The 5+ Types of Difficult Clients and How to Deal With Them

Each of us has one of them: the client who always cancels last minute, the client who is perpetually late, the client who brings all five of her young children to a three-hour appointment, the client who insists on bringing her “fur baby” to each appointment, the client who needs to take a smoke break every ten minutes, the client who always seems to be in the middle of a personal crisis, the client who spends the entire appointment loudly talking on her cell phone, the client who can’t commit to anything, the flirtatious perverts, and the client who just cannot be satisfied (yet insists on coming in regardless).

If you haven’t yet enjoyed the company of a client whose primary goal of the appointment seems to be to inconvenience you and/or piss you off as much as possible, you soon will. Read on to figure out how to manage the various subtypes of difficult clients tactfully and professionally. I’ve grouped some of them together because the methods of handling them are virtually identical.

1 & 2.) The Constant Complainers & The Megabitches
“My curls aren’t curly enough. My cut isn’t layered enough. My color isn’t the perfect tone. My nails aren’t the right length. My polish isn’t the right color. The prices are too high. You took 2 hours to finish a color, hilight, and cut on my dense, waist-length hair, which was just too much time.”

Lucky you. It looks like a Constant Complainer has landed her unhappy ass in your chair. It doesn’t matter how long or how thoroughly you consult, nothing is (or ever will be) good enough for this client. Recognize that now and accept it. In the majority of cases, it’s not you; it’s her. This is especially true if the client spends her appointment complaining about everything else. Every day is an exercise in aggravation for this person–every restaurant screws up her order, nobody does anything right, she can’t depend on anyone, etc.

This bitch is miserable and there’s nothing that can be done about it. Don’t let her bring you down with her.

Consult with Constant Complainers extremely thoroughly. This is more for their benefit than yours. This lets them know that you’re listening to and you want them to be completely happy.

A lot of Constant Complainers seem to have control issues–specifically, they feel as if they have none. The way to make them feel at ease with you and go easier on you is to do your best to let them know that their words are being heard. Take time to sit face-to-face with them and make eye contact.

If their behavior doesn’t improve before the service begins, call attention to it, but in a compassionate way.

“You seem upset today. Would you prefer to reschedule to a better time?”

Constant Complainers are generally frustrated and friendless. Show compassion and care and you might see a complete turnaround. If you don’t, you’ll have to deal with them the way you would handle a Megabitch.

A Megabitch is an upgraded version of a Constant Complainer. This client sees each appointment as an opportunity to break you. They degrade you, your place of work, your coworkers, and openly question your competence. They care nothing for your feelings. (Pop culture Megabitches include: Sue Sylvester from Glee, Wilhelmina from Ugly Betty, Regina from Mean Girls, and Celia Hodes from Weeds.)

These clients genuinely enjoy playing games with you.

These monsters feed off your discomfort, your stumbling attempts to regain composure, and your professional inability to serve it back to them.

This client must go. Period.

Firing a client can be difficult, but in this instance, it shouldn’t be. At the end of the appointment, tell the Magabitch that you won’t be able to accommodate her any longer and refer her to another professional.

Don’t apologize. Don’t try to cushion it or sugar coat it. State it factually.

If she asks why, be truthful: the comments are undeserved, unsolicited, and unappreciated and you won’t tolerate it. The easiest way to diffuse a Megabitch is to mirror her behavior and give it back to her.

With the severe Constant Complainers and Megabitches, the best way to deal with them is to refuse to deal with them. Simply state, “Clearly, I can’t make you happy. You’d be better suited with another professional. Thank you for your business and I hope you have better luck with them.”

Sometimes, you just have to call it quits.

3 & 4.) The Dependably Delayed & The Last-Minute Cancelers
“Sorry I’m late! I slept in. I lost track of time. My dog was choking so I had to give it CPR. My car stalled. I was caught in traffic. I was kidnapped by terrorists.”

The Dependably Delayed client is always late. The excuses are always weak. The only thing about this client that you can rely on is that they will never arrive on time. While you may be tempted to shake this client and scream, “PLAN AHEAD!” …refrain.

The Last-Minute Cancelers are the ones that book appointments in advance and cancel less than an hour prior. If this client gives you a reason for the cancellation, it is generally very thin and inconsiderate. “My kids and I decided to go to Disney today. I made lunch plans with friends and won’t be able to make it. I need an oil change more than I need my hilights and color done today.” 

