How To Cope With Complaining Clients

Complaints are a normal part of every business. Your measure, as owner of a spa or clinic, is not in how many complaints you get – it’s in how you react and deal with a disgruntled client, says Lisa Conway*. It takes courage for a client to come forward and share, so thank them, listen to their beef and ask yourself these questions:

Have I truly listened?

Always let the unhappy client be heard. Allow them to talk until they run out of words. Resist the urge to interrupt. Show respect – whatever they’re saying is a version of the truth. They’ll be less frustrated if you listen with an open mind. When they’re finished, ask: What would you like me to do? How can I fix this for you? It doesn’t mean you’re going to do what they say but it tells them you’re prepared to solve the problem.

Is it for real?

Could the complaint actually be a misunderstanding or an exaggerated version of the truth? Ask questions, look critically at what happened, or might have happened. Ask the therapist for their version. Gather all the facts. Ultimately, you’ll want to avoid escalating the problem, being overly defensive of your team or offering compensating when it’s not warranted. You can’t make a sound decision about how you handle a complaint without knowing how genuine it is.

Have I taken thinking time?

Don’t knee-jerk to an instant solution. There are at least two sides to every story and without the complete picture, you can’t decide on the best course of action. It’s wise to gather all the information you need then tell your client you’ll get back to them. Take time to think it through, get the issue straight in your mind first. Keep in touch with the client, let them know your progress and flag when you’ll be responding to them, so they have a sure timeframe.

Do I refund or redo?

Where possible, a redo is always your best option, and perhaps with another therapist. A redo gives you the opportunity to show your client your business can make them happy. You get to demonstrate professionalism and skill, as well as understanding. To me, a refund says “we can’t do it” and may pander to those who know how to play the system. Sure, if you believe that a team member has genuinely let a client down, then consider making a refund, but never as your first option.

Could we have prevented this?

Ensure that every client is satisfied before they leave your business. Don’t wait for them to phone in their complaint the next day. That’s uncomfortable for everyone. By then, they’ve had time to dwell on the frustration and negativity. Instead, nip it in the bud. Factor in a mandatory step for every service or treatment where the client is asked: Are you happy with the service you received today? Train your therapists to sense when a client’s not completely delighted and respond with an open, honest conversation.

Is our quality consistent?

Some clients will always find something to complain about; they’re just never happy. Accept it. And there are others who seem to get you to bend the rules, telling you what to do and not do during their service. It’s a whole can of worms best left unopened. Treat all your clients with the same high level of quality in line with your professional expertise. Trust in what you know. Avoid trying to be all things to all people. Maybe the clients who don’t like your service delivery would be better off with one of your competitors?

Am I keeping my cool online?

If you’re too busy to check online reviews, get someone to help you. You must manage online feedback – it’s there on the wall, literally, for all to see. Online reviews are often posted in the heat of the moment and people can be extra nasty when they’re not facing up to you personally. Avoid responding with anything other than an invitation to enter into a discussion with you. Take it back offline. Always aim to resolve the issue and keep your client long-term. Never, never argue back.

What have I learned?

Every complaint is a learning opportunity. Take the emotion out of the situation so you can understand the real challenge, the true lesson to be learned each time. It might be a tweak to your procedures, some staff training or simply knowing that you could have handled a conversation differently. Complaints are a learning curve brimming with insights about yourself, your team and your clients.

Have I said thank you?

Thank your client for their honesty. It takes some pluck to air a grievance. And they’re doing you a service by sharing their thoughts with you. They’re standing up for their right to remain your client. They could vote with their feet and their dollars, making a beeline for a competitor without you ever being the wiser. Surely you’ve been in a position of consumer dissatisfaction yourself? Show some empathy and remember how it felt to be on the other side.

Treasure every complaint as an opportunity to grow and develop, a chance to do better for you and your clients. Work through the process, embrace the negatives and translate them into positive outcomes for your spa or clinic.

  • Over the past 30 years, Lisa Conway has worked in salons, managed them and owned her own, so there is very little she doesn’t know about the industry. For more beauty salon and spa wisdom, email her at, visit her website ZINGCOACH.COM.AU, find her video tips on YouTube or read her book The Naked Salon: An Essential Guide To Time, Team and Money. Look out for her soon-to-be released follow-up title: Your Salon Team.

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