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Dealing with Negative Clients or Treating Negativity with the Right Attitude

1. A client is running 10 minutes late for a 30 minute appointment. As they walk in the door, there is no eye contact, nor an apology for the late arrival. You are fully booked and stressed, trying not to show your frustration but fuming inside. Rushing to finish the treatment on time, you have to compromise on the quality and the thoroughness of the treatment, but you explain nothing to the client. Most likely the client gets the vibe of not being welcomed or you not wanting to talk to them, and as a result, you never see that client again.

2. One of the regular clients that none of your work colleagues really want to treat, comes in for her treatment with you. She says very little, never smiles and nothing seems to please her, either the bed is too uncomfortable, the room is too cold or she just picks up on the smallest things. However she keeps coming back to the salon on a monthly basis. You wonder why?

3. A client arrives at the salon with two small kids. She is having an eye-lash tint treatment, and the kids are running around and being loud, putting yourself and your colleagues under stress. You feel like you're under a lot of pressure, and you tell the client she has to tame the kids otherwise, you have to stop the treatment as it disturbs other clients, to which she starts yelling at you. You react and refuse to carry on with the treatment. She leaves the salon furious and writes a negative online review.

These are just a few of many possible examples of complaints that can take place in your practice whether you are a therapist, practitioner or salon owner.

Did a particular client come to mind and if so, whats your reaction? Does the client/situation make you smile or make you angry?

The answer is important, as it will determine the end of these reality-based stories.

If you are impatient, you will probably tell off your client for being late whilst others prefer to keep things quiet.

Or what happens when you are having a dreadful day yourself and in the worst case scenario, a client starts yelling at you and you yell back? Let's face it, the “thin line” can be crossed momentarily and things can and do go wrong.

Having a negative attitude or taking things personally can result in a negative experience for both you and your client, contaminating your working space. Instead, looking at the bigger picture and thinking of alternative ways to avoid negative outcome is the most vital skill one can learn, especially when it comes to a customer care industry.

Negative attracts negative, whilst positivity in an attitude creates a better shift for you and your work environment.

You, as a therapist have the power to make your own story. Of course, some situations are out of your control and there are clients that are arrogant, rude and abusive but you have the power to choose whether you want to see that person again. In difficult situations like these, if you are an employee you should seek the help of a manager or an owner, letting them deal with this. These cases, however, are exceptional and we will not concentrate on them. Instead, let's look at the scenarios that are more hands-on and practical.

Having years of experience I have been facing various situations, dealing with all kinds of behaviours: the difficult, the bossy, the naive, the passive-aggressive and the constantly angry.  I have also had extremely difficult clients that have become loyal. Similarly, in our case study 2, I have asked myself why is she coming back? I now know the answer- my patience and listening skills have won them over. No-one could tolerate their moans, but me. How do I manage to be a good listener?

Having empathy is one of the defining factors of you as a therapist. If you learn how to treat your clients with empathy and professionalism, you have reached the height of a service-industry professional.

Just imagine how unhappy that person who is always unsatisfied must be. But despite her/his hard-to-please attitude, she/he comes back to you. That must mean a lot to you and your client’s dissatisfaction should not be taken personally.

Shift the Paradigm

We work in a service industry where that universal mantra is “the customer is always right.” And even when they clearly aren’t right, the expectation, as the service provider, will be to respond with an affirmative head-nod and a polite, “yes, madam”. But when reality pushes up against this paradigm, clients are left frustrated, thinking they’ve received poor customer service.

The job of the industry professional, then, is to agree on mutual expectations and establish clarity and boundaries which may require a shift in attitude – or a "paradigm shift". This should always happen early in the relationship, ideally during the first encounter.

Further on, I would like to share some tips with you which I hope can give you some guidance and confidence dealing with “special” clients and difficult situations.

There is always a solution to deal with a negative client whilst maintaining professionalism, says Suzette Mariel, Success and Media Coach and offers the following:

         Create an outline of the service

         Establish Boundaries

         Stay true to yourself

         Do not internalise their behaviour

         Discontinue future service (as the last resort)



Create and state the outline of the service you intend to perform.

Before you start your treatment, make sure you make it clear what they are getting. This will help to set up expectations and establish your expertise at work. If there are any questions that arise, listen first, do not argue but clearly state the services that you are offering.

If you are a manager or a business owner, make sure you have a protocol or a procedure in place. These will give you a good starting point and guide your staff on how to deal with difficulties when you are not there.

If a client has a complaint, involve asking your team members discreetly about what has happened and record all your findings. You may need to go back to this information for a number of reasons later, so having it filed would be a great help.