This client leaves you with huge gaps of time and can be costing you thousands of dollars each year. (Don’t stop right now to total up the money you could have made in the time she’s robbed from you, trust me. Let it go.)

The behaviors of these clients can be brought to a halt with a simple tardiness/cancellation policy. This is mine:

“Clients who fail to provide 24 hour notice of cancellation will be charged for the full amount of their appointment. Future appointments will have to be secured with a credit card. Please understand that arriving late may limit the time available for your treatment, thus lessening its effectiveness and your pleasure. Your timely arrival is appreciated. Clients who do not arrive within 15 minutes of their scheduled appointment times may be asked to reschedule and will be charged the full amount of the scheduled appointment.”

The next time your Dependably Delayed client trainwrecks your schedule or your Last-Minute Canceler suddenly decides to spend the day at the beach, give them a copy of the new policy. This may cause you to lose them but look at the bright side–now you can fill their appointment spaces with people that actually respect your time!

5 & 6.) The Brood Mothers & The Den Mothers
These clients insist on bringing their children (human or canine) with them to every appointment.

Regardless of how well-behaved they may be, the salon is not an appropriate environment for children or animals.

Unless the kids are there to enjoy services themselves and their parent is completely unoccupied, standing by and supervising them, they simply do not belong there. Additionally, in many states, non-service animals in a salon presents a health code violation that can result in a hefty fine.

For you, the problems with these clients present themselves in the form of increased liability and lost productivity. Your Brood Mother client is spending time (or worse, not spending time) wrangling her three-year-old twins while you try to get her foils in. You’re trying to cut the Den Mother client’s hair, but her pampered minipoo is yapping its rhinestone-collared head off.

Even worse are the ones that allow their “babies” to run wild, ignoring them completely and expecting you (or your staff members) to manage them while they relax.

News flash professionals: You’re not babysitters. Take control of that situation immediately.

Pull your Brood Mothers aside and tell them, “This time you have booked here is time for you and the other clients to relax and enjoy time away from your children. Next time, please arrange for a sitter. I want you to fully enjoy your services and this environment is simply not safe for the kids. There are fumes, heated tools, chemicals, and plenty of things they can get hurt on.”

That should get the hint across. If not, don’t be afraid to get blunt and state things more clearly.

“This is our place of business. Your children are hurting our productivity here and disrupting the other clients. In addition, they are a liability. If you bring them with you in the future, we will not be able to service you.”

As for your Den Mothers, tell them non-service animals are prohibited. If she arrives again with her pooch, she’ll be asked to reschedule.

7 & 8.) The Smokestacks & The Cell Phone Chatters 
These clients constantly interrupt your service to take phone calls or walk outside for smoke breaks. Like the Brood & Den Mothers, they are cutting into your productivity. Put a stop to it by forming a Cell Phone Policy and Smoking Policy.

“To ensure the comfort of all clients, all phones must be silenced or turned off while in the treatment areas. If you need to make a phone call, please do so after your appointment. Our employees are on a tight schedule and we appreciate your compliance.”

“Smoking during your appointment time is strictly prohibited.”

You will have clients try to challenge these policies, but stay firm. Tell them that you do your very best to ensure that you are prompt for their appointments. Their time with you is limited to the amount of time it takes to perform the service. There simply isn’t room in your schedule for their phone calls or smoke breaks.

9.) The Drama Queens
This client is draining. That’s the only word for it.

They come in and spend the entire appointment loudly going on and on about whatever personal crisis is “ruining their life” this week.

These attention whores can drive you absolutely insane, especially if you’re the kind of professional (like me) who prefers to concentrate on the task at hand and work in silence.

Dealing with Drama Queens is tricky. They’re melodramatic, overly emotional, and generally have no idea that their behavior is obnoxious and inappropriate so they can be hard to approach. Since these clients are so varied in their attitudes and behaviors, I’ll share the only successful strategy I have:

After the Drama Queen has left, I make a phone call when I know I have the time. I tell them, “I know you’re having a rough time and I’m glad that talking about it helps you through it, but a lot of clients have complained about not being able to relax during their appointment times when you’re present. In the future, if we could try to keep the conversation to a minimum, that would really keep me from getting in trouble at work.”

