10 tips for handling complaints

From chipped nails to rude therapists, clients will always have complaints, but how you handle them can win or lose you business, writes Eve Oxberry

1 Make sure it’s genuine
“Not every complaint is viable and it’s important to know when someone is playing the system,” warns Sammy MacDonald, director of Polish Nail and Beauty in Aberdeen. “Always ask the client to return to the salon for you to see the quality of work for yourself.” Speaking to the therapist involved is also vital to make sure you’re armed with all the facts. If the complaint is found to be unjustified, Lesley Caster, owner of City Retreat salon in Newcastle, suggests you should explain in detail the processes and expected outcome of the treatment to make sure the client understands what was supposed to happen. However, in some cases it’s still better to offer to remedy it so the compaint doesn’t escalate. Belinda Price, owner of NailSpa in Huddersfield and educator for Nubar, adds: “We have to be seen to put the treatment right if the complaint is about that. If we have offered to do that then to a degree we have covered ourselves.”

2 Keep calm and listen
When a client gets angry, it’s vital you remain calm. “Be empathetic and listen to what they have to say rather than being defensive as that will make them more agitated,” says Tima Reshad, owner of Coco Nail Bar in London. “Clients like to know that their opinion and experience matters.” Caster suggests you demonstrate how seriously you are taking the complaint by clarifying each point with the client as you go along and noting details in writing, while Helena Field, spa director at Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park in London, adds, “Listening and giving your undivided attention to the guest goes a long way already in solving the issue.” Where possible, she suggests taking the guest to a comfortable place, away from other clients and staff, to discuss the issue in order to limit confrontation or embarrassment.

3 Involve your team
Never take the client’s side without giving staff a chance to explain. “Make sure you have all the facts before approaching the member of staff. Start by having an informal meeting with them so that you can explain the nature of the complaint,” suggests Sheral Griffin, beauty quality and curriculum manager at Lifetime Training. “It is vital that you support the therapist throughout the process.” Angela Moulding, head trainer for machines company Carlton Beauty & Spa, agrees and adds, “Speak to the therapist who did the treatment and obtain from them all the relevant details – which products were used, how long they were left on the skin, what machine was used and whether or not the problem was apparent at the time of the treatment. Without this information it will be difficult to determine what has gone wrong and, therefore, how to put it right.”

4 Resolve it quickly
A speedy resolution could prevent that customer from telling their friends, or worse, announcing it to the world online. “I tell my staff they should always find a resolution before the customer leaves. If they leave with it unresolved it nearly always escalates the situation,” says Field. If you can’t find an immediate solution, don’t put it off for too long. “Tell the client you will investigate their concerns and come back to them within the next 24 hours, and make sure you do, even if it is just to say you are still looking into the matter and that you will come back to them when you have had the time to investigate the matter thoroughly,” advises Caster. It’s fine to seek advice on the situation, but never pass the buck, warns Field: “If you can’t resolve a complaint there and then, say you will investigate or refer to a higher manager – but always personally follow up in a timely manner.”

5 Re-do, don’t refund
It is usually better to offer to re-do the treatment or discount the next one rather than giving the customer her money back. “Once a refund is issued it’s pretty much guaranteed that client will never return,” says MacDonald. Instead, she suggests you should “offer a gift certificate or free service to try and restore the customer’s faith in your salon.” Deborah Anne King, who runs Angel Loving Care in West Lothian and was a finalist in the Professional Beauty Awards Therapist of the Year 2016 category, usually offers a mini complimentary treatment or a substantial discount on a future treatment of their choice to be taken within three months. “I would then treat them myself if possible so I could be sure they were getting the attention needed to change their opinion about us.”

6 Respond to online complaints
“Thanks to the digital revolution, customers are firmly in control. They want what they want, when they want it, and if they fail to get it they will tell all their friends and followers on social media – never before has the customer experience and your service been more important,” warns Carole Jones, managing director of Totally UK, which has the Germaine de Capuccini and Universal Contour Wrap brands. However, if the worst does happen and you see a scathing review online, it’s unwise to ignore it. “Where possible, leaving a comment directly underneath the complaint is ideal. You should state that you are sorry the customer has experienced something below the high standards you set for the company,” suggests Moulding. “Make the customer, and everyone else reading, aware that what has happened is not a normal occurrence and you are happy to rectify the problem.”

7 Then handle them offline
The general consensus about online complaints is that you should tackle them privately. “If the review is genuine, you should already have the clients’ contact details to call them directly. If not, respond to the review saying you are sorry that they are dissatisfied and could they please contact the salon as soon as possible to discuss the matter further and give you a chance to resolve it,” suggests Rebecca Dowdeswell, owner of specialist waxing salon and Perron Rigot training centre NKD in Norwich. “Never enter into an argument online for all to see, as that’s one thing you’ll never win, even if you are in the right.” However, even if the conversation is private, it’s still unwise to argue in writing. “It could easily be screen-shotted and appear on social media later,” warns Price.

8 Write a procedure
While complaints should be considered on a case-by-case basis, having an official procedure will give you a good starting point. It will also give staff guidance on how to deal with issues when you’re not there. Price advises that your procedure should involve asking members of staff discreetly and professionally what happened. “Then record your findings. You may need to come back to this information for a number of reasons so be clear about what has happened,” she adds. You should also have a procedure in place with your suppliers so staff know what to do if they receive a complaint about a homecare product. “There should be a returns policy in place with the supplier. This should protect the salon or spa owner whether the complaint is about an allergic reaction or if the product doesn’t deliver the expected results,” says Griffin. “Offer an exchange or refund to maintain good relations with the customer.”

9 Thank them and mean it
We’ve all heard the saying “feedback is a gift” but that can be hard to remember when a client is yelling at your junior therapist. “Although no salon wants to receive a complaint, we’d far rather our customers tell us when they have an issue, which in turn gives us a chance to resolve it,” says Dowdeswell. “The alternative is that the client goes away, probably badmouths us to others and remains dissatisfied with the service she or he received from us for evermore.” King agrees, adding, “I generally start by thanking them and telling them we always welcome all feedback, be it good or bad, as clients’ words are our only reality of how we are doing.” NKD invites feedback via a survey after every treatment. “Clients have the option of remaining anonymous if they wish, but of course we’d rather they reveal their identity so we can contact them and put things right,” says Dowdeswell.

10 Use complaints to train
Your complaints procedure is wasted unless you also use it to make changes in your business. “If you identify a problem, resolve it, then put in place new procedures so that particular problem cannot happen again,” reminds Jones. Ideally, complaints should be used to identify training needs rather than to punish staff. “Rather than reprimand the therapist or receptionist in question, we’d first consider whether the incident occurred because of a lack of knowledge or skill that we have failed to pass on to our staff,” says Dowdeswell. “That changes if we receive persistent bad comments about a particular therapist doing a particular thing, but that is very rarely the case.” The training needed may not always be in treatment skills. Caster suggests, “If necessary, the member of staff should be given training in effective communication or dealing with difficult clients before the issue becomes a disciplinary matter.”