Customer Service

When Customers Complain

No one likes to hear complaints from clients, but they go hand in hand with working in a salon. Thankfully, there’s a way to deal with customer dissatisfaction that will keep both you and your client content.

illustration by Lucie Crovato/Pihrana Presents
<p>illustration by Lucie Crovato/Pihrana Presents</p>

Think about the last time a client complained to you. Maybe it was about the quality of service she received, or the fact that your salon didn’t look as clean as usual. Whatever the complaint was, think about the way you reacted. Did you get defensive or did you apologize, yet do nothing to fix the situation?

The next time one of your clients comes to you with a complaint, think of it as a gift and thank her — then do something about it. “A customer should not be considered a nuisance,” says Janelle Barlow, Ph.D., president of TMI, a training and consulting company in Las Vegas. “In fact, clients are doing salon owners a favor. Customers are a salon owner’s only source of job security.”

Some people tend to think that if someone is complaining, it’s a sign of trouble. Quite the contrary, says Barlow. The sign of a bad or declining relationship with your clientele is the absence of complaints. When someone complains, it means she is speaking up because she wants a solution to the situation.

If you’ve ever dealt with a client who was less than happy about a nail service or had a complaint about something else in the salon, then you can relate.

And even if you haven’t had a customer complain to you yet, you can still learn how to cope with complaints and think of that dissatisfied customer’s comment as a gift. After all, if one of your customers has a problem and it gets resolved in a timely manner, she will be more apt to say something positive about your salon and services to other people — and that’s always a plus.

The Quiet Ones Are the Worst Ones

Customers rarely complain. In fact, says Barlow, only 4% will complain about something. The other 96% will stay silent. And 26 out of 27 customers who experience poor service from an organization do not complain to someone who can do anything about the complaint.

Even when there’s a valid reason to complain, many customers will keep quiet because they figure the next time they come in the quality of service will be worse. Not only that, they figure nothing will change — the complaint will go unheeded.

Although you may want to cringe when a client starts complaining about this or that, it’s that type of client you should be thanking. In fact, the quiet client should be more cause for concern than one who pipes up and voices her dissatisfaction. If a client doesn’t like her manicure but doesn’t say anything about it she is more likely to go someplace else to get her nails done. And that’s not all she’ll do.

“If someone asks the person who was wronged for a recommendation, she is more likely to say some pretty nasty things about your establishment,” says Barlow. “It’s so much better to have the customer tell you what she doesn’t like than to have her tell the rest of the world.”

Is the Customer Always Right?

One of the biggest mistakes salon owners and nail technicians make is to distrust the client or blame her for what happened. “Customers will arrive on time, be forced to wait, complain, and then are made to feel guilty because they spoke up. This is so unfair,” says Barlow. “It wasn’t the customer’s fault, and to be attacked because she spoke up is simply inexcusable.”

There is such a thing as a picky customer who can never be satisfied, but they are few and far between. Most clients want to cooperate and get along. “The moment a salon owner sees a complaining customer and puts her in the ‘picky customer’ category, she is delivering a disservice to that client,” says Barlow.

So is there a sound solution to avoiding client complaints? Offering personalized, unique treatments and great customer service is really the best way to make clients feel like they’re being totally pampered and taken care of. “Always have a courteous approach to every situation,” says Barlow. “The customer may not always be right, but you want to be able to see her side.” Also, follow a formula for dealing with complaints (see “Formula for Su cc ess” on page 56). Above all else, always thank the client. As strange as it may sound, Barlow says using this strategy has a way of changing the client’s attitude. It shows you are willing to listen and help and welcome the client’s comments — even if she may not necessarily be praising you. If you deal with the emotions directly, quickly, and at the beginning of the interaction, you take control of how this complaint will be seen by others, says Barlow. By thanking your clients for their feedback and apologizing for mistakes, they will see themselves in partnership with you, linked against a common enemy — the problems you both face.

Expand Your Client’s Tolerance Zone

According to Barlow, clients have two pictures of service in their mind: desired service (what they would like to receive) and adequate service (the minimum they’ll accept without harboring negative feelings).

