Four Types of Difficult Clients & How to Handle Them, According to Hairstylists

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As holistic hairstylists, we do not only cut and color hair. We create experience. But no matter how much we strive to provide a positive atmosphere and preserve healthy stylist-client relationships, once in a while we come across people who will put our patience and mettle to the test.

As every client is different, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to such situations. However, it does not mean you can’t prepare for it.

We reached out to our #HolisticHairTribe to chat about their encounters with different types of difficult clients and how they handle them. Check them out below!

Types of Difficult Clients & Scenarios

The Indecisive Client

Don’t we love it when our clients trust our abilities as their hairdresser? But at the same time, we also want them to leave our space satisfied by our service so it’s also important that they clearly communicate their expectations. Unfortunately, not all clients know what they want.

“This incident happened about seven months after opening my salon,” according to Mariatu “Tu” Brown, founder of Tu Organics LLC. “I had just finished up with my last client and cleaning up because I was done for the day. Then a car pulled up in front of my salon, and saw an older gentleman and woman turning around to walk back to their car. I asked them how I can help them, and the gentleman told me he wanted a buzzcut all around. I told him since a buzzcut is quicker than scissor and clipper cuts, I’ll cut his hair for $15.00. He agreed to the price and I started to cut his hair. Half way through the cut, he said that’s not what he wanted. I was shocked! This man and I spoke for five minutes about his haircut and the price, now he is telling me everything I heard was completely wrong.

“I finished his hair cut and told him I won’t charge him for the cut. That it was Sunday and my blessing for his hair cut will come from above. After I said that, that is when he offered to pay me, but I refused and politely told him to please never come to my salon again.”

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“Consultation is very important. Take more than five minutes to actually consult with your clients. Having a clear understanding about what your clients want will ensure you meet their needs, not to mention protect you from a lawsuit in the future.”

The Color Correction Nightmare

As creatives, there’s nothing in the world that would make us happy than giving our clients the hair of their dreams. But as holistic hair stylists, the health of the hair comes first.

When clients come in for an appointment with a picture of the hair they want, they only see the end result, and not the process. This is an all-too-common dilemma that many of us face, one that Kai Fujimoto had to endure for 16 hours.

“My client has been coloring her hair with box black dyes for over 10 years, but stopped dying because she wanted to have pastel blue hair. I have been cutting her hair for 3 years but never colored her. Her hair was about 20” long, natural level 4 with a 2-inch regrowth.

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“I told her even if we did color removal treatment and bleach so many times, her hair would be compromised before she got to that level I could show pastel blue on her hair. I suggested that it would be in her best interest to have dark blue instead of pastel blue, so we can lift her hair to a level 6-7.

“But she declined to the dark blue and wanted to know of any other alternatives. After talking it over with her, we decided to have Balayage and have Dark Brown Balayage and wait for her hair to grow more. That was 2 years ago.

“After she had the Balayage hair for a year, she told me she still couldn’t give up on getting pastel blue hair. She was willing to have her hair cut to shoulder length if she needed to. Her new growth was only 5-7 inches long. We had talked many times on what other options I could do for her, but she wanted to give it a try anyways with the possibility of getting pastel blue. After I agreed to do what she asked, she also voiced her concern about the total cost of the service. She knew it would be an intense color correction. For these types of services, I usually charge hourly since it was going to be quite a lengthy session to do what she wanted. Because she is a regular client of mine and I knew her budget, I quoted a regular price instead. I quoted her the price of how it would be as if she was getting color removal treatment, a whole head bleach, and toner.

Suffice to say, the client changed her mind midsession and wanted to keep her hair as long as possible, which took Kai more than 16 hours. “As I expected, the mid-level ends were lifted at a level 6-7, so I told her there was no choice left but to have all dark blue or pastel blue into dark blue colormelt. We ended up doing pastel blue – dark blue – dark violet colormelt.”

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“In the end, the regular price I quoted barely covered the cost I spent for the colors and the bonder and foils I used on her… I also ended up getting sick as a result from overworking myself. That was a turning point for me to switch to hourly charge for any color corrections, as well.”

Lost in Translation

What makes hairdressing such a rewarding career for us hairstylists is we get to make people happy by simply transforming their look. Unfortunately, it can also turn into a very stressful situation for all involved if there’s a communication problem.

Tyler Fenix of Beelay Hair Design had a client who had just moved from Venezuela and had done her hair 2 times within the first year she came. “I had not seen her for maybe 8 or more months since her second visit. Her accent and English were difficult to understand, but I feel like I am pretty thorough in consultations, so we seemed to have good communication in the first two sessions. On those visits we did traditional foil highlight-bleach/tone, from her NL- 3, toned to an ashy 7. Then a “V” cut with lots of texturizing.