Have a procedure in place with your suppliers, so your staff knows what to do if a product complaint or a physiological reaction occurs. Majority of suppliers have a return policy. Offer an exchange or a product refund to maintain a good relationship with your clients.

Make sure you state your cancellation policy as well as your late-arrivals policy on your website so that you always have a back-up in case of a complaint or dissatisfaction.

Establish boundaries and professionalism with clients

Know yourself and what does and does not work for you.

Being empathetic is really essential when it comes to customer service industries. We all know what a bad day is. If you feel like your client is having a bad day, try putting yourself in their shoes, think how you want to be treated when you feel like life is “turning its back” on you. Little perks, such as offering them a cup of tea, a glass of wine or a chocolate will not hurt anyone. Instead, it might make your client’s day much better and so yours.

But if a client is crossing the line from being negative to being abusive, then you need to make them aware that this is not ok with you.

If you do not know what your boundaries are before the client gets into your room, then they are directing and leading the mood of the session.

Sometimes you need to detach yourself from your emotions and take a slightly colder approach when needed. Being firm, diplomatic and delivering your message in a professional manner are valuable skills.

I have one trick that has worked for me on many occasions.  If a client has been particularly hard to please, I ask “Is there anything I can do to make it better?”. This question “disarms” them and they come to the realisation that they are the problem and not you. After that, the treatment normally takes a different turn, almost always in my favour.

Stay true to yourself

There always be clients you just don’t click with. They are the ones that complain the most. If you have a client that you can never seem to make happy, be upfront and explain that you feel you are not able to fully understand their wishes and perhaps they might have better success with another therapist. You can remind that client that you are doing this because you care and want them to be happy, even if it means they no longer remain a customer of the business. As Steele at Loxa Beauty points out, “ is about having relationships, and relationships always have their angry fits, arguments and breakups”. Its how you handle those moments of distress that determine how the rest of the relationship flows and if your client will stick around, they can hopefully change their attitude and give it another shot.

If a client continues to cross the line and being verbally abusive, she/he must leave


Dismissing a client should be your last option. They need to be told that their behaviour is unacceptable and you cannot continue with the treatment. Inform her/him that they have two options: continue with the treatment but change their attitude or they could leave and find someone else to take care of their services.

If you need to use option five make sure you have exhausted your resources and patience with the situation. Make sure to involve your manager and, if possible, try not to handle the situation alone. If, however, you are in your own salon and renting the space, and this client was referred to you, you must take matters into your own hands and clearly state the reasons why you are dismissing them. You CAN do that!

I hope these tips will enable and empower you to solve a difficult situation.

If there is a minor problem, there is always an easy solution.

Offering your client a free perk such as a free product or a perhaps a discount on the next visit normally solves dissatisfaction. Do it genuinely and include your apologies, be personal.

Try to avoid refunding whenever possible, instead "redo". It is always more personal (and cost-effective) unless you feel that client is devastated and there is nothing you can do to change their feelings. From experience, once the refund is granted it is almost guaranteed that client will not come back. Suggesting a free treatment or a gift certificate will retain a client.

A quick resolution of a customer complaint will prevent them from the complaint going viral. With today’s social media, the dissatisfaction of the service can become public in no time. Never before has customer experience and your service been more important.

Before a client leaves your salon, make sure to reassure them to give a solution within the next 24 hours. If you are a therapist and cannot resolve a complaint there and then, tell your client to investigate the situation, and perhaps involve your manager. After that, personally follow up in a timely manner.

Do not ignore online complaints

Many clients nowadays prefer to leave feedback on social media instead of a face-to-face interaction and confrontation. That makes it very frustrating for us as therapists to control a situation.

If worst comes to worst and you see a negative feedback about the service, do not leave that unnoticed. Where possible, leaving a comment directly underneath the complaint is ideal. Moulding suggests, “make the customer and everyone else reading the complaint aware of what has happened and that you are happy to rectify the problem.” Be polite and genuinely express that you are sorry that they have experienced something below the standards of your ethos.

Respond offline to online complaints

Many things get lost and misunderstood online. There are people that just love online complaints. Choose direct contact whenever possible and educate your clients to be more upfront whilst in the room and not outside.

In case of an online complaint, call your client directly, listen to what they want to say and discuss the matter. Find out as much as possible first.

If the client does not want to respond to your calls or direct contact, then it might be a sign that the matter is not as severe as they have presented it.

If they prefer an online method of communication then so-be-it. You can mention in your comment that you have tried to reach out to resolve the situation, but unsuccessfully. 

Now you can go back to where we have started and look at the scenarios above. Come up with your solution(s).  There is no right or wrong, but remember, its all about your own attitude.

Good luck and maintain your professionalism!

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