Everyone in the customer service business, no matter what industry, is going to have to deal with customer complaints and difficult clients. People can be entitled, argumentative, impossible to please, and it can be very difficult to know what to do about it.
How much leeway do you give difficult clients? How do you balance the relationship between your guests and your staff?
It comes down to listening and asking the right questions in order to make the right decision for your business.
While there are no foolproof methods, I learned through my experience as a former spa director that some things work to diffuse tension and keep operations running smoothly.
Here are my tried and true tips for handling difficult customers in your spa or salon.
Gather as much information as you can. Some customers are complaining because they are actually upset. Others just want to get something out of it like a free treatment or gift. You need to figure out which kind of person you’re dealing with, then determine the best course of action.
The complaint is likely about a staff member that they feel was rude or provided an inadequate service. Speak to the customer and staff member separately. Under no circumstances should you allow things to turn into an argument right then and there.
Analyze the information
You don’t want to jump to conclusions or take sides, but you do have to determine who, if anyone, is at fault. Rely on your experience with your customers and staff. Is this a unique experience or is there a history with this guest or staff member? In my experience, there have been specific individuals that guests would complain about. This is difficult to ignore.
If a guest says a staff member was rude, the staff member will probably deny it. But you know that particular staff member, and might be able to imagine a conversation in which that person would be rude. On the other hand, you might know that there is no possible way the accusation is true.
Knowing this sort of thing is what good leadership is about. (Also, here is where keeping notes about guests and staff can help you determine what might be going on.)
Take diplomatic action
If you determine that the fault is with the staff member, make amends to the guest. You will probably have to offer a discount or a free treatment with another therapist or aesthetician.
Then take steps to correct the situation and deal with the staff member. Spas are unique environments. They’re about beauty and healing, so we often want to avoid the friction of disciplining staff. But that isn’t how to run a business. If it’s a training issue, help that person learn to deal with stressful situations and to respond appropriately.
If you need to make a decision that doesn’t go the employee’s way, explain why that decision was made – why you’re inviting that guest back for another massage. It’s not that you don’t have your team’s backs, but you have to make business decisions. They may not agree with your decision, but they should understand your reasoning.
Even if you determine the fault is with the customer, you still should apologize. A simple, “I’m sorry you weren’t happy” is sufficient if you don’t want to see that person again.
Know when it’s time to say goodbye
We want to continue relationships with guests, but yes, sometimes you have to let people go.
A constant difficult customer might not be worth the trouble. This doesn’t mean you should call them a liar and throw them out of your spa – because they will then go and tell everyone they know about their “horrible” experience – which is terrible for your brand. You still have to be diplomatic and say something like “I’m so sorry you had such a negative experience. Perhaps you would be more comfortable somewhere else,” and leave it at that.
And a staff member who is a regular subject of customer complaints and doesn’t respond to training is not good for business. Is it a training issue? Or is it time for this person to move on?
Sometimes it’s time to say, “If you are unhappy in your work environment maybe it’s time for you to move on.”
Take the feedback
Maybe no one was to blame, and the issue lies with something in your operations, such as your scheduling or physical set up. If there is something that you can correct, and the client provided valuable feedback, admit it and implement those changes. Your business will be better for it.
There are no right or wrong answers. But if you follow these steps, you’ll have better relationships with everyone.
Daryll Naidu is a former spa director, most recently at Toronto’s Hammam Spa by Caudalie. Daryll can offer much deep and thoughtful insight into successful spa operations.