To become a successful nail technician or salon owner, you’ve honed your skills to near perfection, built your clientele with care, and developed a personality that customers trust.

Your hard work is paying off. The personal satisfaction and the financial rewards have been great. But you’ve probably come to realize that being in a service business has a flip side, too. Sometimes a few difficult customers can turn an otherwise pleasant day into a pressure cooker.

A difficult customer may complain that the nail color you suggest clashes with most of her outfits. She may compare your prices unfavourably with those of another salon. She may ask endless questions. You may begin to feel that she doubts your ability to give topnotch service.

How can you stay cool and deal with difficult clients in a businesslike manner? Harriet G. Lerner, Ph.D., a specialist in women’s psychology in Topeka, Kan., suggests turning a tense situation into a more relaxed one by following three steps that give the client a feeling that she has some control. With these steps you’ll help your client diffuse much of her tension herself.

  1. Let your client do most of the talking initially. This will help her wind down. If you interrupt her too soon, her emotions may intensify.
  2. Use friendly body language that shows emotional support. Nod occasionally while your client speaks and make direct eye contact. Do not fold your arms. Such a defensive posture may make a difficult client feel you are in opposition to her.
  3. If possible, find something the client says that you can agree with. For example, if she says that she should get great service when she pays for it, agree with her.


Linda Chollar, owner of Nails by Linda in Little Rock, Ark., agrees with Lerner’s suggestions. “In all fairness, I’ve found that the majority of clients who try a nail technician’s patience have received bad treatment at another business in the past. One of my techniques for easing tension is to listen fully to the client without interrupting. This helps the client feel that I’m affirming her right to make her needs known,” she says.

Chollar believes friendly body language breaks a barrier and forms a supportive bond with a client. On occasion, she will physically touch a client to show support. “I once had a customer who was angry when she came in,” says Chollar. “She looked ready to attack. I practice reflexology, so after I seated her, I took her hand and began to massage it.” Chollar says this customer began to relax and her mood quickly softened. “She soon revealed she’d had an argument with her husband just before coming in for her appointment. She had even slammed her finger in a door that day.”

Difficult clients fall into three broad categories: Some are cranky simply because they’ve had a hard day or week. These clients need help in reducing their stress. They need you to be a friend more than anything else. Some are frustrated because they need more information. They may be upset because they don’t understand certain prices or services. These clients need specific answers from you. Then there are the personality types who seem to have been born to complain. Such clients may range from mildly annoying to downright aggressive. Their main objective is to get attention.

One woman, who had a personality like a Sherman tank, used to frequent the salon of Cindy Trew, owner of Trew Nails in Chicago, III. “This woman consistently gave me a hard time,” says Trew. “She was late for every appointment and caused problems every time she came in. She quit coming altogether after I imposed a late fee on her tab for the third time. I reserve the right to impose a late charge on any client who’s more than 15 minutes late.”

“I believe in taking a firm stand for yourself when a client is this aggressive,” says Trew. “You have to say, ‘I’m in charge and I know how to run my business.’


Jane Kohles, owner of Elegant Nails Etc. in Norfolk, Neb., believes the easiest way to distinguish between a client who has a legitimate complaint and one who’s just sounding off is to ask her what her solution would be. “Chronic complainers usually don’t have any kind of solution at all. They just want to be heard,” says Kohles.

“By asking a client for her ideas toward a solution, you can quickly help the customer think her problem through,” says Kohles. “I simply ask her point-blank what it would take to fix it.”

Rebecca Seals, owner of Perfect “10” Nail Salon in Morristown, Tenn., came up with a solution for difficult clients who just need more information. “I solved 90% of my complaints by printing a ‘welcome’ letter, which I give new clients on their first visit. I ask my clients to refer to it for clear information about how artificial nails are applied. It even explains that we won’t book a client again if she cancels three appointments in a row. My welcome letter has worked very well,” she says, “and yes, I do follow through on enforcing the policies I’ve spelled out.” Seals, whose personal style is down to earth and informal, admits she’s had her share of difficult clients but she emphasizes that, overall, her clients are friendly, talkative, and open. They are practical and like being informed.


How can you gain the confidence of new clients and keep established ones assured about your services? When clients feel confident about your work, complaints are kept to a minimum.

Judith Ruebel, owner of Judith’s Nail Salon in Gaylord, Mich., insists that giving an abundance of personal attention reduces problems. Ruebel offers complimentary candies and beverages, and scheduling is done in such a way that there is no waiting. What’s more, Ruebel is always agreeable to any scheduling changes a client wants to make.

When asked how she establishes client confidence, Ruebel says, “I help win a customer’s confidence by asking her about her lifestyle and her needs on the first visit. I ask her exactly what she wants and I assure her that she’ll get it.”


Kohles stresses that staying current with nail industry trends is a must for keeping client confidence. “I encourage my nail technicians to keep up on new information so they can share it with clients,” she says.

“My employees wear the latest clothes and hairstyles. This gives a customer the impression we’re up on the foremost techniques concerning nail care.” But KLohles believes that there’s no substitute for quality work when it comes to client confidence. “You have to give a client the same quality of work, time after time.”

Pampering, paying attention to personal needs, and doing fabulous work won’t always calm a client with a difficult personality, but leading her to think more clearly about her complaints might help.

Try these tips for getting a complaining client to shift gears to a more logical frame of mind.

  • Ask her very specific questions pertaining to her complaints. The more specific your questions are, the more she will have to think in detail. She’ll find it hard to think in sharp detail and be emotional at the same time.
  • Try asking, “If you were running this salon, what solution would you suggest for someone with your problem?” This helps her step into your shoes for a moment.
  • Try some old-fashioned patience. There’s no substitute for having patience with a difficult client. You may be able to turn her around completely, and you’ll be getting practice in human relations. “I’ve noticed that when I win over a difficult customer, she becomes a very loyal one,” Kohless says.


Judy Fritz, an instructor at Tri-City Beauty College in Johnson City, Tenn., believes that the best way to prepare for treating people appropriately is to develop your own personality.

“Make sure people really like you,” Fritz advises. “If you work at having a super personality along with great skills, there’ll be no end to your success.”

She’s a firm believer in role playing to develop a knack for coping with clients who complain. “It’s important to rehearse a lot to become good at responding to people who give you a hard time,” she says.

She suggests taking time to role play with other nail technicians. “Invent touchy situations to deal with or spend time talking over situations you feel you didn’t handle well to get others’ opinions,” she advises. You can handle difficult people better when you feel good about your own “performance.” Pretend you’re being videotaped when you’re afraid of losing your cool. Act in a way that you could be proud of if you had to watch an instant replay.

Sometimes, you do have to let a client go. “I’ve had to end a client relationship only once,” says Kohles. “She was impossible to deal with. She was continually late and chewed her nails off. Eventually I wrote her a letter explaining why I could no longer be of service to her.”

Kohles also remembers a man once making a scene in her salon. “He loudly demanded his money back because he’d paid for his daughter to have her nails done and she’d broken two of them. “I gave him his money back and got him to leave as quickly as I could. There’s no real point in talking things over in certain situations,” Kohles says.

Always try to bring out the best in people. Give the client the feeling you perceive her as cooperative. She’ll try harder to keep herself under control.

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