salon secrets

How To Handle Unhappy Customers?

October 25th 2017

Unsatisfied customers are not the most pleasant subject for hairstylists to talk about. Regardless of how professional they are, the result may not always meet the expectations of every single customer who walks in the door. Why is this? How should you react and handle disappointed customers? An unhappy customer won’t give you a second chance, and even worse, may spread negative publicity about your salon, so you need to have the right attitude and give concrete solutions. FAB puts together a list of tips from the pros.

unhappy customer
Credit: Victoria Leigh

The Unhappy Customer

Hairstylists are particularly attentive to their customers, who put their heads literally in their hands. Hairstylists strive to get the best result and to take care of the person who has entrusted their hair to them. In spite of all this, sometimes customers will leave the salon dissatisfied due to their many expectations.

Unhappy clients aren’t so rare, and they have many reasons for being upset. “They can be unhappy with the results, unhappy with the price, unhappy with the amount of time it took to get their hair done, unhappy with the availability of the appointments,” says Shawn Stearns, a hairstylist and training manager for Redken. Frédéric Mennetrier, a colorist in Paris, estimates that 90 per cent of hairstylists believe that they’re making the right diagnosis, but only 5 per cent of women think this is indeed the case. Talk about missing the mark!

It’s difficult to estimate the number of unhappy customers after their appointment, because many don’t ever get around to complaining (96 per cent, according to a study; 91 per cent of whom simply won’t go back). “I think most clients do not, as most people like to avoid confrontation. Unfortunately, you will never know about most client dissatisfaction, because they do the worst thing possible… they just never come back, leaving you wondering why you lost a client,” says Shawn.

unhappy customer haircut
Credit: Maoby

Unleashing Frustrations Online

In the salon, many customers stay silent about their disappointment, hoping that in time they’ll get used to their new cut, or with a different style they might like it better, or perhaps in the light of day their color will look less orange. Some of them will come back to ask for an adjustment, but most of them take refuge in front of their computers to unleash their anger. Although the presence of lots of comments on social networks can give visibility to a salon, this is also a double-edged sword.

“Many people feel safer, more empowered and bolder from behind their keyboard.  They may say things on these platforms that they would never say in person,” says Shawn. 

Valérie Delforge, a coach and consultant in salon management, warns not to underestimate these comments. Particularly biting negative feedback may harm the reputation of a salon for a long time, and could ward off potential new customers. Indeed, a dissatisfied customer is louder and has more influence than a happy one. One study estimates that you need 12 positive comments to compensate for one negative one, and another study shows that a happy customer will talk about her experience to three people, while an unhappy one will tell seven on average. This is why companies such as SalonNerds have specialized in managing the reputation of salons online.

What Causes This Disappointment?

Professional misconduct, bad faith, bad choices or a bad mood – whose fault is it when a customer is dissatisfied? “I think that ‘fault’ in these situations is irrelevant,” explains Shawn Stearns. “Client dissatisfaction almost always comes down to one common area, and that is ‘communication’.  Both of us (hairdresser and client) are responsible for ensuring clear, thorough communication. We as the professional must assume responsibility for ‘driving the bus’.” Frédéric Mennetrier agrees with this point of view and confirms that you need to really reach an agreement with each other because “everyone has their own language and subjective opinion”.  

unhappy customer haircut
Credit: dominik R photography

How To Keep From Disappointing Customers

To avoid having unhappy customers in the first place, our two hairdressers recommend focusing on the detailed consultation before taking any action. “It’s important to ask what the customer wants, but also what she doesn’t want,” says Shawn. When you don’t have the right words or when you risk misinterpretation (since each of us has our own idea of what “gold”, “copper”, “mocha” and even “dark blonde” mean), a photo can sometimes prevent lots of misunderstanding.

During the consultation, it’s also important for hairstylists to give their professional opinion if they feel that such-and-such cut or color wouldn’t suit the customer. They might also remind them that there are limits to hair, and a perm on hair that is already damaged isn’t recommended, that a certain color won’t match the customer’s complexion or eyes, or even that by getting blonde hair like Claudia Schiffer’s, you won’t necessarily walk out of the salon looking like a model. Finally, the consultation is the best time to list the price of each service, and potentially give an estimate, so the customer won’t feel like she’s paying for too many extras at the end of the appointment, which is what Antony Whitaker, a consultant in salon management, calls the ‘surprise factor’, an unpleasant surprise in general, which “can be the cause of ruining the relationship or at least putting a strain on it”.

How To React

In spite of all these precautions, it still may happen that some clients will leave unhappy. Furious, fussy, sincerely disappointed, making faces shyly in the mirror, refusing to pay – there are probably as many different reactions as types of unhappy customer. They all need to be taken into consideration with finesse and diplomacy. Faced with criticism, remain calm and professional. Our pros offer these steps to take:

1- “We need to listen to first understand. I have always tried to let them just ‘get it all out’ before I say anything. Clients want to be heard, and we need to give them that opportunity,” says Shawn Stearns.

2 –  “Always treat clients with professional courtesy and respect,” says Antony Whitaker.

3 – Rather than trying to make excuses, “the goal should be to understand where things went wrong,” adds Shawn.

4 – Always have what Anthony calls a “Plan B”, so you’ll end up with a compromise and offer compensation.

5 – On the internet, there’s no use getting into the game of insulting or holding a discussion that could turn ugly. The challenge is to get the customer to come back to the salon. Valérie Delforge advises to reply within 24 hours and try to give a personalized answer rather than an automatic one. Says Shawn: “Instead of trying to be defensive, just say something like: ‘I am so sorry you are disappointed with your service and I would love to find a solution for you. Please come into the salon so we can get this rectified for you.’”

unhappy customer
Credit: Manuela Capitanuci

The Right Solution At The Right Price

Hairstylists shouldn’t just settle for listening; it is also their duty and in their best interest to offer a concrete solution that will end up making the customer satisfied. Of course, there is no miracle cure, but an answer suited to each client and each different problem will help. Trimming bangs or adjusting a color are often easy to do. When the damage is irreversible, the hairdresser may propose weekly treatment for hair damaged by a color job, for instance.

Should the hairstylist do these touch-ups free of charge or not? This is the key question. Again, it all depends on the situation. If the hairdresser can objectively acknowledge that he or she’s been negligent, they may indeed offer a touch-up or treatment for free, offer some compensation or discount. If the customer changes her mind and thinks that in the end she actually preferred long locks to her pixie cut, “then I don’t feel it should be the responsibility of the hairdresser to absorb the cost,” says Shawn Stearns. “But as the professional, you have a responsibility to help them get to where they want. You should be consulting with them about their beauty plan and offering solutions, as a plan for growing the hair out, or even suggesting hair extensions.”

Even if it isn’t easy to deal with at the moment, for hairdressers, criticism allows you to make progress. “When a client sees that you can take criticism, and turn it around to a positive, you have gained a client for life,” says Shawn.