Customer Service

Mama Said There'd be Days Like This

We’ve all had them and we’ll have more of them too, but we hold the power to turn a day that is spiraling out of control into a success. Before you let fists fly, take a breath and rise above.

You’ve scheduled clients from 8 a.m. Until 7 p.m. Your first client walks in 10 minutes late with six broken nails. At 10:00, two women walk in for the same appointment, then at 5:00 you get no-showed, and your 6:00 can’t come in my earlier. In fact, when you call her, she says she may be a “little” late.

On days like this we dream of a factory job where we don’t have to deal with the public, we get a government mandated break every two hours, with the luxury of sick days and vacation pay.

When you have day like this, you have two options: First, halt all conversation with clients so you can start rhythmic breathing to avoid the emotional breakdown you feel coming on; or decide to take control of the one thing in the chaos that you can control - yourself. I’ve learned to choose the sound.

I didn’t come to this conclusion alone, and in the past I often found myself trying to survive by using the breathing trick. Then I met best friend. We will call her “Mickey” because, well that’s her name.

I met Mickey after I had been doing nails for about two years. I came to her salon from a very cushy job in Ithaca, N.Y. The salon in Ithaca was only open from 10 a.m. - 6 p.m., and we scheduled - get this - a lunch! Mickey’s salon had no such limitation on hours. We were each given a key and it was clear we were to be available for clients.

I was having one of this days I’ve just described, and could feel myself sweating. Every once in a while I would catch feel myself sweating. Every once in a while I would catch Mickey’s eye and she would give me a bright smile and shrug her shoulders. I tried to focus. Mickey got up from her desk and went into the back room and in minute or so called to me, “Michelle, could you come back here? I can’t find the buffers.”

You’ve got to be kidding me, I thought. She knew I was behind. I impatiently excused myself from my client and went back to help her. When I got into the back room, Mickey was bent over, holding her nose so she wouldn’t let out a laugh. I laughed weakly just looking at her. Then she pointed to a punching bag, but one of those kid’s plastic bags with sand at the bottom and the face of a clown. Mickey rolled her hand into a fist, pulled her arm back and sent the punching bag flying. I laughed so hard I had tears running down my face. I tried my hand at the bag a couple of times and then left the room. When I returned to my client I had a smile on my face and a new perspective.

I’ve learned a lot since that day with the punching bag. I still have bad days, but now I deal with them differently. Here is what I’ve learned.

Attitude is everything. The way you handle the situation sets the tone for how the client responds. Listen, every person who sits at your desk has had unexpected events ruin her routine. Clients can identify with your situation and appreciate your ability to still make their appointment a fun, relaxing experience. Choosing to smile through the confusion is a sign of professionalism, and it will stop you from getting angry.

Lay off the sugar and caffeine. Drink enough coffee to clear your head in the morning, but don’t keep drinking it all day thinking it will give you energy. After a couple of cups, coffee makes us edgy and irritable. With enough of it, your hands start to shake. Add that on an already tight schedule! For a quick energy fix, don’t reach for a donut, cookies, or candy. This will spike your sugar level and then drop it very fast, leaving you feeling worse than before. Choose a banana and protein, like nuts or peanut butter, so your body will be able to use the fuel for energy.

You are in control. I know it doesn’t feel like it, but you really are. Take for example the client who is 10 minutes late with only four nails left. You speak first and set the tone. Greet her with a friendly “good morning” (while you hand her the polish remover) so she knows you aren’t angry with her. When she says, “Oh I don’t even want to show you my nails, I have six off,” respond in this way: “Oh, you must have hated going around with all those broken nails. That’s okay, you have come to the right place - I’ll fix you right up. But since we are getting a bit a late start and I have another client coming in 45 minutes, I won’t be able to polish you.” this lets the client know that you will give her excellent service for the hour of her time that she is paying for (part of which she spent getting there), but that you are running a business, and need to stay on schedule.

The book is gospel. When two clients walk in at the same time, always go by what the book says. This will take the pressure off you to decide who you are going to disappoint. Blame it on the book. Apologize up and down, and trip over yourself making sure the clients who is getting sent away without a fill feels accommodated, but never go against the book. Clients learn that the book is sacred and they learn to make sure their name is in it. Often one of the two clients will see you begging for mercy and feel so sorry for you that they will relinquish the appointment to prevent you from embarrassing yourself further. This client is given $5 off when she comes in for her next fill. (It was your mistake, after all.)

Use your coworker. When the day turns horrible, use your best resource: coworkers. Get your mind off the situation by talking about fun things with the person at the next desk. One of my closest friends sits four feet away from me. We can read each other’s moods. If I know she is shutting down emotionally, I talk about something fun. A simple question like, “Hey, did you see the movie “Seabiscuit?” takes her mind off the work. Questions like this will also get both of your clients involved in the same conversation and it takes pressure off the stressed nail tech to entertain. If you and your coworkers play off each other in this way, it eases the tension of racing the clock.

Put it in perspective. Being a nail technician is not the kind of job you can do if you don’t like it. Working that closely with the public takes too much out of you personally to be able to do it well without loving what you do. However, it is not your whole life - it’s your job. Keep that in mind.

On one particularly frustrating day, I was exhausted  from dealing with problems and from putting on a “happy hat” for my clients. I walked out the salon and saw a note on my car. When I picked it up, it was from Mickey. It read: “I’m so sorry I was 25 minutes late, you can still do me, right? I only have eight broken nails. So when I put my nail in my mouth and crunch down on it, the whole nail breaks. Is that my fault or yours? I think you should make my nails thicker. Every time I slam them in the filing cabinet one of them breaks. What are you doing wrong?” I loved getting that note. I kept it in my wallet for years. I would see the edges of it stuck in one of the credit card pockets and laughed all over again. Laughing about the situation helps you put it in perspective.

How we view the challenges in our disrupted schedules ultimately determines how successful the day will be. You don’t want to be in a position where you are working on a client but fantasizing about buying a punching bag when you get done with work.

We do have a demanding job, but it’s a wonderful job. Our clients energize us, and we in turn make hundreds of people feel beautiful.

Take the bad days, compartmentalize the situations, and stay in control by having a positive attitude.

Tomorrow is a new day.


Michelle Pratt has been a nail technician for 15 years. She currently works at Volpe Nails in Johnson City, N.Y.

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