I’ve been working full-time in the salon for nearly 19 years. Those of us who make our living behind the chair understand all too well how complicated guest relationships can be. It’s a double-edged blade – we bond with them as people, and we charge them for what we do. The balance between these two ideas can be challenging to manage, especially when faced with decisions that will directly affect our guests.
In the breakroom, we often hear conversations about “dealing with” challenging guests - cancelling their reservation if they’re late, managing constant reschedules, etc.
Over the years, I’ve faced every kind of challenge with my guests, and I’ve experimented with different tactics. Some things worked beautifully – some things blew up in my face. What follows are a couple ideas: the result of years of observing the masters in my life, and the lessons I’ve received in my endeavors to discover what works best.
Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood
If we always assume the best of our guests, our feelings of being slighted or disrespected will usually dissipate.
We learn early on that people are varied and nuanced, and no guest experience is exactly like another. Each one has different expectations and requirements, and we must adapt our hands and personalities multiple times per day to meet them. It can be draining, and when we feel challenged by a guest, it’s easy to respond hastily, and with our own feelings at the center.
If we always assume the best of our guests, our feelings of being slighted or disrespected will usually dissipate. Life happens for them, too, and they usually have a very good reason for being late, or rescheduling, or whatever. Give them a chance to explain!
The Book Speaks for Itself
When the time our book offers becomes less available, people will reschedule less.
In the past it was my policy to cancel a reservation if the guest was fifteen minutes late. No matter how good their excuse, the answer was no. Time and experience taught me that it is more beneficial (emotionally and financially) to find a way to say yes.
It occurred to me when aguest books a reservation, they are paying for a specific amount of time. That time has a beginning point and an ending point, and that time belongs to the guest. Until that time runs out, I’m on the hook to be doing something. For instance, if my guest is 15 minutes late, instead of cancelling the reservation, I could negotiate: “Your reservation began at 2:00, and we have until 2:45 before my next guest arrives. We’re a little late starting, but here’s what we can do in the time we have remaining...” It becomes a choice for the guest. They understand they are late, and their time is already ticking away. They will either accept the option I am offering, or they will choose to reschedule.
The important thing to remember is that it was not MY decision to make – I let the book speak for itself. I just work here!
This also applies to guests who repeatedly reschedule. If our book will allow a guest to reschedule all the time, it’s not their fault if they do. There will always be people like this, and it’s a battle we’ll never win – so it is best to shift our focus to our retention and prebooks. When the time our book offers becomes less available, people will reschedule less.
Increase Your Prices When It’s Time to Lose Guests
To continue to meet new guests and grow, we must be ready to see some go.
Getting a price increase or level jump has always been a strange concept to me. As professional hairdressers, we can push and pull our income 5-10% by simply focusing on our retail and add-ons, so it’s never like we NEED a $10 bump across the board to make more money. I know motivated second-year stylists who make a lot more money than I, even though my price is much higher.
For the guests, their interpretation of our getting a price increase or level jump is more symbolic than financially impactful. To them it signifies more an increase in seniority and expertise - and it informs them that we are now more expensive than we were. We will get differing reactions ranging from congratulatory to hostile.
A master once said to me, “You don’t take a raise because you deserve it. You take a raise when you’re ready to let clients go.” This was said to me early in my career, and I didn’t get it at the time. Back then, it sounded like a negative thing, and it took me a long time to understand that it is truly about growth versus loss - and how the two are intertwined. Eventually, we’ll be busy enough that we’re booked solid for months… No guest can schedule a new reservation, no one can reschedule, and we can’t breathe. We’re ready to share our clientele with others. We’re “overripe." That’s when it’s time.
To continue to meet new guests and grow, we must be ready to see some go. If we are still building and “protecting” our business, it may not be the time. Getting a raise brings with it some responsibility for us. It will spook some guests away for sure, but we can be a part of their continued success if we identify someone else in our salon who can work with them at a more comfortable price point. This arrangement definitely softens the blow, and we can ensure that the guest is retained by the salon. Everybody wins.
Keeping our approach to pricing and schedule consistent and unemotional is a MUST in creating stability between us and the guest and resolving most issues. These are the foundation of every guest relationship – everything else builds from them. If we treat these as absolute truths, unemotional and non-negotiable, we’ll find that there is always a way to peacefully solve unsavory situations.
About the Author: Jesse Linares is a stylist at TRACE SALON + SUPPLY in Franklin, TN, as well as a member of the Sam Villa Artistic Team. As a self-described "working class hairdresser" and passionate educator, he takes pride in being able to share what he's learned throughout his decades-long career. Follow Linares on Instagram @jesse.linares.
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