Try as you might to avoid it, you will always have customers who complain – whether it’s about the service they receive, the wait they have to endure, the product that doesn’t perform, or their general unhappiness with their nails. If the technician can assuage the complaining customer, rectify the situation, and get the client back into the salon after the incident, she will gain a client more loyal than one who never complained in the first place. So rather than look at complaining clients as necessary evil of a service business, look at them as an opportunity to engender greater client loyalty and thus more word of mouth advertising, more clients, more business.
DEVELOP A SYSTEM
Ideally, there should be a uniform system of handling customer complaints that is understood by all members of the salon, from the owner to the receptionist. You may want to incorporate complaint resolution training in an orientation session with all new employees. Go over typical scenarios with employees and outline the salon’s policy in handling them. Be specific about what types of problems may arise and exactly how to handle them. You might also find it useful to do some role-playing at staff meetings. Technicians will relish the opportunity to play the witch, and it will give everyone a better understanding of how to handle difficult situations.
Current management theory suggests that the individual employee be empowered to handle the complaint on the front line; that is, whoever receives the complaint should be able to handle it without referring to a higher authority. That sort of crisis managements acts to assure a client that her compliant is taken seriously, is of concern to the entire salon, and that it has urgency. The client will only become more aggravated if she must wait for her technician to talk to her superior, or if she has to pull rank and ask to see the owner. When training employees, make it clear which situations can be handled immediately and which should be brought to the owner or manager’s attention. Employees should be able to handle most complaints themselves and certainly should be allowed to deal directly with their own clients in all but the most dire situations. This sort of personalized attention will also help forge a stronger bond between the client and the technician.
You may want to discuss any complaints a technician has received during the technician’s review. While sheer numbers of complaints (or lack of complaints) do not tell the whole story of a technician’s competence, they may reveal a pattern that needs to be worked on. If a particular employee has several clients who complain of her unkempt station, you will be able to address the problem directly. If an employee regularly receives written raves about her on-time appointments, you might want to ask her to share how she manages such promptness.
Every employee will have strengths and weaknesses, and a complaint/customer service record will help you bolster the strengths and diminish the weaknesses.
TACT AND DIPLOMACY
When faced with a complaining client, resist the impulse to defend yourself. Don’t take the complaint personally. Sometimes the simplest solution is just to ask the client what she wants. If she is returning something, she may just want a new product. If a nail has chipped and she feels it was improperly applied, she may just want it repaired.
On the other hand, she may not know exactly what she wants, except that she wants it now. In these cases, work quickly to diffuse her anger. Your goal is to keep the client in the salon. If she needs to see a technician, do some juggling so someone can tend to her broken nail or handle whatever the problem is. Sometimes you may need to fix the problem by throwing in something extra for good measure. As she leaves with her repaired nail, hand her a bottle of new polish and tell her to try it, on the house. You don’t need to give away the store, but often a small gesture, like a free product, completes the process of complaint resolution.
Don’t reassure a complaining customer by telling her “That always happens.” She will not be relieved to hear that she is in the majority, and she will only be annoyed that you did not have the forethought to prevent the problem in her case. Don’t blame anyone for the problem either. The loyalty of your staff or fellow employees is of greater value than a quick solution to your complaining customer.
Follow up with customers. The personal touch extends your concern and will drive home to the client how committed you are to retaining her business. Sometimes a personal role from the salon owner works well – a short, handwritten note, thanking her for her business, apologizing (not groveling) for the incident, and an invitation to return as soon as possible (perhaps by including an incentive like a discount coupon). Don’t opt for quick “Band-Aid” solutions that merely quiet the client down. You want her satisfied completely, not just appeased.
Encourage clients to give you feedback on your service. Customer comment cards are a good device. However, don’t just set a pile of cards out on the counter and hope clients will take the time to fill them out and return them. Give clients an active role in helping you improve your customer service. Design the cards in such a way that they beg to be filled out. Use color on the cards or have them cut in odd shapes. Try a big headline or the word “HELP!” emblazoned across the top. Client cards that ask simply “Did you find the service a) satisfactory, b) unsatisfactory?” are of little value. There’s no victory in being merely “satisfactory.” Try asking clients to rate service in several areas on a scale of one to 10, for example. Or, offer sections where they can write in suggestions for better service. Place the cards strategically at the receptionist desk or at your own manicure table. Give them to the clients when they’re finished with their service or have the receptionist give them to existing customers.
