Sam Villa Guest Blog: How to Handle Difficult Guests

Upset customer

In the course of any hairdresser’s career, it’s guaranteed that we will face our share of difficult or challenging guests. When someone pushes back on the balance of our haircut, the accuracy of our color application, or maybe even our pricing structure, it’s hard not to feel offended or become defensive! 

In the book “Creating Customer Evangelists," Jackie Huba explains that these guests may be our greatest allies if we learn to handle them properly. If someone is willing to complain or challenge something, that shows a level of commitment to being your guest!  Otherwise they would just leave rather than being willing to voice their concerns. So, if we can work with them and provide solutions, we have the ability to cultivate that difficult guest into a true Customer Evangelist!

When a guest becomes difficult or challenging, it can raise our emotions, because our natural instincts tell us to protect ourselves. When emotions are high, intelligence is low. Try to keep your energy neutral, so that you are able to respond to the situation rather than react. 

Next, understand that the guest isn’t trying to be a pain just for the fun of it. All humans are motivated by one specific goal: get our needs met. The guest that is complaining or being difficult is just trying to get a personal need fulfilled, and many times this need could be as simple as a need to be heard and understood. You will be blown away by how quickly you can diffuse the energy of a difficult person simply by letting them know that you hear them and you are working to understand how you can make things right.

It may sound something like this: “I can hear that you’re not happy with the placement of your highlights, and that can be frustrating. I’m going to do my best to understand what we can do to make things right.”  This changes the dynamic between you and the guest. It makes things cooperative; you are in it together now. The absolute worst thing we can do is immediately defend ourselves. As soon as we start to defend and justify our point of view, we’ve turned it into a fight where we are on opposing teams.

Now it’s time to get incredibly clear on the solution. Ask great questions to understand what they are seeing or feeling about the situation and formulate a solution. Get a strong agreement on the solution, and make sure the solution will solve their specific challenge.  This could sound like: “So, if I could get a few more highlights around the hairline to diffuse more of your natural color, would that be more accurate to what you have in mind?” At this point, do not move forward until you get a solid and convincing “YES” from the guest. This agreement again gets you both on the same team and provides something for you to reflect back to if they are still unhappy after the solution is executed.

All of this is well and good if we are working with someone that can be won over. Unfortunately there will always be one or two people you come across who—regardless of how well you communicate and regardless of how perfect your skill set may be—will never be satisfied.  This is when it’s time to decide whether this guest is worth your continued energy. If it’s time for them to move on, swallow the need for you to tell them just how crazy they are and make the conversation about you! “Hi Mrs. Smith, in most of our previous appointments, I’ve found that I’m not able to create the looks you want and I apologize if that has created problems for you and your hair. I always want what is best for my guests, so I feel there may be better hairdressers for you that can achieve the look you have in mind. I’m happy to help make recommendations if you would like and I thank you for your business.” (Then recommend them to your friend’s salon down the street as a really awful practical joke!  Just kidding friends—play nice out there.) Even in this situation, you have treated the communication with respect and “fired” a guest without offending them.

You see friends, when we are able to keep our ego under control in the face of a difficult guest, we can actually build better relationships!  Or, if it’s time for that relationship to end, we can end it on terms that avoid the scathing Yelp reviews and open a space in our schedule for someone that will appreciate the work we do!

Aspire for More!
Sam

[Image courtesy of Sam Villa]

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