My Life As A Hairstylist

Salon owner, hairstylist, educator, product maker, photographer

The Customer Is Always…


It’s an old adage we often say without really thinking about. But what does it really mean?

I had an experience a few weeks ago with Aeroplan. I wont go into the details but after being transferred to the Customer Service Manager, Albert, I was immediately met with defensiveness. Now if you’ve never heard me on the phone, you should know that I am not the one. I get serious very quickly.

Within seconds, Albert was talking over me. There was literally 2.5 hours of drama and arguing and waiting while the customer service MANAGER went on a mission to prove me wrong. He absolutely disagreed that I could have interpreted things differently. He was arguing over semantics.

I finally asked him if he even knew what it was I wanted. That perhaps all of this could have been avoided if he had just taken a second to find out what I was looking to do. So he asked and I told him. Within a minute, he said he could credit me and I had gotten exactly the result I was looking for. I told him he needed to learn empathy as a customer service person. Yet he was still angry. And Aeroplan and Visa lost a reasonably large account.

I see hairdressers do this all the time. The client feels the colour is too _____ and the stylist pulls out the swatch to show how it’s exactly what the client asked for; to prove the client wrong. But at what cost?

In our efforts to be right, we often spend time trying to “win” rather than fixing the issue. I’ve seen 20 minute conversations/ arguments instead of action. When all the stylist needed to do was recognize the client doesn’t like their hair and is unhappy. Just shut up and listen. Agree with them. And then bring it down or brighten it up. Break it up with a little highlight or lowlight. Just shut up and fucking fix it.

Even worse, I’ve seen hairdressers try to sell shitty work. Or tell a client to live with it for a few days, “it will lighten up.” The client is there and they are unhappy and you know it isn’t your best work, fix it! Right then. Letting a client leave less than happy is a bad habit to get into and a recipe for disaster, to you as a hairdresser or to the salon itself. And there are many owners who are short-term thinkers, who value the cost of a tube of colour more than they value their reputation.

Recognize that when a client is expressing her unhappiness, most of the time she is substantially more upset then she is letting on. IT’s HER HAIR! There is no “living with it for a few days.” She is going to ask every one of her friends what they think. And if it’s not great, every single person now knows your name and how you let her go into her weekend with hair she hates. And people love some drama. And some gossip. Don’t be the centre of it for a circle of friends or co-workers. Your reputation will forever be tarnished.

And the client will will almost never tell her friends that she asked for this shade, or that she was warned about the result and she went with it anyway. It will just be that you made her hair “black.” When she calls her brown hair black, just agree it’s too dark and put in 4 or 5 foils around her face to break things up a bit.

This is not to say there aren’t some crazy people out there, who say “It’s too light.” “Now it’s too dark,” when you fix it. Or chronic complainers who always need something fixed. I see those people too, and once you determine the client is like this, you need to put your foot down knowing you may lose them as a client. And that is OK. But there aren’t that many of them. The vast majority of people just want to look pretty and have nice hair.

The mark of a good hairdresser is not just the great work they do, but how they deal with things when they go wrong. And ultimately it’s the client who decides when it’s right or wrong.

6 thoughts on “The Customer Is Always…

  1. Love your stuff, hi my name is Andre Nizetich I am the president of the American Board of Certified Haircolorists. We have an event each year in Los Angeles where we invite haircolorists in to teach some aspect of haircoloring. Our mission is to elevate the level of professional haircoloring. We do this by administering an examination to anyone who wants to be a Board Certified Haircolorist. We are a non profit organization so we can’t offer you much money so we attract people to educate for all of the right reasons. I would love for you to be a part of the Energizing Summit. We currently have two gals from Canada teaching for us. Our website is Go there to see the details of our past event it is still place. Looking forward to hearing from you.

  2. I have to say it refreshing to read this about the customer is always right , and yes I agree with pretty much everything you said you gotta fix stuff if the clients unhappy or less than tickled with a service whether it be color or a cut , whatever it is ,.. But you do have to stand your ground with some . Some are after discounting , some are after a free service even . Other wise it’s your client and rap if it’s a really good client that is repeat . Just take care of it , shot happens but dont be a doormat either ,.. Esp if it is a bullshit thing , but I really loved this article ..

  3. Do you think it is harder to retain a steady clientele as we age? If so, what are some active ways to retain a clientele after the loss of loyal ones? The referral list becomes slimmer and slimmer. I love doing hair, but since I have become over fifty is seems harder to maintain than when I was in my twenties. I have moved several times in my life because of my husband career. I have never found it hard to rebuild till we had our last move. It seems harder. I am looking for other opinions.

    • Hi Katie,

      I understand exactly.

      Yes, I do think it’s harder, for a few reasons.

      Firstly you likely aren’t putting the same energy and focus into promoting and building you did 20 years ago.

      Secondly, and this is a tough one, it’s harder to build at 50 than it is at 25. Clients are attracted to people like themselves, so our clients tend to age with us and as we get older, we get fewer younger clients.

      This means you are going to mostly attract people around your age, and many of those people have long term relationships with stylists. And the 19 year old girls are going to go to the fun young hairdresser who has hair and a life like theirs.

      If I’m you, I position myself as an expert and focus on getting a professional clientele. That means joining business groups and social groups and going out of your way to get into new social circles of women who would value your services.

      Basically you are going to have to go out there and promote yourself.

      Watch for my upcoming series on promoting. The first episode will be out very soon.

      Good luck.

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