Register customer complaints on your client cards. If a client complains of lifting, for example, note it so that next time you can follow up with her. Note what you suggested to remedy the situation. When she returns to the salon, ask her if your solution solved her problem. See if she used the products or treatments you recommend. If a client continually complains about the same issue, you may have to re-educate her on the care of her nails. A recurrent complaint may signal to you also that the client is not getting the appropriate service. Perhaps a client consultation is in order to reevaluate her needs.
Noting complaints on the client card can help you prepare for an appointment with a formerly unhappy client. If she complained about the coffee not being fresh the last time, you can be sure a new pot is brewed right before she arrives. If she had to wait long for her appointment, plan her next appointment well after the previous one so there will be no delay in tending to her.
GETTING THEM TO TALK
Sometimes, a dissatisfied client won’t complain. She’ll be unhappy with her service or your salon and simply not return. This client is particularly dangerous to your business because you don’t have the opportunity to do right by her. Therefore, you must come up with methods to encourage customer comment – you want clients to feel completely comfortable telling you they’re unhappy about something. The comment cards are one way. A simple follow-up call after an appointment may also do the trick, or try a post-paid card that is sent to her house after a salon visit. Written methods may work best with clients who are reluctant to complain in person. (See A Client’s Body Language May tell You What She Cannot” for further clues on drawing out reticent clients.)
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, to recite a well-worn homily. It is ever so true in customer service. It’s a lot easier to maintain a client than to acquire a new one or win back an old one. Therefore, pay as much attention to preventing complaints as you do to solving them.
Begin by defining what the hot spots of customer contention are: waiting for appointments? Surly employees? Frequent nail breads?
Waiting, either for a scheduled appointment or a walk-in, is cited by salon owners as a frequent customer complaint. There are clients who drop in unannounced and expect to be seen immediately. The best you can do is to plan the day’s schedule with enough-flexibility that you can take a walk-in or two. Try also to divert the client’s attention while she waits (give her something to drink, something to read, something to do).
If you know you will be late in getting to a scheduled client, try to notify her. If she lives close to the salon, call her to let her know you’ll be minutes late. If you run long on the client before her, make her wait as pleasant as possible. Offer to let her use the phone so she can make valuable use of her time. Or offer her something to read.
Apologize for the delay. Take a moment to let her know you are aware that she’s there and will get to her as soon as possible.
If the complaint is about a specific nail problem, start by asking the client about her at-home maintenance of her nails. Is she fully educated on what to expect with each procedure and how to maintain her nails between salon visits? It is your responsibility to educate the client on proper nail care. Some nail technicians have a printed list they give to clients that describes what each type of artificial nail is, how it is applied, and what home maintenance is required.
Another recurrent sore spot with customers is a perceived attitude problem of their technicians. Everyone has an off day, but if you take your mood out on a client, you could put her off and possibly lose her. A professional knows how to maintain a professional demeanor no matter what her personal troubles. She should be unfailingly courteous, helpful, and pleasant. If a client is wrong (it happens, it happens) the technician should very diplomatically educate the client.
If a client complains about defective merchandize that you know full well to be perfectly fine, exchange it for her with a smile and ask her next time how it worked out. If a client has gone to the trouble to return merchandise and complain to you, your assurances that she is wrong may do irreparable harm to your relationship with her.
KNOW YOUR LIMITS
Sometimes there will be a client by whom you can do no right. She will consistently arrive late for appointments and then complain when she has to wait. She will break nails because she isn’t careful and then will blame the salon. She will complain constantly and you may never be able to make her happy. You need to decide at this point whether she is a client worth keeping. Does having her in the salon make the atmosphere unpleasant for the technicians as well as the other clients? You may have the urge to tell an obstinate client to take a hike, but you must exercise extreme tact and diplomacy even when you are telling her you are no longer interested in her business. Explain to her that you believe her needs may be better met at another salon.
Most clients are interested in having great looking nails, not conflicts with the nail salon. With the abundance of competing nail salons, a client has many choices if she is dissatisfied with service at one. Studies done at large corporations indicate that clients whose complaints have been handled courteously and swiftly tend to be more loyal than customers who never complained in the first place. Your commitment to your clients will be rewarded when you see them returning to your salon, and when you tend to new customers they have referred.
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