Satisfaction Guaranteed? |

6 mins

Satisfaction Guaranteed?

The customer is always right. Right? Well, we all know it’s sometimes not quite so simple. Hellen Ward shares her advice for dealing with difficult clients

As an industry, we work with the public and, as we all know, sometimes that can be quite a challenge. As the brilliant Ricky Gervais says, if the Great British public were that wise, we wouldn’t need labels on bottles of bleach saying “do not drink”. (Take the labels off for two years and then have a referendum was his next line – albeit in slightly fruitier language.)

I’m a bit of a matriarchal figure in our salon, and I’m quite protective of my team. In fact, I’ve just been comforting one of our Saturday staff because a client barked at her for not knowing the intricate technical specification of the backwash product she was shampooing with. “I’m just giving you valuable feedback,” she said to the sobbing girl. Feedback? Well, yes, sometimes feedback can be valuable. But not at the cost of making someone cry.

Managing complaints

Complaints from clients are one thing but team gripes are another… I once worked with a guy who had a trademark saying – “it’s an observation, not a criticism” – which always made my hackles rise. As a boss, what you want from your team is constructive criticism followed up with a potential solution. And we all know people that love to find fault without solving the problem. Shame he never came up with any positive input.

As a management team dealing with a vast number of clients, we have plenty of scope for people to post negative reviews or complain but there’s always another side when you investigate what actually happened. Of course, sometimes we get it wrong, and if we do, we own it.

But we have a code of practice we follow regarding complaints:

1. Detail a time frame in which to raise the complaint. We clearly state on our website that we need to be informed of any issues within seven days of the visit. This helps to protect you when people are clearly trying it on (which sadly they do). Create a policy on how you handle issues to protect the business. After all, if you had a bad meal in a restaurant you wouldn’t expect much of a response if you waited days to tell them instead of notifying someone at the time.

2. See for yourself. I usually insist people come back in so I can speak to them personally and assess for myself. If they are reluctant to, I often state that I cannot admit liability and will consider the matter closed if I cannot discuss it personally in detail and assess the issue for myself. I’m lucky to have enough technical knowledge to do this, but even if you don’t, ensure you have someone with you that does.

3. Re-do – not refund. That’s our policy. I would rather re-do as many times as required, free of charge, in an attempt to restore faith, than simply issue a refund and then lose the client forever. But only in the timeframe which is reasonable. If a re-do is the fix, it has to be actioned in a timely manner – that’s why having a time frame policy for which to raise issues is vital. But it’s always worth trying to sort it because sometimes winning someone over can turn them into an incredibly loyal client.

4. Cut some slack. Sometimes clients behave unreasonably and kick off for no reason. Maybe they turn on you because they’ve got some personal issues or are dealing with something which they in turn take out on you. We’ve no doubt all experienced the shock of the “butter wouldn’t melt” customer who suddenly morphs into a rottweiler. But nothing irritates me more than the client who is lovely to the senior team (and me) but speaks to the younger team members appallingly, and I’m quick to pull people up on this behaviour. Although we need money in the till, everybody deserves to be treated well.

5. Get your wording right. Offer recompense (even in the form of complimentary treatments, products or services) as a gesture of goodwill without admitting liability. I often use the term “in full and final settlement of any claim”.

6. If things get heated… In an email, it’s wise to use the term “without prejudice” if things are getting difficult. It simply means that statements which are made in a genuine attempt to settle a dispute cannot be used in court as evidence of admissions against the party that made them.

"NOTHING IRRITATES ME MORE than the client who is lovely to the senior team but speaks to the younger team members APPALLINGLY.Although we need money in the till, EVERYBODY DESERVES TO BE TREATED WELL"

Of course, always check with your public liability insurer before trying to handle a claim but, as a general rule, following some simple steps and creating a policy and procedure for dealing with client dissatisfaction helps you protect yourself.

It’s an interesting physiological fact that when people don’t like what you are telling them, they often accuse you of shouting or being aggressive even if your delivery is calm. What they are actually saying is that they don’t like what you’re saying, not how you’re saying it. So, having another supervisor present is often a good idea.

Being firm but fair is critical, too. I’ve gently recommended to some clients that “another salon may be best suited to your needs” – from the woman who accused us of making her hair fall out (when she hadn’t had it cut for years and it was incredibly damaged) to the dubious pair who tried to convince me they’d bought some facial products from me which were out of date (they hadn’t – they didn’t bank on our software system finding them out). Or the client who posted a dreadful review on us not replying to her – when we investigated, we discovered she was messaging us through Instagram not email or our website/online shop links, a fact she didn’t disclose in her savage review.

And then there was the client who constantly complained we’d missed some of her regrowth and as a result never actually paid full price because she kept saving the “re-do” for when the roots needed re-colouring anyway, always finding a reason why she couldn’t come in sooner. She didn’t know who I was when I was unpacking some boxes at reception and heard her screeching at the reception team again.

When I started dealing with her shenanigans, she asked to speak to someone senior. It was quite satisfying to finally bust her little game, and the cheers when I politely asked her to leave echoed through the salon. I wish someone had told me sooner… sometimes staff don’t tell you the need-to-know bits, do they? “But I’m a good customer,” she said as I showed her out. “Sadly, you’re not, because good customers actually pay,” I retorted, holding the door open for her to leave.

At the end of the day, we should have our team’s backs as employers. Innocent until proven guilty isn’t it? But being even-tempered, fair and measured so you can see both sides is crucial. However thin you slice it, there are always two sides – perhaps.

Hellen Ward is managing director of Richard Ward Hair & Metrospa in London, vice president of The Hair & Beauty Charity and co-founder of Salon Employers Association (SEA).

This article appears in October 2023

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October 2023
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