Customers From Hell: Combating, Avoiding, & Dealing With Tough Clients
Want to hear a scary story?
Some people tell gory urban legends or ghost stories around midnight campfires, but if you want a stylist's hair to stand on end, talk about bleaching nightmares or unwarranted scathing internet reviews.
Customers from hell are a real thing, and if you've avoided them thus far, congratulations, you're in the minority. The truth is there are just some clients in this world that should have horns instead of hair. (Or hooves instead of feet, then we could hear them when they were coming and know when to run).
Have you heard about the client who wanted platinum blonde and "forgot" to tell their stylist about the last time they put metallic henna on their locks? Well, the stylist and client had to watch in horror as the hair melted during an in-salon session.Tears were shed and curse words flew like angry hornets around the salon chair. A scalding review was left on the internet, and did the customer take responsibility for the lie they told? Heck no, they just damaged the reputation of a stylist who was working with information she could have only presumed was true.
What about those ever-irritating tales of customers who have Pinterest aspirations with a dollar store budget? You know the ones; no matter how politely a stylist explains that $50 can only stretch so far, the customer's dissatisfaction with how light their hair can get in an hour somehow becomes a full-blown assault on stylist's capabilities, not the lack of funding needed to accomplish a proper color job. We understand budgets, that's why we're such a big fan of the DIY community, but the truth is this;
If you want professionally executed rainbow hair, you better be ready to spend gold like a leprechaun.
And of course, there's the customer who thinks that because they follow a couple beauty Instagram accounts they know as much as you, the licensed stylist. You know the one, the client who wants ash platinum hair but doesn't quite understand why the road to silver-y locks is so long. It's the client who's never satisfied with the cut, color, or style because they compare it to snapchat stories that don't show the hours upon hours of chair time it takes to accomplish hollywood hair. The client who gives you suggestions on how to do your job AS you're coloring them, and then complains at the end.
Yeah, Sharron, your hair does STILL have brassy tones in it. That's because a month ago you dyed it pitch black. Oh? your favorite instagram mermaid changed her already blonde hair with purple shampoo in 30 seconds of cut scenes? You're right. that's the exact same situation as this. I'll keep that in mind for next time.
*dies a little inside*
We empathize HARD with situations that bring out the crazy in people, so if you're looking for ways to combat, control, or totally avoid the customer from hell, we have a few tips:
Know Your Stuff: This is the pinnacle of deterrence when it comes to having rough encounters with high-maintenance clients. As a stylist, people are putting their outer appearance in your hands (which often times means their self esteem). With the world at our fingertips and access to the internet and proper vetting, there is no reason to be left out of the loop when it comes to hair. Having proper care, maintenance, and stylist knowledge (Which, honestly, is something you need to update consistently, like the itunes app or the oil in your car) will be your biggest weapon in your arsenal against the difficult client. Take the classes, do the research, stay hungry for knowledge, and make sure to test your methods. At the end of the day, if you know your stuff you'll be able to combat false accusations and educate your client confidently and clearly.
Set Clear Expectations: THIS. DO THIS. Seriously, clear expectations are necessary in every relationship, but ESPECIALLY in ones that could potentially be high-maintenance. Having a client walk away from the cost of a WELL DONE, multiple-appointment hair transformation is FAR better than having them be dissatisfied with something that fit their budget. Be honest with what it takes to do extensions and hair color, let them know them know about the boundaries of time, products, and maintenance. Above all, do not promise something that you cannot deliver (or will be compromising your professional relationship to deliver).
PRO TIP: This isn't really so much a pro-tip as it is common sense, but just in case... Educating your clients on expectations, costs, or maintenance should never come off as condescending. Your clients are NOT stylists. Always come in with an attitude of empathy when you need to clarify aspects of their style requests. Good hair costs what it costs, but you don't need to belittle a potential client in the process. Basically, don't be rude.
Do NOT Avoid Confrontation: It is really hard to be a stylist. It just is. You build relationships with everyone in your chair, some for the very reason that they are IN your chair. It is very likely that if you are a stylist, you are someone's confidant. That can make things like confrontation VERY uncomfortable. It's hard when you've had regulars for years that start overstepping and crossing the line. Confrontation does not have to be impolite or rude (it works best if it's not, actually) but confrontation does have to be honest. If you lose a client over honesty and keeping to clear standards and expectations, they were not a client you needed to keep. Avoiding confrontation is how a lot of stylists end up with toxic, stressful relationships. The earlier in the relationship you let a client know something is not ok (whether it's how they treat you or how they treat their hair) the easier it is to keep everyone happy.
Own Mistakes, But Don't Give Unnecessary Apologies: You're going to make a mistake (congratulations, you're not a robot). It's gonna suck really hard and you're probably going to feel like a beaten dumpster of regret and sadness. Do not lie to cover your ass, own up to it and do your absolute best to fix it, and move on. Do not let it hang over your head. Additionally, don't let an angry client force you to feel bad about things that were out of your control or they asked you to do. If they said "dye my hair black" and you suggested that it might not look the best with their skin tone and that eyebrow maintenance would have to be a thing etc., and they still wanted it, it is not your fault if they end up upset with the outcome. If timing permits it, you can attempt to clarify how you both can communicate better in the future and tactfully suggest that maybe because you are a licensed stylist you might have a slightly better idea of how something is going to look than they do. However, apologizing for something that a customer asked for and then was upset they received is not a good move. It doesn't help them, and it doesn't help you.
PRO TIP: We know of stylists who ask their clients to sign waivers if they're unsure of how a cut or color will look. We believe this is for extreme cases only, and we whole-heartedly think that if you're at the point of signing a waiver it's better to not do the style at all. HOWEVER, this move has definitely saved some butts from angry lawsuits. This is particularly helpful if you're in a scenario where you don't have your own space/personal client list and are having to just cut and color whatever comes your way.
Don't Stand For Crazy: Seriously, don't. You're a person and a professional. If you're working for yourself you can absolutely fire clients, it's totally a thing (obviously not an ideal thing, but the cost of therapy and stress medication far outweighs the cost of a lost client). We have heard of so many stories where stylists couldn't say "no" to a client because they felt bad, and their mental and physical health suffered for it. If someone is not willing to treat you like a person you are not obligated to keep cutting their hair because you've done it before. Let them know that their behavior is not acceptable and that they can find someone else to touch up their roots.
Go with Your Gut: Sometimes, it's a gut feeling. Every once in a while you can tell that you just won't be able to make a customer happy. If you want to try a couple times just to see, you do you. However, it's never a bad idea to tell a customer you don't think you're the right fit for them, it's going to be a long-term relationship after all. If you know they'll be unhappy with what you give them, it might be good to let them know before they spend a lot of time complaining in your chair. The truth is this may be something that just takes time, the longer you're a stylist the more you'll be able to trust your gut.
Ok, now we want to hear from you!!!
What are your horrendous client stories? How did you deal with them? Have you found a your own personal way to balance politeness and clarity? Let us know in the comments! We want to know how you deal with hard personalities during your day-to-day styling!