That’s the only strategy I have for handling these people other than outright ignoring them during the appointment. I’m at a disadvantage here because I’m an extremely rational, logical, straightforward person by nature, so when confronted with animated, overly emotional people I tend to shut down. [DOES…NOT…COMPUTE!]

As a rule, during my appointments I keep my conversation focused on what I know: client education. I explain my techniques, my products, and my motives for doing what I do the way I do it. I don’t ask personal questions and I don’t answer them.

Drama Queens feed on attention. If you’re not willing to give it to them, they’ll either stop or find another professional who will.

9.) The Pervy Creeper
Periodically, you may find a Pervy Creeper in your chair. These guys seem to book with you just so they have an opportunity to sexually harass you. The comments, thinly-veiled propositions, and inappropriate behaviors are unacceptable. Shut it down. (You can read more about how to handle sexual harassment as work by reading this article.)

Initially, you don’t have to get rude. Just tell the Creeper that you’re not interested.

In this instance, it might be good to have a third-party intercede, like your boss. Have your owner pull the client into a private area and explain that their behaviors are not appropriate or appreciated. Depending on how aggressive the creeper is, your salon owner may ask them not to return.

There’s no reason to put yourself in a position where you have to confront a pervert. A good boss will be happy to do it for you.

10.) The Noncommittal Indecisives
“I like all of these colors though. I don’t care if it’s layered or blunt. I don’t know, just do whatever you think is best.”

These clients tend to be people-pleasers. They don’t want to step on toes or question your professional abilities. Sometimes, they’re simply low maintenance, don’t have preferences, and choose to leave it up to the professionals. However, most professionals want their clients to leave satisfied, so it’s important to draw out this client’s desires when it comes to their beauty needs.

Tell this client that it’s alright if they choose to put their trust in you, but you want to ensure their happiness, so they need to be specific.

Ask as many questions as possible. Encourage them to bring pictures. Getting to know them personally will help as well. Show them pictures and ask open-ended questions that require more than a “yes” or “no” answer. “What do you think of…?” “How would you feel about…?”

To better feel out a Noncommittal Indecisive, extensive consulting is a must!

11.) The Cheap Ass
“$30 for a cut and blow dry?! That’s a bit much, don’t you think? Is there anything we can do to lower the price? My roots are showing and it has only been 12 weeks–you need to redo this for free!”

These clients want it all. They have champagne and caviar tastes on a welfare budget. They’re willing to do and say whatever it takes to get what they want from you–for nothing.

These clients know the price of everything and the value of nothing.

In my opinion, these clients are not worth the your time or the aggravation they cause. They will shoot down your self-esteem and criticize your ability to do your job with no regard to how either of those things will affect you. Nobody deserves that treatment, especially when the person’s primary motivation for doing so is saving a few bucks. You are worth more than that and there are plenty of valuable clients who will recognize so.

Have solid refund and re-do policies in place. Perform consultations that leave no room for dispute. (Colorists and stylists that specialize in hair extensions, in particular, need to have detailed consultation forms and aftercare forms that clients should be required to sign. Keep them on file in the salon for future reference.)

If one of these clients tries to make you miserable, let her know that you don’t negotiate with terrorists.

Giving in to this client will set a precedent and before you know it, you’ll be working on her for free.

If she’s so unhappy with your work, there are plenty of other professionals she can choose from. Offer to refer her out to someone else. Often, these clients have absolutely no issue with the quality of your work–their issue is with the fact that you will not allow them to manipulate you. They’re not worth it. Boot them.

12.) The I-O-U
“I forgot my wallet. My paycheck hasn’t come in yet. I’ll pay you on Monday, I promise! I have to run home and get my credit card!”

These clients conveniently forget that they have to pay for their services. Every. Single. Appointment.

People can be forgetful. These things happen.

When it becomes a pattern, it becomes a problem.

For your flaky clients that occasionally forget their wallets, require them to pay in advance or keep their card information on file. No biggie. Chances are, they’ll be grateful to have one less thing to remember.

Then there are Thieves; an entirely new breed of asshole. These clients refuse to pay. Their reasons range from “I actually don’t have any money in my account right now” to “This isn’t what I wanted so I’m not paying for it!”

Never EVER let anyone walk out of your salon without paying you first. You provided the service; they need to provide the payment. Immediately. No excuses.