“I was happy to see her. I made tea, consulted and found she wanted Balayage. I explained this was a technique, but might not be best for her since she was showing me a photo from Pinterest of a Platinum level 20 – Super Blonde – which I am sure was photo enhanced.

“I had to express this in many variations due to the language difference. I even went to a woman a few suites down to help me translate the concept of golden and not platinum, as well as using swatches and exhaustively explaining that she had previous color (which I knew was not from our last visit, leading me to think there had been a color elsewhere in the time she was missing) all over which would cause much, much warmth to be revealed. I told her in several ways, how it would take several visits to safely get her past a level 7/8, but I would always be concerned more about the health of her hair. She became increasingly irritated, then said “Let’s just do the balayage.” She shook her head yes when I asked once more if she understood it would be gold. It took me 3 hours for a full head of Balayage, then Toner.

“As soon as she got to the chair she complained it was gold! She began to escalate in her manner and level of anger.

“At this point I was completely without any energy left. I had no more capacity to explain anything else. She threatened not to pay, among other things. It took me hours but I had successfully achieved a level 8.3 natural looking blended highlight. She was still going on about the photo with the platinum blonde.”

“Sadly, I knew in those last moments that I should have never said yes to this situation. That I had made my first mistake accepting the job knowing there was a wall around her preventing her from understanding reality, and based on her personal unattainable visual goal. Of course I said all of this at the beginning, but I didn’t listen to my intuition because I am also in business to make money.

“So I told her this was the end of the road. She didn’t understand and I had no translator at this point. I told her we could no longer have a successful working relationship. I also strongly suggested she find a colorist who was able to communicate with her in Spanish in order for her to understand fully. It was not fun, pretty or pleasant.”

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With social media dictating the trends these days, you would often come across clients with unrealistic expectations. Tyler adds, “Today balayage has morphed into an end result that seems to be almost the same as pulling lightener through the entire mids/ends.

“Because of social media, the expectation is often not reasonable for everyone.

“I am seeing so much out there looking like a double process was done, with heavy damage that I have to fix before being able to do anything else (and most do not want to pay for that). So ultimately it is a technique that I feel has been misrepresented by a plethora of practitioners, making more work where it may not be needed.”

Unrealistic Expectations

Unrealistic expectations are the root of many stylist-client misunderstandings. Oftentimes, they don’t end well. Abigail Waldrum of Lucky Cat Salon knows this all too well.

“My worst scenario, as they often are, was with a lovely person who was unrealistic in their expectations. The people pleaser in me jumped on board and ignored reality to try and make unrealistic dreams come true. I set myself up for failure.

“I went with the client’s desires and chased hard, too hard after something the hair could not do. Neither of us were happy in the end.

“In hindsight, I should have discussed realistic options that were achievable and healthier for the hair.”

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“I learned that we see people pleasing as a form of niceness. It most certainly is not. I am the professional. If a client comes to me with unrealistic goals it is my job to say so… So, my consultations have gotten more thorough. I continue to take classes every opportunity I can to improve my technical skills and consultation skills. And I say no when something is too risky. I take my job seriously even as much fun as it is. Integrity is an important part of building trust with clients. By saying what is and isn’t possible you show that integrity. Backing that up with skill seals the deal. Lesson learned.”

Mindset is everything.

Difficult clients are a normal part of being in the business of making people happy. More often than not, these types of clients are only difficult because they are seeking out help to fix something that they feel isn’t going right for them, according to Bailey Simon of Periwinkle Beauty Studio.

“That may not be only pertaining to their appearance, it could be something on the inside that they don’t want to see as a positive aspect about themselves. When in fact that aspect is actually a wonderful characteristic. I feel it is my place to help them to recognize that there isn’t actually a problem that they are having, but to help them see they are the creator of their ‘problem’. It is my job to help them focus not on the negative perception that they have of themselves, but to help them find a solution to love themselves for all of who they are inwardly and outwardly,” she adds.

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So what’s the best way to handle such clients? Bailey suggests being that positive light and voice. “Look at them with love, and help them find ways to accentuate their inner and outer beauty.

“Wayne Dyer once said, “The difference between a flower and a weed is a judgment.” It applies to stylists everyday with every client. It is our job to bring our clients more than just an outwardly joy, we should be stirring up joy inside of them that is lasting and impacts their soul.

After all, we are holistic hair stylists and we are responsible for tending to the whole self of our clients: mind, body and soul.”

In the end, it’s all about finding that healthy balance between self-love and service to others. Make your clients happy, but always trust your judgment as the professional.

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