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Unhappy Customer? How to Turn a Bad Salon Experience into a Great Opportunity.

How to handle negative salon reviews and turn the unhappy client into a loyal one? Seems impossible? We know how to do that!

Hrachuhi Arakelyan

Apr 30, 2020 · 9 min read

Unhappy salon client

Any experienced salon owner should know that complaints are, unfortunately, inevitable. That doesn’t mean for a moment that they are easy to take and quite often it doesn’t stop a complaint from feeling like a personal attack, when it’s your business that is the cause of someone’s unhappiness.

We already discussed in a previous article how to handle bad reviews, but let’s dig a little deeper into what can be done to avert the possibility of receiving a complaint in the first place. After all, prevention is always better than cure.


😨 When expectations don’t match the reality.

This is a really common problem and one which marketing and advertising can, in part, often be held accountable for. You set the scene, you show beautiful surroundings (thanks to stock photos, which perhaps don’t quite match up to your place) or promise dramatic results. Maybe the treatment description wasn't clear, and made the client believe that they would be getting more than the treatment or service actually promised. Maybe the client saw a celebrity promote some amazing (photo-enhanced) results, and expected the same for themselves.

What to do? When advertising your salon or a service, remember to follow good practice and be honest and truthful with what you portray. Know your audience and treat them like they are sharp and clear-headed people they are.

🙅 Got a new therapist? Vamos!

It follows that new or inexperienced therapists or stylists will inevitably be slower than those with more experience. As a salon owner, you not only need to schedule that extra time into their work column, but your clients need to know it will take a little longer too. Time is valuable, so clients need to know how long they can expect their treatment to take. They may have another appointment scheduled right after, or have paid for a limited amount of parking… They have a right to be frustrated if things take longer than they anticipated.

Make sure you have a training plan for all new employees to get them up to speed as rapidly as possible. Offer their treatments at an introductory discount so they can get enough clients to get their treatment times quicker. This way, the client still feels they have value for money and expectations are set from the outset.

If you work with drop-in appointments, be sure that any wait time is communicated honestly. If you know it’s going to be a 30-minute wait, tell them. Sure, they may leave, but they may just pop out to grab a coffee or to run a few errands. ‘Any minute now’ is not good enough. Likewise, if your therapist or stylist is running late, call ahead if you can, to let the next client know before they even arrive with you. Don’t just expect them to sit around twiddling their thumbs while your therapist catches up.

🔮 Products and formulas.

It’s important to stock a range of different brand products for use with all your customers. Sure, there will be your tried and tested product favourites, but what about clients with allergies? Or the ones that don’t like a particular scent? Or like their brows tinted using a particular combination of shades to get it just right?

Booking a time slot for a full initial consultation prior to a first appointment and following this up with good record-keeping is essential. It’s not enough for one therapist to try and remember how their client likes it - what if they are off sick or they leave? A good salon management system will enable you to make and keep thorough records and a detailed history of which products are used or how a service is tailored to each individual client. They shouldn’t have to tell you how they like it every time they come in.

🚿 Nobody likes a dirty salon.

Especially now, when coronavirus is such a concern. Your salon needs to be immaculate. If you run a good salon, you already pay attention to daily cleaning and correct disinfection of your tools. Use hospital-grade disinfectant to clean door handles, the PIN pad of your payment device, all treatment room sinks and all shelves and touchscreens, phones and devices as often as possible. In these uncertain times, it makes clients and your team feel reassured at the very least. Also, shout about it! Make sure you have updated information on your website and in your communications that shares the additional steps you have taken to ensure your salon remains germ-free.

💁 The customer is (usually) right:

Customers want to feel special, not like they are just another number. Make sure that they are treated (and greeted) well from the moment they reach out to you (in any way, from online, over the phone or face-to-face). Being polite and courteous should be a given. Going further, be sure to try to personalise every element of their customer journey, from using their name in mass emails, to specific offers based on the products and services your records show that they like.

When they are in the salon, make sure your team knows to talk them through the process they are having, explaining the specific products that are being used for them and why they have been chosen, so they feel that their service is bespoke to them, and them alone.

