I think it’s safe to say the majority of clients we see are happy to see us, happy with our work, and have a smooth experience in the salon—but it doesn’t always work out that way.
So, you’ve got an impossible client in your chair: The one who barks at you about what they want, or don’t want; the client who’s not sure what they want, but it’s not anything you’re suggesting; the client who never seems happy with their hair, yet consistently books appointments with you; the client who sets unrealistic standards you can’t possibly live up to.
In this day of Yelp reviews and their power to ding our reputation, what’s a stylist to do when we have an impossible client?
Understand your difficult client.
To understand the difficult client, we really need to be students of human behavior. While we can’t always know why people act the way they do, we can help make their experience with us a pleasant one, at least the majority of the time.
Oftentimes a client will take out on us what they can’t take out on anyone else. I once had a client who booked with me every four weeks. I can count on one hand the number of times that she didn’t cut her own hair during that month before her appointment. And she had a short haircut!
She would always cut the back, and her style would be all jacked up when she came in. After a while, I had to tell her, “I may not be able to fix it without shaving your head.”
Kind of extreme, but I was desperate at that point.
That client had what I call hair anorexia. I use this term for those clients who use their hair as the one thing in their lives they can control, similar to the way people with anorexia control, to an extreme level, the food they put in their bodies. Hair anorexia isn’t actually about hair—it’s about trying to control your world through your hair. Sounds crazy, but it happens.
Sometimes a client comes in who’s just having a bad day, or week, and we happen to get the brunt of it. It’s not fair, but it happens. Keep in mind, they are coming to us not only to look better, but to feel better.
Put yourself in the client’s shoes.
One of the best ways to deal with a difficult client is to make a pointed effort to not take it personally. I understand how hard that can be in our industry, because what we do is who we are. We are the ones creating the color, shaping the haircut, styling the look. It can be difficult to separate our service from ourselves.
Put yourself in the difficult client’s shoes and ask yourself if there is anything you can do to make his or her experience better. What would you want if you were sitting in the chair?
Approach the client with love and grace, not hostility. It can feel impossible sometimes to know what to say when a client is being a pain. Taking the time to speak to the person and really listen to the answers will go a long way toward them leaving your chair happy.
Remember the client is a guest.
There is a good reason many salon gurus use the term guest to describe a client. The client is our guest, in our salon and in our chair. Think of each client that way, even the most difficult. Offer to make them comfortable; offer them something to drink. Your salon is your house, and your client is your guest.
If there’s a problem, offer solutions in a calm and reasonable tone. If you’re in a situation where the client is unhappy with your service, offer to resolve the issue as best you can, whether it is by redoing the service, discounting your price, or asking someone else to step in if necessary.
If you do have to call for backup, some clients will be appeased by the mere fact that someone else is taking over. Learn from it as best you can, but know when to walk away. Before you do, make sure you have done all you can to salvage the appointment.
The most important thing in dealing with any client, not only the difficult ones, is communication. The client needs to be heard.
Put yourself in your client's shoes.
Download this checklist of questions to get through your most difficult clients.
Bring someone else in the conversation.
If a client just can’t be won over with talking to them, bring in another stylist to confer, or perhaps a salon manager. Bring that person right to the client. This shows you are serious about achieving what the client wants, but it also gives you backup if the client is asking for something unrealistic. When the client sees you are not alone in your assessment, it gives you more credibility.
Also, it may be easier to work out a compromise with another stylist there, as sometimes a client will try to bully us into doing something we know isn’t right; this buddy system usually shuts that process down pretty quickly.
It’s never easy dealing with a difficult client, but if you practice kindness, patience and understanding, I promise you will have better experiences with not only the tough ones, but with the easy ones, too.