As a professional, sometimes you know the cut, style or color your client wants won’t necessarily work for their hair type, ease of at-home maintenance or overall look.

Brig Van Osten, owner of Play Hair Lounge in Simi Valley, California, recently had a customer come to her salon in a state of distress. According to Van Osten, the teenager was “over it, all of it” and wanted a very short haircut. When the hairstylist told the client that she didn’t think she would be happy with that, the client replied, “I won’t like anything you do today.”

The stylist politely refused to do the service. “I can’t do a haircut I don’t stand behind,” the stylist said. “I will not be upset if you get it done at another salon.” The client left the salon.

Later, the client’s mother took her anger to social media, posting a rant about the salon and the refused service.

“She was upset that we don’t believe in ‘The customer is always right’,” Van Osten says. “It actually ended up turning some new business our way—clients who want an honest opinion from a hairstylist.”

Van Osten says she will always support her stylists’ decisions to make sure clients are happy with cut, color or style that looks the best on them.


How can you tell when you shouldn’t put the shears to hair, either at all or just not in the way that the client requested?

“The first thing I like to discover is why,” Van Osten says. “When, where and why did this idea come up? I want to be sure they are not making a change under duress. The classic, ‘I broke up with my boyfriend, so I’m chopping all my hair off’ reason is not good.”

Daniel Roldan, Matrix artistic director, traces the “why” back to three reasons: they are a new client and looking for something new; they don’t visit the salon often; or they are coming in with a suggestion from a friend or a magazine without doing any research themselves.

Color expert Beth Minardi uses the “why” method as a first step as well. She says she tries to think of why the client wants their request.

“Sometimes they like a celebrity color that is totally wrong for them,” Minardi says. “Or they think that the color is incredibly temporary and will just wash out.”


Rather than just flat-out telling a client “no” to their requested service, there are other ways to lead your client toward a more fitting solution.

“Never say no, but instead offer a consultation before getting started,” Roldan says. “Get a good understanding of who your client is and what style they are trying to convey. It’s up to you to guide them in the right direction, so the consultation is extremely important.”

Minardi says she tells the client their satisfaction is of the utmost importance, but when it comes to color, she points out that variations of that color scheme might work better.

Van Osten likes to suggest something to the client she feels will be more flattering or easier for them to style. “No one says ‘no’ to hearing another suggestion,” she says.

“If it is a major haircut and I do not think they are doing it for the right reasons, or it won’t be wonderful on them, I refuse,” Van Osten says. “My clients come to me because of my point of view as a hairstylist. They trust that I will not just add bangs because they decided after watching one episode of New Girl the night before their appointment. It never fails, we always joke about it later. It’s an instant world. We all want fast change (though it might not always be right).”


If a client still insists on the desired service, there are a few options. In some rare occasions, it is okay to give in.

In Roldan’s case, he has never said “no” to a client and then given in to what the client wanted.

“When she realized it wasn’t working, ultimately she listened to me and in the end it looked fabulous,” he says.

Van Osten says that if it is one of her loyal, regular clients, she will determine the “point of return” before going ahead with the client’s request.

“How hard will it be to recover their hair back to what we have going on?” Van Osten says. “If it won’t damage or take 10 hours to return it back, I might go along with it, but nine times out of 10, their next visit is to change it back.”

In other cases, Van Osten recommends they find another salon.

“When I turn something down in my salon, none of the other stylists want to take it on and vice versa,” Van Osten says. “We work together as a team and mostly always agree. We take a lot of pride in what we do.”

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