They say that hairdressers and beauty therapists are a workforce of unpaid psychologists and quite often this is true. Clients like to open up when they feel safe and comfortable. This trust should be respected by always listening without interruption to let clients feel heard and of course, never repeated elsewhere as the latest gossip.

🖥 Great software is worth the investment.

The booking engine is slow and clunky, the website looks outdated, the card payment system doesn’t work properly, it’s too difficult to buy a gift voucher online. All these things can turn clients away.

These days, many clients prefer to shop for a new salon and book their appointments online. This means the first step to customer retention is having a beautiful online shop window that will attract and retain their interest.

Behind that needs to be a great salon management system with integrated payment mechanisms and a marketing suite that effectively captures data and communicates in a way that reflects that warm welcome. Customers want an easy life - great software can help ensure that happens for them, from the moment they check you out, to the time they book (or rebook) their appointment. Nobody should be complaining before they have even set foot inside your salon. (It’s worth noting that some salon management systems can even prompt for and share reviews automatically, which helps push those feel-good vibes out to the world).

🤝 Loyalty should go both ways.

Don’t have a salon loyalty program, but expect your clients to be loyal to you? How so? A loyalty program recognises loyal customers with customisable rewards and incentives for their repeat business. That not only help motivate them to keep returning, but can encourage them to try new services or treatments - maybe even a slightly longer treatment with your new therapist?!

At times like these where we are facing a global recession, there’s less money and fewer customers around. The race to retain and keep clients will be more important than ever. This makes loyalty and making sure customers know that they are valued a key piece in the program of ensuring they remain with you, and don’t go elsewhere. And let’s not forget, the more loyal customers feel, the less likely they will be to complain, period.

😭 Oh dear. The end result wasn’t what they wanted.

The key way to deal with this and to prevent it from happening in the first place is to listen carefully, before picking up the scissors or colour. This is where communication matters more than ever. If the client wants something unattainable, it’s best to tell them before getting started, rather than try to accomplish it and fail. But, hindsight is a wonderful thing.

If it has all gone wrong, offer whatever can be done to rectify it. If it really can’t be fixed immediately, then reschedule a complimentary appointment for a time that it can (when the hair has grown out or the nails can be repainted). Do what you can to put it right without getting into a blame game. Just letting a customer feel heard can go a long way in ensuring the situation is calmed.

And sometimes, clients are, unfortunately, just never going to be happy. Take a look at our article on how to deal with complaints or more advice on how to approach those customers who won’t ever be pleased, with ways on how to take a damage-limitation approach.

👭 Speak their language.

Like, literally. If you have a foreign workforce blabbing away in their native tongue, it can feel to non-speakers that they are being talked about. Insist that your team speaks the language of the country you are in with clients (or in front of them) at all times.

Save the native-tongue talk for the staff room. It’s basic respect.

🌐 Be consistent.

As a salon owner, you should strive to have your entire team deliver the same levels of service at all times. This is done through comprehensive training, from how customers are greeted and treated from the very beginning of their customer journey.

Establish rules on what types of client notes and records are kept and best practice guidelines for in-service approaches and timekeeping. For example, a 60-minute massage should incorporate the same moves by whichever therapist is doing the treatment, not just whatever that therapist prefers to do. A manicure should be the same, whoever is doing it.

Have standardized treatments and make sure those standards are followed. When a client has a particular deviation that is unique to them, make sure that their notes reflect it, so it can be replicated by others.

Life is about learning from our mistakes

As salon owners, the reality is that complaints will happen. But, by consistent service levels across the board and conflict resolution frameworks for all to follow, these can be minimised. Having a ‘what to do when things go wrong’ plan is a must.

Finally, to avoid any complaints spreading across the internet, a solid resolution centre set up, with clear communication channels and designated responders who work to a short resolution time can help to nip things in the bud before they become an even bigger problem.

Complaints don’t have to be the end of the world. But just like many things in life today, prevention is always better than cure.

MarketingManagementCustomer Service

Written by

Hrachuhi Arakelyan

Co-Founder/Customer Happiness Manager at RetentionForce