How To Talk About Breaking Up

Kelly Cison | July 10, 2011 | 10:19 AM
Hesitant to broach sensitive subjects with your clients? Never feel tongue-tied again! Use expert tips from our comprehensive guide to talk to clients with professional confidence.

How To Talk About Breaking Up

First, it’s crucial to always give a client the benefit of the doubt. When someone is unhappy with the work you’ve done—as will inevitably happen at some point during your career—avoid making split-second judgments or pointing fingers. Even if you’re sure the client is just impossible to please, attempting to understand how they’re feeling, and why, is the first step toward conflict resolution.

When there’s a dissatisfied client at Indra Salon and City Spa
, Graffeo goes to great lengths with her staff to avoid simply dismissing someone as “crazy.” First, the stylist will hear out the client, with a manager present if necessary. “We do listen to the client, and give her an opportunity to express herself,” Graffeo says. “Then the stylist will carefully re-consult, and we’ll give her a chance to do the service again.” If the manager can see the stylist-client relationship is not going to work, she may suggest another stylist or a different service to the client.

There are rare instances—and our experts stress that they are indeed rare— when seemingly nothing will satisfy a client. In the past 13 years, Graffeo says there has been only three times where she’s recognized she’s fighting a losing battle with a chronically unhappy customer. In those cases, “as a last-possible resort, we’ll buy and mail them a gift card to another salon and hope that will meet their needs,” she says. But it’s never done lightly. Her staff takes “breaking up” with a client seriously, and there are protocols that everyone must follow before it ever gets to that point. Be sure you are clear on the rules in your own salon, and solicit support from your manager, if you find yourself in a client-from-hell situation.

Sometimes it’s a matter of a client thinking she knows better.
Santy relates a story about one new client who insisted he cut her hair dry—after he had already cut her hair wet, giving her exactly the cut she asked for. “I told her it would just make it too short, but she insisted,” he says. “After I cut it a second time, I had to re-wash it and re-blow dry it. Later, when I called her to follow up, she said her cut was just okay, and ‘I’ll direct you next time.’ I told her if the cut was just okay, and she was going to have to go through all that trouble of directing me, it would probably be best for both of us if she found another salon.”

Other client disasters: One of Santy’s clients insisted he change his schedule around to be available for her big events, but “flipped out” on him when he had to move one appointment because of a last-minute schedule change at a photo shoot he was involved in. Another long-term client was initially fine with having to see another stylist when Santy was traveling, but then refused to pay for the cut afterward. “She made a scene at the front desk and embarrassed everyone,“ says Santy. “No one knew what to do.” Santy notes that these three incidents have been the only times he’s had to “break up” with a client in his 35-year career. “I pride myself on handling people well,” he says. “I would never want a new stylist to think problematic clients are the norm.”

The occasional client may disregard or abuse the rules of the salon—like Michelle Smith’s chronic no-show at Rejuve Salon Spa in Raleigh, North Carolina. “We have a 24-hour cancellation policy and there was a customer who would call in to cancel just a few hours before her appointment each time,” Smith says. “I had asked her to pay the full service amount for a color and highlight appointment, and told her I couldn’t have her as a client if she didn’t pay. I was pregnant, and I’d had an assistant come in to help me for that appointment, so it was a big deal. She refused, and for that reason, I had to let her go as a client. She was the owner of a local modeling agency, and I liked her as a person, but ultimately it doesn’t matter who they are. I can’t tolerate that in my business.”

Terry Folawn describes a client break up as “the ugly part. It ranks up there with firing a staff member.” The best advice in any situation? “Keep it short, keep it simple, and don’t make it personal.” Folawn does just that with the few clients who’ve grabbed a therapist during a massage or made inappropriate comments to the young female spa techs. She simply asks them not to come back, and she does it with confidence. “I’ve learned that I can refuse someone’s business and be comfortable doing so. Because my staff’s job is to service the clients, but my job is to protect my staff.”

How To Talk About Breaking Up

Also in the same series:

...Updating Their Style
...Breaking Up
...Other Services You Offer

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