If they cannot provide payment, you need to contact the police.

Refusing to pay for services (or accepting services knowing that you have an inability to pay) may constitute a theft of services. Would that client walk into a store, take something, and leave with it? Owners and booth renters, you have every right to contact law enforcement if a client leaves your shop without paying.

Never accept that treatment from a client. As with the Cheap Ass, giving in to this treatment sets a precedent.

I think I’ve covered the most common offenders. If you can think of any to add, let me know!

If you’re having chronic issues with difficult clients, it’s probably time to set some boundaries. Download the Policy Creation and Enforcement Pack and put a stop to bad behaviors today!

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15 Responses

  1. Omg!! You just describe a lot of my customers, yet I’m the ugly person. But I’m glad I’m not the only person that stands up for what I think is right. My old boss used to say,”for one that walks out , two come in”
    Keep it up!! Great job!

  2. Stylists aren’t perfect either. The ones that repeatedly flake on appointments are the worst! Also the only acceptable situation to refuse to pay is if the haircut was botched or if the stylist completely ignored the client’s wishes. There is no theft of services if the agreed services were not delivered. I’ve never done that, but I’ve had haircuts where the stylist said oops and left a bald spot without telling me. If I had known about the bald spot before leaving, I would have never opened my wallet.

    1. First order of business, John 117…are you a Spartan too? Because if so, fistbump. I’m a 15 year veteran of the UNSC, and my extensive lore knowledge and collection of memorabilia might qualify me as what you’d consider a superfan.

      Stylists for sure aren’t perfect. Especially the ones that flake, the ones who force inappropriate social relationships with customers in an attempt to earn their loyalty, the ones who try to manipulate clients into giving them tips by delivering some pathetic sob story, and those who do whatever they want instead of what the client asks for.

  3. It sounder like that describes all clientele period. I can’t think of a perfect client they all have something about theme that is annoying. And there are exceptons to things too. You can’t fire every client because you personally can’t deal with they’re differences. I know a hair dresser that fired me because I didn’t think she did a good job she made my hair break and blonde look like leopard spots wento through a full foil In under an hour and used a razor to cut my hair causing major split ends. She was not professional in any way shape or form yet fired me for telling her I was not happy. Sorry but from customers side if a service is done badly without care we should be able to complain. It’s very hard to find a good stylist for hair eyelashes and nails. Once I find one I appreciate them and tip well, however if a stylist screws up I’m letting them know. And I’m not broke or cheap if I question the price of things because I like to know how much money I’m spending. Most people are on budgets these days whether they work or not. So I disagree with your blog in many ways, I’m an esthetiCian and most my clients annoy me in some way but I want to get my job done and so I don’t fire all my clients

    1. It seems like in every article, there’s one commenter that takes things completely out of context or doesn’t seem to actually read the article before commenting.

      First, there’s a difference between a person who cannot be satisfied no matter what you do and a person with a valid complaint. People who complain chronically about everything are part of the former group. A client with a valid complaint isn’t.

      Secondly, you can’t and shouldn’t fire every single client–nowhere did I suggest that all professionals should fire all clients (just those who constantly present problems that interfere with our ability to earn or are far more trouble than they’re worth).

      Finally, there’s nothing wrong or objectionable about a client who asks why a price is what it is. If you’re drawing parallels between someone who simply wants to know how much they’re spending and what they’re spending it on with someone who busts into the salon demanding to pay 10% of what you charge for no other reason than “I don’t want to pay what you charge, but I still want your services,” then you’re likely looking for something to object to.

      I thought I made it pretty clear these different types of clients are people who are unreasonably difficult, toxic people. Exceptions to this list absolutely do exist, however, I’m not going to write each article with a full list of disclaimers detailing every exception out there, lol. We’re talking about DIFFICULT clients in this post, not normal people with understandable questions or complaints.