Your clients will be happier with Your normal service if their “tolerance zone” is larger. A larger tolerance zone also creates more options when you handle complaints. If a client’s tolerance zone is small or shrinking, your adequate service will no longer create satisfaction. Customers become harder to please when they’re intolerant. Not only that, in this emotional state, clients will look for things to go wrong — and they’ll find them.

Sometimes the tolerance zone has shrunk so much that only your very best or extraordinary service will be minimally acceptable to your clients, says Barlow.

And occasionally the tolerance zone has shrunk so much that virtually nothing will satisfy your clients. If that zone is so small that the only thing that will satisfy your clients is something You can’t offer, you will probably lose that customer.

In order to expand your client’s tolerance zone, you have to show your friendly side, says Barlow. Friendliness builds trust and inspires forgiveness. Show you know your clients by using their names. Keep a smile in your voice — especially when you’re on the phone — by keeping a smile on your face. Also, look for connections with your clients and make them.

Keep in mind that being a salon owner or nail technician means having to deal with all sorts of people. You’re in a people business, and you might not necessarily like every single client who walks through your doors. And just like every client’s personality is different, his or her reactions to certain situations will vary as well. Your job is to remain as neutral as possible and not take things to heart.

“Some people think that complaining is rude. They might not do it themselves, so when a customer complains to them, by definition they think they have just been insulted,” says Barlow. “It’s never good to take a complaining customer’s attack personally. After all, they would probably say the same thing to whoever stood in your place. Service providers must re mind themselves that very few complaints are personal.”

When it comes down to it, your job is for the most part enjoyable. You’re going to have your good and bad days, and even if you might not want to hear it, clients will have complaints — whether they’re valid or not. Keep an open mind and remember to thank them.

Doing It the Wrong Way

The fact that we make mistakes isn’t deadly. What matters is how we recover and how long it takes to fix those mistakes, says Janelle Barlow. More than half of all attempts to process customer complaints leads to even greater dissatisfaction. Customers are frequently met with ineffective responses such as these:

• A simple apology — and nothing else.

• A rejection — and no offer of help.

• Promises that aren’t delivered.

• No response at all.

• Passed on to another department or person.

• Rude treatment or a defensive reaction.

• Avoidance of personal responsibility.

• Nonverbal rejection, such as a frown.

• A customer interview, where time is spent asking questions that don’t solve the problem.

• An interrogation, where the customer is blamed for the problem.


Formula for Success

If a client complains, don’t take it the wrong way. Instead, follow these steps:

Say thank you.  Create immediate rapport with clients when a mistake or disappointment has occurred. “Remember, people who complain are our friends,” says Janelle Barlow, Ph.D., and president of TMI, a training and consulting company. “They do us a favor and are giving us a chance to develop, to improve our quality, perhaps even to thrive.”

Explain why you appreciate the feedback. Saying thank you is too empty by itself; you have to qualify it. You can say: “Thank you for letting me know,” for example.

Say you’re sorry. Create greater rapport by saying, “Thank you for telling me what happened, and for giving us an opportunity to discuss your situation in greater detail.” Then apologize. With the apology you’ve bought yourself a ticket to do something, says Barlow.

Promise to do something about it. “I’m going to take care of your request right away” is a good way to handle the situation. If you can’t fix the problem, explain why. Offer alternatives — that says plenty about your quality.

Ask for more information. Engage your clients in dialog to find out what truly happened. Repeat back what they have said to be sure you understood them.

Fix the problem. You may not be able to do this on your initial encounter with your client. Set reasonable expectations for getting back to them. Don’t make promises you can’t keep.

Check client satisfaction. You make a psychological contract with people if you ask whether they will be satisfied with your solution. Follow-up takes extra time, but it creates loyal and cooperative clients.

Prevent future mistakes. Now you and your team should get to work. Cure the causes of mistakes — not merely the symptoms.

Keywords:   client complaints     communicating with customers     customer service  

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