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How to Handle Difficult Hair Clients: 3 Scenarios

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If you work as a stylist, then you know just how intimate this career is. Your job is quite literally to help your clients look and feel as beautiful as possible during an appointment that can last anywhere from one hour to several. During that time, you’re talking, learning about their goals and interests, and forming an important bond.
With this in mind, it’s normal to hope that you get to spend every day working with clients who fit your culture and personality and who are willing to pay you what you’re worth.

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Unfortunately, this won’t always be the case. Every so often, all stylists will find themselves dealing with a client who is rude, angry, or otherwise difficult. It is, simply, a part of the job, and learning how to defuse those situations is an important skill for all stylists to develop.

Below, we take a look at three of the most common scenarios that we see when it comes to “difficult” clients, and offer some advice to help you navigate these awkward waters.

Scenario #1: When a client won’t listen to your advice.

Imagine this: A client comes in and asks for a color that you know won’t look good with their complexion. You give them your opinion and offer an alternative, but they insist that they know what they want and that it’ll look great. Against your instincts, you give in and perform the service, and when they look in the mirror, they aren’t happy with the results. Now, they’re insisting that you “fix” their hair, even though you were very clear with your advice in the beginning.

Sound familiar?

In these situations, it often feels like you’re stuck between a rock and a hard place because 1.) you want to make the client happy, even if they’re the one at fault and 2.) at the end of the day, it’s your work that you’re putting out there. You want it to be your best. This often leads stylists to give in and complete another service, even if it means that they’re losing money at the end of the day.

The solution: Exude confidence.

At the end of the day, you have to remind your clients that you are a trained professional, and you know what you’re talking about. If you advise against a service because you believe it won’t deliver the results that the client is asking for, it’s in your best interest to stand by your convictions. And if they still insist? You should then outline your policies about refunds and follow up treatments so they know you won’t be giving anything away just because they didn’t listen to you.

Scenario #2: When a client has unrealistic expectations.

Alternatively, imagine a client who comes to you wanting a truly transformative treatment; for example, going from brunette to blonde. It’s totally doable, but it will take time and multiple appointments to get them from their starting point to where they want to be. You walk them through all the steps that have to happen and explain the timeline, and then set to work for the first appointment.

But then, at the end of the appointment, they aren’t happy with their hair because “this isn’t what they wanted.” Those are words that no stylist ever wants to hear.

The solution: Use pictures.

You did a great job of explaining your process and the timeline it would take to get your client to their #hairgoals, but if they’re unhappy at the end of the session, then they clearly didn’t follow everything you were saying. One easy way to avoid this moving forward is to use pictures. For example, imagine that it will take 3 appointments to get the client where they want to be. By showing them a picture of what they can expect their hair will look like at the end of each appointment, you can help to remove any confusion and make sure they truly understand the timeline involved with their transformation.

Scenario #3: When a client isn’t communicating their goals effectively.

A lot of people don’t realize this, but virtually everything that stylists do is based at least to some extent in science. Color, lightening, formulations—it can get complicated pretty fast! That’s why stylists tend to be extremely precise in the way they talk about hair and their treatments. We talk in levels and tones, because we know that even a slight discrepancy can throw off the finished results.

You know who doesn’t typically communicate like this? Clients! They simply haven’t (in most cases) been trained to understand the science or the lingo behind hair. And that means they occasionally use the wrong words or say the wrong things when they’re trying to explain their goals to you. The good news is that, with practice, it gets easier to understand what your clients are asking for even if they aren’t using the same language as you. The bad news is that miscommunication can occasionally lead to very angry clients.

You gave them exactly what they were asking for! They just didn’t ask for the right thing!

The solution: Again, the solution here lies in pictures.

Showing your client pictures of what their hair will look like after a treatment (or asking them to show you a picture of what they hope to look like) will remove any of the potential confusion that comes from word choice.

Take It One Appointment at a Time

Dealing with difficult clients is truly a case by case basis. I think the most important thing is to ensure you are clearly communicating your policies and what can realistically be achieved during your time together.

It can be helpful to think of your client as a student. Even if you aren’t an educator, it’s important to think of yourself as one when it comes to your clients in your chair. The more education you give about their service, a detailed roadmap of what is going to happen, and why and how it will happen will not only make you the trusted source but will leave no surprises to the client. Fewer surprises usually means less of those “difficult” clients wanting unrealistic expectations.

Want more advice and tips to help you grow into the stylist that you know you can be? Sign up for our Living With Purpose One-on-One Mentorship, where Christine will use her own experience to guide you on your journey.

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