How to handle customer complaints in your grooming business

Updated: Nov 11, 2019

The expression "you cannot please everyone" holds true, especially if you have ever dealt with an unhappy customer. Whether it is your fault or not, when a customer complains you need to see it as an opportunity rather then a dreadful interaction. Don't shy away from conflict when dealing with a customer complaint. It will only get worse! Instead handle the matter in a calm, diplomatic way that is determined to solve a problem rather than argue over small details. Conflict resolution is an art, much like grooming. The more you do, the better you get.

When you are in the wrong

It is hard to admit when we are wrong but it shows character

I had a horrible incident happen in my salon nearly a decade ago. The sweetest Golden Retriever on the planet belonged to a dad that loved his pet so much that he actually gave his ex wife the houses and cars in order for him to keep his beloved pet.

Yup. Of course something would go wrong - 'Murphy' (from Murphy's Law) has a grooming table next to me, in case you were wondering.

Short version of the story - Sami was finished getting groomed. Two girls were removing her from the table and thought the belly strap was still attached. They placed her back on the table where she proceeded to sit down. What happened next was awful! One little chain that connects the belly strap to the table had a 1/8th of an gap. Sami's skin, in her tuck up area, slipped into that 1/8 opening. What are the chances?!?! When she sat, her weight against the chain attached to the table tore her entire stomach open. Thirty plus stitches and staples later, dad, rightfully lost his mind.

He was out of town on business and his personal assistant was left to handle the situation. I was instructed NOT to contact the dad because he was so mad that he would actively try to shut my salon down. I did NOT listen to his assistant and I did the following:

I sent a get well card and flowers addressed to Sami, the Golden, apologizing for what happened. I sent the father an email asking him to visit the salon next time he is in town so I can show him exactly what happened. I paid every single vet bill without hesitation, discussion or argument.

What I learned from this horrific experience is to deal with the confrontation head on. The gentleman yelled at me until he was red in the face. I nodded and took a point. I allowed for him to get his stress and anguish out then I took over the conversation as he lost some wind in his sails. I apologized many times. (Sometimes, a simple "I am so sorry" means more than you can ever know). I showed him the salon, the belly strap, the chain link (that the vet gave back to me) and I reenacted everything. I offered a free bath when she was cleared from the doctor. I was honest, remorseful and asked him for suggestions so this would never happen again. (On a side note, we came up with a plan to dip the chain links in rubber, like the ones at playgrounds so they would never have a gap in them).

Sami was still a client of mine until she passed away a few years ago. Dad later said that the card and flowers sent to Sami made him realize we loved his pet too. It was also my invitation that any time, without notice, he was welcome to come into the salon to see for himself how this horrid accident occurred.

If I would have listened to the personal assistant and stayed away, who knows what would have happened. This man was mad enough and had the resources to make my life hard. I'm really not sure where it could have gone but not trying to dodge conflict is always better.

When you are in the right

This one is harder to swallow, especially if you are a little hot tempered. The key in this situation is to keep the end result in mind. If you want to keep this client, then proving that they are wrong and you are right is not the way to go about it. If the situation is bad enough where you would like to fire the client, again, proving who is right and wrong is not the answer. Honestly, being right and wrong is only a matter of opinion and perception! It does not matter.

Take for example the time a client literally tried to sue me for a bad haircut on her Pomeranian. True story. After 45 minutes discussing haircuts with this client and trying to guide her away from an A snap on comb (because the cut would look choppy) she decided that the A guard is what she wanted so we complied...reluctantly. What ensued was a tirade of threats, crying, screaming and insults from her to my team. My staff is the best, kept their cool and told her to speak with me. This client did in fact, hire a lawyer to sue me for a bad haircut.

If I wanted to argue with her about how we knew the haircut would be lousy and that we told her this before the groom, the conversation would have gone nowhere. In her mind, we are terrible groomers that should not be in business. Can't argue with crazy.

The end result I wanted was to:

A) have the lawsuit dropped

B) make sure that she would not trash us online.

I did not let her bully me nor did I feed into her drama. I stayed calm and repeatedly asked her what she was looking to get out of this. Eventually, we came to a resolution. When we both agreed (outside of court), I then explained to her that I expected this matter to end here. If she would continue this online and put anything on social media regarding the incident, I would sue her for slander. I also told her to find another groomer and offered the advice that an A snap on comb would not be advised. ;)

Even when we were in the right and this client was clearly off her rocker, facing this challenge head on worked well. If I would have avoided or fed into the drama, I would have had to go to small claims court, she probably would have bad-mouthed me all over the internet and it would have taken up a lot of time and headaches. I did not let my ego take over and 'show her who's right.' Instead, I aimed for a resolution - one that I designed from the start.

Keep a cool head and face the music

If a client is letting you have it face-to-face, listen to their concerns, repeat back what they said so you can clearly understand what the problem is and offer a solution. I like to say, "Let me make sure I am hearing you correctly, you are upset because..."

If you need time to cool down, it is okay to say, "Look, I want to solve this problem as much as you do but I'm just as upset as you are right now and I need some time to think." Personally, I would much rather have the person I'm arguing with say this to me then fly off the handle and say something that we both regret.

If the complaint came in the form of a voicemail, text or email, you have some time. Sit on it for a few hours before you respond. Make a cheat sheet of all the things that matter and keep the end result in mind. If you find that you are getting dramatic - find your least dramatic friend and have them take you down a notch! Only respond when your emotions settle down. Firing off something in the heat of the moment, will only cause regret later on.

Always thank the client for their honest feedback...even if it sucks!

The worst feedback from a client is NO feedback!

How many times have you wished you knew why that client stopped coming to you? It's because they don't like conflict either! Instead of being honest with you, you lost a client without reason.

Sometimes, the answer is so simple like you '"made Kipper's nails bleed once" and you never had the chance to rectify it.

So if a client does complain or give you negative feedback, THANK THEM. Seriously, thank every one of them - even the crazy one!

It goes something like this, "Thank you for your feedback. Though I disagree with some of what you said, I greatly appreciate you discussing this with me to give me the chance to explain my side."

The most important thing I have learned from customer complaints is that it gives you the opportunity to:

A) make it right

B) educate a client

C) show strong character traits, which is just important in life!

D) gain back their business, if you want it

E) fire a terrible client and dodge a bullet of headaches for years to come.

Clients that complain can be a blessing in disguise sometimes. Not always, I get that, but when they complain it gives you the chance to hear their point of view, possibly educate them and maybe turn them into a better client. You may also learn something about your business that you did not know! (I learned that my former Receptionist used to be mean and roll her eyes at clients).

By facing your fears of conflict and communicating with this client either in person or through other channels, you will be able to handle the situation much better and hopefully turn a bad situation good.

We would love to hear what you think! Any good stories of how you turned a customer complaint into a win? Have you ever lost a client for handling a situation poorly? What did you learn?

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