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Business > Articles > Things I Hate About You: How To Deal With Difficult Clients

By Chantal Todé

Let’s face it. Liking certain clients isn’t easy. You know the one. She’s consistently late for appointments because she always loses her car keys. Or, she insists on bringing Junior along, who just happens to be a shoe-in for the next “Home Alone” movie thanks to his talent for turning your Denmans into missiles.

Not only do these clients make YOUR life miserable, they affect the atmosphere of the whole salon. So, if you’re eager to take control of the situation, here are suggestions from several battle-worn owners.

TYKE TRIALS

Unruly children can be one of the biggest client-related problems you will face. At SALON DE JENSEN in New Jersey, co-owner MARK JENSEN addresses it by placing a rule against leaving children under the age of 12 unattended in the salon prominently in the salon menu. There are some hard feelings as result, reports Jensen, “but when we take a few minutes to explain why, the client usually appreciates what we’re saying and usually comes back.”

Of course, people don’t always like being told what to do, especially when it affects their children. ROBIN HULL, who owns SALON FENIX in Ellensberg, WA, learned this the hard way when she posted a sign informing customers that salons can be dangerous places and children should not be in them. “We offended some people and had to soften the tone,” says Hull. Now, the salon’s menus say that children are welcome to have a service but anyone under eight shouldn’t be left unattended.

TIME TRIALS
Late-comers, no-shows and cancellations are other thorny issues for salons. CINDY MONTEN, who owns SALON MONTEN in the western suburbs of Minneapolis, asks that all cancellations be made 24 hours in advance. Her new salon menus also forewarn clients that they will be charged for the second appointment they miss and thereafter will be asked to provide a credit card number to secure future appointments.

If a client is consistently late, Monten calls the client and says something like, “Maybe you don’t understand how our staff is compensated but they work on commission. So if you don’t make it or put them behind schedule, they don’t get paid.” Then she follows up with a letter. If the behavior still doesn’t change, Monten politely informs the client that the salon will only be able to accommodate her on a walk-in basis in the future.

Jensen, whose policy is similar, always calls to reschedule an appointment no matter how many times a customer doesn’t show up. “We have at least six repeat offenders who get charged at least once a month and they are okay with this.” Hull handles late-comers and no-shows on a case by case basis. “We have to recognize how often we run behind and people are really nice about sitting down and having a cup of tea,” she explains. And if someone DOES miss appointments repeatedly, the salon asks them to prepay at the next booking. “That usually cures the problem right there,” reports Hull.

TELEPHONE TRIALS
Cell phones are an increasing problem in salons trying to keep the already frenetic pace to a minimum. While Hull says it isn’t a big enough issue to create a policy, she has had to ask several clients to continue conversations outside. And, because the salon is so small, the front desk usually holds clients’ purses while they’re with a stylist. “The challenge has been remembering to ask them to turn off their cell phones,” says Hull.

At Salon de Jensen, clients are asked to restrict cell phone usage to the reception area, but again, there’s no set policy.

BRIDAL TRIALS

Wedding work, while it can be lucrative, also offers up many unique headaches for salons. So, Salon de Jensen has created a contract called the “Pre-Nuptial Agreement” which all brides must sign. It outlines all contingencies such as deposit requirements, policies on no-shows, and what will happen if the Maid of Honor decides that she doesn’t like her updo. It also states that all services must be paid, including gratuities, 30 days in advance.

Jensen says the contract has actually helped build the salon’s bridal business, which is up by 30 percent over last year. “When clients see the document, they are more assured that we take our business seriously and that they will be well taken care of,” he notes.

WALKING THE TALK

Creating policies is one matter; enforcing them is another. The challenge, all of the owners agree, is to get the message across without alienating the offenders. “We never apologize for our salon policies,” says Jensen. “We do apologize if someone is upset but not for the policy itself. And then we always stress that the policy is for the well-being of the environment.” When worded this way instead of as a reprimand, people are generally more willing to accept the message.

To help his staff become accustomed to handling run-ins with clients, Jensen and his salon coordinator write scripts. During salon meetings, the staff uses the scripts to role-play various situations. This insures that the salon’s message is consistent across the board. In addition, Jensen lets the salon coordinator handle most problems. This way, if someone is really upset, there is always a higher authority to speak to.

Monten finds that it’s generally the younger staff members who have trouble being firm with difficult clients. “But if you give them the words to use, the authority to speak out and then get out of their way, they’ll take control.”

In general, she recommends a firm, straightforward approach. Look clients straight in the eye, and be kind. And, no matter how tempting it is, refrain from going into the back room after the interaction and unloading in front of staffers.

LOSSES CAN BE GAINS
Sometimes, no matter how diplomatic you may be, there is attrition. However, while all three owners have lost clients as a result of client policies, they insist that their salons are better off as a result. “When we lose a difficult client, the loss is far outweighed by the comfort of 99 percent of our remaining customers,” says Hull.

Monten agrees and adds that consistency and firmness is also critical to her role as a leader. “I’d rather lose one client,” she notes, “than look like a woman with no spine to my staff.”

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