Dos and Don’ts When Communicating with Upset Guests
iStock, Courtesy: Kati Whitledge

They say the key to every great relationship is communication – and handling a guest complaint is no different. It’s not ideal to have to communicate with an upset guest, yet we’ve all been there and it’s likely we’ll be there again someday.

When we find ourselves in this situation, It’s important to deal with upset guests in the right way so you can retain them. However, like most things, that’s easier said than done. Here are the dos and don’ts to keep in mind to help you successfully communicate with upset guests.


When talking to upset or aggressive guests face-to-face, you’ll want to remember the three positive C’s—calm, connect and collaborate. Let’s dive into each.  

Calm: First, it is so important to stay calm. It can be very easy to allow our emotions to take over because we typically have an adrenalin rush when contentious events occur. Staying calm helps us stay in control of the conversation. Also, by taking time to really listen and soak in what the guest is saying, you’re able to set the tone that in the pursuit of finding common ground, everyone will be in a rational state of mind.

Connect: We really need to do our best to connect with our guests in a way that ensures they know we understand them. Usually when guests are upset it is because they don’t feel heard or feel we don’t understand their complaint. The best way to connect with upset guests is to ask them a lot of questions and affirm you’re hearing what they’re saying.

Let’s put an example into context. You have a guest who normally sees an associate stylist, but at this visit, they worked with a senior stylist. At the checkout, the guest raises their voice and says, “Nobody told me the price would be different!” How do you respond? Start asking questions such as, “Debbie, can you share what your investment expectations were today?” This is the starting point for diving into the touchy topic of money and using their name shows them you’re treating them like a real human versus a commodity.

Collaborate: Once you’ve listened to the guest complaint and asked questions to have the best understanding of their concerns, the next step is to collaborate with them. There is always a win-win that can take place. The company doesn’t have to lose out, nor does the guest. How do you make sure this happens? You offer the guest two to three options for resolution. For example, “Debbie, would you prefer to visit associate stylists exclusively in the future? If so, we will make sure to put this in your guests notes so we can reserve the appropriate professional going forward. Or, would you be open to seeing a senior stylist but reserving your haircuts separately from your hair color services so there’s not as big of an investment at one time?”

Giving her your pre-approved options shows her you are confident in your salon operations, you stand with your professionals, and value their worth, yet it also empowers her to decide on how to positively move forward.


In an ideal world, we would all resolve conflict with ease, but of course we know every situation is unique. I want to offer three more C’s that you must avoid when you are faced with an upset guest. You must never curse, correct or condescend.

Curse: This should be the most obvious but if we fail at keeping our cool, we may fall into a swearing trap. Our emotions can be fickle when dealing with contentious conversations, but we must never let our tempers get the best of us. Regardless if you have a valid point, the first person to curse typically loses because they come across irrational and out of control.

Correct: Have you heard the saying, “Would you rather be right, or happy?” This is a great question to ask in relationships because oftentimes we can’t help but prove we are right about something, but it will affect our ability to build relationships. If your guest is sharing feedback that is inaccurate, as much as you want to tell them they’re wrong, we must respond in a way that empathizes with them. Remember to ask a lot of questions that will lead them to accuracy.

An example would be if at the time of checkout, a guest says that they were quoted a lesser price when they called to make the appointment. You happen to know that’s not true because you were the one who talked with them. What do you do? You start asking the right questions. For example, “Debbie, do you remember I talked to you yesterday when you booked?  We went through the different stylist levels together and you preferred to work with a senior stylist, which equates to a higher price because she has a tremendous amount of experience. Your haircut looks so amazing! Are you excited about how it turned out?”  This is just one example of how to positively respond. It’s important to state the facts in a way that will not be perceived as “snobbish”, which brings me to my last point.

Condescend: We’ve all had people talk to us in a condescending manner and it’s so disrespectful. No one wants to be treated as if they are unintelligent and no one wants to feel undervalued. If you live by the golden rule, you’ll be great in building relationships because you treat people the way you want to be treated. Also, you never know what someone is going through. Remember that when guests dump negative feedback on you, many times it’s because they are personally dissatisfied for some reason and their sense of loss of control is challenging for them to work through. Hence, they may take it out on you. The best defense is a great offense—ask questions, stay calm and figure out a way to find resolution together.

For more industry education that goes Beyond The Technique, listen to the Beyond The Technique podcast!

About the Author: Kati Whitledge, entrepreneur, speaker, author & podcaster opened Be Inspired Salon in 2010 in Madison, Wisconsin. Her passion for salon marketing and business grew tremendously and encouraged her launch of Meet Your Stylist, a matchmaking marketing tool used by salon owners nationwide. She’s also the beloved host and founder of The Beyond The Technique podcast—where valuable education is provided on the vast topics of salon business. Kati’s mission is to equip salon owners and their teams with the most innovative business marketing strategies.         

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