Policy Enforcement: How to Communicate Consequences

Learn how to community your salon's policies and how to enforce them when clients challenge you.

Do you feel like your clients are running you over or being inconsiderate? Unfortunately, we can’t expect customers to exhibit what we consider to be common courtesy. If we want them to play by our rules, we have to clarify our expectations in the form of policies that prohibit and punish negative client behaviors. While it can be easy to write policies, it can be tough to enforce them.

Effective, straightforward communication will be critical when difficult clients challenge you.

Before we continue, I want to clarify the difference between a client’s valid complaint and their effort to escape consequences for policy violations. Valid complaints made by unhappy clients should be taken into consideration and acted upon if necessary. However, clients who attempt to subvert your policies are solely motivated by self-interest. In their efforts to escape consequences for their actions, they’ll do whatever they deem necessary to diminish your authority. The following tips will teach you how to confidently assert yourself when confronted by a client who falls into that latter category without compromising courtesy or diminishing your professionalism.

The Ground Rules

  • Don’t get emotional. Stay level and neutral. When you get emotional, you give clients the opportunity to get emotional also, causing the situation to escalate out of your control.
  • Keep your tone level. Most of our communication is non-verbal. Be very conscientious about the volume you’re speaking at and the tone you’re using. You want to be authoritative—not apologetic or rude.
  • Maintain eye contact. Just as eye contact communicates to a person that you’re listening, it can also be used to command their attention and respect. Failing to maintain eye contact will diminish the power of your message.
  • Stick to the facts. Many interpersonal communication experts recommend using “I-statements” instead of more accusatory sounding “you-statements.” I-statements communicate your thoughts, feelings, and values. (For example, “I feel disrespected when clients don’t arrive on time.”) You-statements tend to make the listener defensive. (For example, “You are disrespecting me when you don’t arrive on time.”)

Never assume clients care about how you feel.

Those “I statement” approaches may work with your significant other, but they’re not effective or appropriate in a professional setting. Point out your policy and stick to the facts.

  • Assume the client doesn’t know better. It can be hard not to get exasperated when you’re trying to explain to an adult why their bad behaviors aren’t acceptable when your reasoning feels so obvious, but give them the benefit of the doubt. It’s your job to communicate your boundaries to them; not to compensate for their poor upbringing.
  • Enforce your policies without exception or apology. Policies serve no purpose if you don’t enforce them, or if you enforce them sporadically. Inconsistency confuses and frustrates clients. Once you define your expectations, don’t deviate from them.

Apologizing for enforcing a policy is disingenuous and sends mixed messages. You aren’t sorry, so don’t express remorse.

  • Use the formula: Direction, Facts, Consequence, Solution. Tell the client what you expect them to do, explain the reason your policy exists, state the consequences for violating the policy, and present the client with a possible solution. In these scenarios, you’ll learn how the formula works and how to apply it

Scenario 1: The No-Show

“Last week, my client blew off our appointment. She called me five minutes after her appointment time and said she decided to meet friends for brunch instead. This isn’t the first time this has happened. I’m angry and hurt. How do I tell her that this isn’t acceptable?”

Direction: Provide adequate notice of cancellation in the future.
Fact: Late-cancellations leave gaps in your schedule that are often impossible to fill, causing lost revenue.
Consequence: Clients who cancel with short-notice will be charged a fee and will have to reserve future appointments with deposits at the time of booking.
Solution: If she prefers not to commit to appointments, she may call ahead, place herself on your daily waitlist, or walk in and hope for availability.

“In the future, please provide advance notice of cancellation. Late-cancellations leave gaps in my schedule that are impossible to fill, which causes lost revenue. Clients who cancel without notice are charged a fee and will be required to secure future appointments with deposits. If you prefer not to commit to appointments, you’re welcome to call ahead, walk in, or join our daily waitlist.”

Scenario 2: The Late-Arrival

“My chronically late client became upset when I told her I would have to abbreviate her service to stay on schedule. She insisted I either do the full service or discount her bill because I didn’t have time to perform the entire pedicure. What should I do?”

Direction: Arrive promptly.
Facts: As an appointment-based professional, you must remain on schedule. Clients who book appointments reserve billable time, during which, operational expenses are being incurred. Their tardiness negatively affects salon productivity and profitability.
Consequence:Salon policy doesn’t award refunds of any kind to guests who arrive late.
Solution: Like the late-canceller, this client may find it more suitable to call ahead, join the waitlist, or walk in.

“To keep from having an abbreviated service, please arrive promptly for your appointment. Client tardiness affects our ability to remain on schedule, causing delays other customers rightfully consider unacceptable, so delivering the full service isn’t an option. We cannot discount abbreviated services because the time a client books is reserved exclusively for them. During this time, operational and labor expenses are being incurred. If you’d prefer, you’re welcome to call ahead, walk in, or join our waitlist instead of committing to an appointment.”

Scenario 3: The Pushy Ineligible Client

“How do I explain to pushy clients that I can’t serve them if they are ineligible for services? I don’t want to be rude, but I’m uncomfortable being pressured into working outside my scope of practice.”

Facts: You are not qualified to diagnose or treat medical disorders. You are not willing to risk the client’s safety or your professional license by working outside of your scope of practice.
Consequence: Clients who challenge your refusal will be dismissed.
Solution: Should a client wish to be served even after being told they’re ineligible for salon services, they can take their business to someone less ethical, at their own risk.

“I’d love to serve you, but state regulations prohibit nail technicians from treating clients with skin or nail abnormalities of any kind. Doing so would jeopardize my professional license, and I’m not willing to risk my livelihood or your health. You may find a salon willing to perform the service despite the risk it presents, but we care about your wellness more than we care about your money. I’m happy to provide you with a physician reference. When they have determined you’re eligible for salon services, we would love to have you back.”

Scenario 4: The Midnight Caller

“Some clients call and text whenever they please—even on weekends and in the middle of the night. How do I put a stop to it without being rude?”

This situation requires no explanation, just some time spent configuring your phone’s settings and organizing your contacts. Most smartphones come with a “do not disturb” option. (If yours doesn’t, there are dozens of applications you can download that have those features. I personally use Calls Blacklist Pro.) Configure your settings by specifying the hours you’d like to disable calls and text messages. Then, customize your white list by selecting contacts who can bypass the block.

Should a client complain about your lack of communication during off hours, stick to the formula:

Fact: When the salon closes, business ends.
Solution: Clients can expect a response by the next business day.

“We no longer accept business communications after hours. You’re welcome to leave voicemails and send texts. You’ll receive a prompt response when business hours resume.”

When it comes down to it, you don’t owe anyone an explanation for your policies. However, when challenged by a curious or defiant client, you should be able to validate your reasoning in a rational manner, leaving no room for debate.

None of the policies we implement at our salons are arbitrary. Each have logical foundations, intended to protect our salons, professionals, and customers.

We can’t expect clients to do better until they know better, but those discussions don’t have to be confrontational or defensive. Stick to the formula, enforce your boundaries consistently, and you’ll never feel used, abused, or taken for granted by your clients again.

Policy Creation & Enforcement Pack Square

The Policy Creation and Enforcement Pack

This pack includes a 55-page PDF with everything you need to understand why certain policies may be required, who should and shouldn’t implement them, and when and how to introduce them in your salon. The kit includes:

  • templates for every salon policy imaginable
  • placement and wording recommendations
  • scripts for communicating policies
  • enforcement tips, and
  • enforcement correspondence.

I’ve also provided guidelines for creating and effectively communicating any additional polices your salon may require in the future and a suggested appointment reminder schedule with reminder templates.


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