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How to Deal With an Unhappy Client As a New Hairstylist

As a brand New Hairstylist you’ve probably already had to deal with an unhappy client.

When you are brand new, you might think clients are only unhappy with you, that there is so much you still don’t know and that you are making a lot of mistakes.

The thing is, whether you are a New Hairstylist or a Master Hairstylist with lots of experience, you will still deal with unhappy clients.

I know this because I was a Master Hairstylist for 35 years and the Director of Education for New Talent Hairstylists for 20 years. Basically, you get your first unhappy client when you are in Cosmetology School, and you will continue to have unhappy clients throughout your career.

What I know for sure is that you can deal with an unhappy client and massively reduce the amount of unhappy clients that you see in your chair with a couple of simple skills.

When a client leaves a message saying they aren’t happy with their hair, gets angry in front of other clients, demands a refund, speaks to you or texts you with a condescending tone, or cries in the salon bathroom, it can be pretty rough and anxiety producing for the Hairstylist. Our first instinct is to react, and be defensive. I get it, because I’ve been there.

I’m here to tell you that if you hope for things to go well in these situations, YOU have to be the grown up.

What that means is that you DO NOT match the unhappy client’s intensity or their drama. EVER. If you are doing your job well as a Hairstylist, having an unhappy client will throw you off, but it won’t derail you. You must handle this like a Professional.

How to Deal With An Unhappy Client like a Professional

As much as possible, it is important to assess the situation and emotionally detach.

Easier said than done, but you want your wits about you when you are dealing with this kind of a situation. What I want you to do, is own YOUR part of the problem. This takes pulling on your big kid panties.

Here are some examples that work:

  • “Oh, I am sorry John, it sounds like I went shorter on your cut than what you were comfortable with. I feel bad. Is there anything I can do to make this better for you?”

  • “Hi Trina, thank you for your message. I’m sorry that the copper color we did on your hair looks orange in your lighting. I want you to be happy and excited about your color. Would you be willing to come back to the salon for me to take a look at it? If it seems more orange than copper, it would be a quick fix for me to tweak the tone with a simple glaze.”

  • “Oh no Joan, I missed a gray hair right in the front of your hairline? Ugh, I hate that, sometimes gray can be so stubborn, would you have 15 more minutes? I can touch up that one piece, I really want to fix that for you before you leave.”

  • “Shane, I’m sorry my pricing came as a surprise to you. I know that can be uncomfortable. In order to give you the look you wanted I had to do multiple services, and each service has their own price tag. I apologize that I didn’t clarify that well enough during your appointment. I am happy to review the services you received and their price points so that you will know what services you would like in the future and can stay within your hair budget.

The basic concept here is to thank your client for coming to you with their dissatisfaction and bringing it to your attention. Let them know that they are important to you, and that you will look into fixing the issue.

My Private One on One Talk With A Hairstylist In The Backroom After The Client Is Gone

My job as Director of Education was to “walk” New Hairstylists through their client experiences. Most of the time, that happened privately in the back room or on the back patio of the salon. To review what went right, and what could use improvement. To be a sounding board, and a Hairstylist Guide.

So, regarding an unhappy client, this next piece of advice is hard, but super important. Whatever a client is unhappy about, you need to see it as a BIG NEON SIGN pointing straight at your weakness.

An unhappy client is your most expensive, and your most valuable education. An unhappy client is showing you a gap in your learning that needs to be fixed.

I understand that they made you feel bad, and more than likely they didn’t handle themselves well. I get it. But honestly, this is more about YOU and less about them. Try as hard as you can to not be defensive.

Ask yourself:
What can I learn from this unhappy client?
What skills do I need to learn and practice more?

Typically an unhappy client shows you where you need to improve and “cover” yourself better. Let’s take for example, the original clients.

  • John, who thought his hair was too short probably means: you need to practice your men's haircuts more, and take the time to get an inspo picture of a men’s cut you are both agreeing to, before you begin.

  • Trina whose hair was too orange: Is it the lighting in your salon? Is the lighting ashy and tends to drab out color? More than likely you can’t change out the lighting, but you can be aware of its effect on the color you and your client see in the mirror. Think about taking clients outside with a hand mirror, so you can see the true color. Or, could it be that particular color in your color line? Does it go more orange than copper? Make a note on her client information.

  • Joan with the one gray hair that didn’t take: Is your color line good at covering gray? Does the color line have colors formulated for gray hair? Did you saturate? Start in the front? Did you go over the hairline twice? Change and do that with your next gray hair client.

  • Shane who was surprised by your pricing: Is your website and your Social Media up to date with your pricing clearly listed? Did you need to explain to Shane before you got started, what services you will have to do in order to keep the integrity of her hair and achieve the results she is hoping for? Did you ask her if she had any questions regarding the time it will take and the range of cost she should consider?

Are There Some Clients That Will Be Unhappy No Matter What You Do?

Yaaasssssss. There clients that, to be blunt, are not worth your time or energy. Energy vampires, manipulators, scammers, crazy people and creepers, they all need to be politely redirected elsewhere, and then blocked. They get treated with the same adult, non emotional behavior by you. Thank them for their input, let them know you’re afraid you won’t be able to make them happy, refund their money to keep them from dragging you back into their drama, and block them. Warn the front desk that they are not allowed to book in the salon, and if there is no front desk, let your coworkers know.

Do You Ever Get Perfect at Dealing With An Unhappy Client?

No, never perfect. There is always a client, a hair color or a haircut that will throw you for a loop. All I know is, if you want to avoid unhappy clients, you need an ongoing pursuit of being the grown up, listening, and taking action on the weak spots their unhappiness reveals. This is advice I took to heart in my own business behind the chair. I had pride in my career and industry, so I never stopped learning, I took more hair classes and workshops then I will ever remember. I realized how many types of people and personalities I dealt with on a daily basis, and I studied and practiced listening, assertiveness, communication, and personal boundary skills. It is our career, it’s what we do, it’s worth it to do it well.

So after spending 35 years doing hair, did I still manage to lose clients, or have to fire clients because I couldn’t make them happy?

Yes, even in my last year of doing hair, I had to fire a client and I lost a client that I could not make happy.

No where near the amount of clients as when I was a New Hairstylist, but yes, it happened throughout my whole career.

Keep growing, keep learning, do not give up, you're great!

Elevating The Industry,

Karen Spinelli

P.S. Please Reach out

Cosmetology Students and New Hairstylists

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Cosmetology Schools and Teachers

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Karen Spinelli is from Pasadena, California. She was behind the chair for thirty five years, as well as Salon Director of Education for New Hairstylists for the last twenty years. Karen loves to spend time with and watch Hairstylists succeed!

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