One of the most important responsibilities of the salon owner or manager is to field complaints from unhappy customers. The tricky job is to handle an unsatisfied customer and the techni­cian who provided the service without losing either. If you handle the situation carefully, you can actually cre­ate deeper loyalty by solving a problem well than if you had never had a problem at all.

Having a clear policy for han­dling complaints ensures that com­plaints are handled uniformly and that problems can be resolved quickly. Here are some techniques I use and some salon owners I talked to for your consideration.

The customer is always right. Most of us realize that to have a pros­perous and growing service business, you must guarantee your services un­conditionally. When you are faced with an unhappy client, essentially you don’t do anything: You listen to the client and let her know you un­derstand her concern. In many cases, an unhappy customer just wants to be heard and to know that someone is taking her concerns seriously. Do what is necessary to calm the cus­tomer down (especially if she is standing in front of the salon letting the world know her nails fell off). Next, you want to decide what action you take to correct the situation.

Penny McKnight, owner of Elegance in Nails in Richardson, Texas, takes a real hands-on approach with dissatisfied clients. When she discovers a problem, she books the client for a service with herself and redoes the nails with the original nail technician sitting in on the service. “Often it’s just the smallest filing or shaping technique that needs correcting,” says McKnight, “and the client is happy and back with her original technician

Every nail technician in McK­night’s salon is aware that she calls on new clients to check on their service. She also makes a point to have personal contact with all new clients on their first visit to the salon and to assure than that their service will be a quality one. With this total involvement of her staff and the commitment to ser­vicing the customer, McKnight has a waiting list of technicians hoping to get a space in her salon.

Some salon owners who offer multiple services or have other du­ties may need to use a different ap­proach. Theresa Ward, who owns the multi-service Chameleon Salon in Menimack, N.H., takes a systematic approach to keep her customers (whom she calls “guests”) happy. Each guest is given a “traveler” sheet, which stays with than during their salon visit. All services and retail products are sanitized on this sheet so that nothing is missed when the client checks out. A follow-up call is made to the customer three days after her visit (on all chemical and nail ser­vices). Any dissatisfied guest is asked back to have a redo.

Ward says, “We use an incident log to record any complaints ­whether it’s cold coffee or products returned. We discuss all the infor­mation from the incident logs at our salon meetings.”

Of course, there is that occasion­al time when nothing you can do will satisfy an unhappy client. If you have exhausted all your options in attempting to resolve the issue and the client is still dissatisfied, just give her a refund and suggest she may be happier at another salon.

Customer follow-up is critical. Solving the client’s problem is step one. I also recommend that a note or call from you, the owner, to reassure the customer that the problem has been corrected will go a long way to­ward reinforcing your concern with the client. Finding new customers is a lot more costly for owners than simply maintaining their current ones. Depending on the nature of the initial complaint or the potential future business of a customer, I would even recom­mend sending a small gift or a discount offer on a future service to accompany your fol­low-up note. The key is to get the customer back in the salon and to show her you can continue to service her well.

The customer who gives you an opportu­nity to fix a problem is one to be valued. So many clients will sim­ply just leave and never tell you the reason why. You should be thankful for the complaining customer because she is giving you the opportunity to keep her business.

Nail technician defense vs. offense. The unhappy customer is only half the solution in resolving a conflict. Handling the technician who originally serviced the client is equally important. You want to ensure that the problem that upset the client is not repeated, but you also want your nail technicians to know that you support them.

Never discuss the problem in front of other salon personnel or clients; always discuss problems privately and as soon after the incident as possible. There are always two sides to the story. Watch out, however, for the technician who always blames the client. It is the owner’s job to show, through constructive criticism, how the technician can learn from the incident.

Devise a “rework notice” so you can keep track of services that have to be corrected.  On each notice, include the clients name, the service technician, service date, service type, and fee.  Also explain how the problem was resolved.  You need a clear-cut policy about compensation for the rework.  This has to fit the compensation plan you have in place.  If your staff are employees, the technician satisfying the client should be the one who gets paid.  If the same technician does the re-work, she should not get paid twice.

 A technician who seems to be piling up rework notices probably needs more training in weaker skill areas.  If her skills do not improve within an agreed-upon time frame, rework notices in the employee file will help prove your reason for termination. 

No news is good news.  Of course, the best-case scenario is having clients 100% of the time.  The more closely your staff works to support each other and the more consistent your salon training programs are, the fewer of these unpleasant matters you’ll have to arbitrate.  Before the next one happens, know what you will do before it happens. 

10 Ideas for Handling Customer Complaints

1.                  Always guarantee your services and products.

2.                  Stay calm when you have an upset customer.

3.                  Find out what will make the customer happy.  Ask her!

4.                  Try to fix the problem immediately.

5.                  If you can't fix the problem, refund her money.

6.                  Discuss the problem privately with the technician ASAP.

7.                  Document the problem.

8.                  Have a rework compensation policy.

9.                  Do rework training.

10.               Follow-up with the customer and the technician.

For reprint and licensing requests for this article, Click here.