceed, even though it's not the right decision, you've just taken her order. Might as well offer her a side of fries with that!

Here's an example:

Bambi (not her real name) called McDonald's Salon and made an appointment for an all-over color. When she arrived, she told the haircolorist, Bunny (also not her real name) that her boyfriend said he would buy her a pair of expensive designer stilettos if she would make her hair platinum blonde. Her natural level was a medium brown, with previous dark red permanent color and pre-lightened highlights on her mid-length and ends. Bunny told Bambi that going so drastically light would certainly damage her hair, but Bambi was adamant. She wanted those designer shoes. She told Bunny she didn't care if her hair was damaged, she wanted platinum hair, and she wanted it now!

Do You Want Fries With That?

Bunny was up for the challenge and proceeded with the service. Sure enough, after multiple applications of bleach, Bambi's hair was damaged. Most of the damage was on the last couple of inches of Bambi's long hair. Bunny hoped that Bambi would let her trim off the worst part, but Bambi's boyfriend loved long hair, and she didn't want more than the tiniest trim. When Bambi saw the condition of the now-white blonde hair, her eyes filled up with tears. "What have you done?  You've ruined my hair!" Running out the door, Bambi could barely see through her tears as she tapped out a 1 star review, then called her boyfriend.

This is an exaggerated scenario (or is it?), which has some small shred of truth you may recognize. Let's go over what kind of damage this can do to a salon and stylist's reputation.

Hard costs: Multiple bowls of bleach and developer + 1 Service not paid for.

Soft costs: Negative review affects salon reputation + Client tells everyone she knows who wrecked her hair and where it happened + Blow to Bunny's confidence + Other stylists in salon possibly lose respect for Bunny.

What could Bunny have done in this scenario to have a better outcome?

1. Having the front desk ask a few more questions when booking the appointment, such as, "Are you looking for a dramatic color change today, like going from dark to light?" might steer them to book her a consultation first, where the proper service timing, pricing, and expectations can be set.

2. Outlining where Bambi's hair is currently and coming up with a long-range plan for where she can go over time, with conditioning treatments along the way and hair color goals ahead, would have helped.

3. Showing Bambi what's realistic for her hair type, texture, and condition, along with estimates for cost and time necessary would also be important, as well as a strong recommendation for a haircut to keep the hair in the best possible shape.

4. Last, as a professional hairstylist, Bunny did herself a disservice by ignoring the red flags that Bambi was flying.  She knew that the hair wouldn't survive the service.  In the end, she should have listened to what she knew to be true.

As a salon owner, making it okay for your stylists to turn down a service for all the right reasons is important.  Wouldn't you rather have an hour or two vacant than the difficult re-do's and negative reviews and stress that a service-gone-wrong can become?

Meet with your service team and roleplay the scripts and scenarios to empower your stylists.  Any time they see that iceberg ahead, be sure they know how to steer the ship to avoid sinking.  Create a way to easily re-direct a client to a more experienced stylist might be a better solution for that particular appointment.

Creating a safe space for a stylist to say, "I'm sorry, I can't do this service because your hair is too fragile/I'm not comfortable/I don't think it's the right color for you"whatever the truth is can save not just their confidence, but your salon's reputation as well.

Practice your script, so the next time Bambi walks in your salon door, you can put down the fries and pick up your artist's brush.


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