  4. Loved this…. especially the Mega Bitch…. i had a client in the other day who showed me a photo, explained to her I can’t make any promises And she wanted to blonde balayage… did that, then she changed her mind and wanted chocolate brown, mixed the colour then she said she wanted a saandy brown… so I didn’t leave it on as long. Looked pretty close to the picture before the chocolate brown. She refused to pay cause she wasn’t happy with her hair at all. Her mother had a go at me as well. I calmy said to them, I am so sorry but I can no longer accomodate you. I have done everything I possibly can do, and you clearly aren’t happy with anything I am doing. She argued with me with what colour it was the photo. Enough for me to say I am a hairstylist I do know what colour it is, as does the other stylist who I have asked as well. And calmy said, sorry but have a nice day…. how do you deal with another stylist chasing after them asking if they are okay? And taking pride in a client speaking to you like that? ( also thank you for your article )

    1. Personally, I’d let that client be that professional’s problem. If she’s willing to chase her down and kiss her ass when she had nothing to do with anything (and it certainly wasn’t her place to do so) she’s welcome to deal with the fallout of that poor decision, lol. I also utilize client consultation forms and work agreements (well, I did when I was a colorist). It states the swatch colors chosen, my warnings and disclaimers to the client, the patch test results, and requires the client to sign the form and agree to the fee before the service begins. So, changing her mind in the middle of a color service wouldn’t have been acceptable. I’d have stopped the service and told her to return when she was certain about what she wanted.

  5. Wow I love this. I will read this every time something like this gonna happen ! Other way- my poor husband has to deal with it all evening 🙂 and I ending up thinking of quitting my job 🙂

    1. This really helped me today I had a young woman come in with 5 different colors, so I told her it was a color correction. Turns out she had box color, previous color, and lighter that had sat for 2 hours the previous day. She claimed her cousin did her hair. It was terrible Nd she had a total of 3 balayage highlights at her scalp. I balayaged her ends with multiple money pieces, but in the end there were still some dark spots like her mid shaft which I anticipated and informed her of. He root came up very light like a level 9-10 and her ends more like a 8 so I toned her with a level 8 and he top still looked lighter even thought it sat twice as long. I recommended going back over it and darkening it, but she did not want to do so. Entire time she was with me she complained about her services elsewhere and customer service experiences as well beyond hair. From start to finish I was clear on expectations, I was knowledgeable, and informed her that it was a process to go lighter. I wanted to quit so bad when she made a scene saying it was not what she expected. People forget were hairdressers, not magicians. Going lighter is a process, and even more so with 4 other contributing pigments!

      1. I spent the first three years of my career in this industry as a color specialist. All I did was formulate and apply color. In that time, I learned valuable lessons.

        1.) Clients lie. Always.
        2.) Clients need to be talked to directly so they understand exactly what kind of results to expect.
        3.) Signed consultation forms are a must.
        4.) Always patch and strand test…because they lie.
        5.) If they seem like trouble, don’t let them in your chair.

        My employer at the time was frustrated with my refusal to just “slap the color on and take the money,” but soon realized that my results were more consistent, my clients were more appreciative and less likely to throw a fit at the register, and my insistence on patch testing likely kept us from being sued when a patch test revealed a severe allergic reaction on one of our new clients. Additionally, I turned away a few clients just like the one you described. Those constant complainers will NEVER be happy with ANYTHING. If they walk in the door bitching, I send them right back out, lol.

  6. How do you manage a client that was difficult to please, yet left pleased and then wants a full refund??? Because!!!…. The next morning she comes back to complain about the color. I’m talking we spent an extra 2 hours on her color because she wasn’t happy.
    I charged her $300 for foil highlights/balayage, toner, haircut and blow-dry. (we agreed on the price and many other things in the consultation.) She threw a fit about not liking her hair and wanted it ALL covered up (doing a single color process on top of the 5 hours we spent together the day before. Complimentary!) I handed her off to an informed stylist in hopes she would see or do what I could not. In the end they did not do another service. Instead, the client wanted a FULL refund. So, to let the whole thing go, that’s what happened. A full refund. Fair?

    1. Definitely not fair. The client sounds like a typical scammer.

      You should have a refund policy informing clients that service sales are final. I also recommend implementing a consultation record that the client must sign which goes over what they’re asking for, what results they can expect, and any potential complications that may arise. The form should also detail the final price and explain that service sales are final.

  7. What about the clients who bob their heads and wave their hands about while talking during a precise highlight and color application? Even after I’ve told them to “please sit still” already? I am at my wits end here.

    1. That’s one of the things I’ll never miss about doing hair. In some ways, I’m a very stereotypical Italian–even then, I know better than to gesticulate like an orchestra conductor when I’m being worked on, lol.

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