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Curl-Centric Stylists Reveal Their Toughest Client Challenge

by Teri Evans on Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Every stylist has an unforgettable story. There’s always that one challenging client forever etched in your memory. Looking back, you almost want to thank them for making you a better stylist. As the saying goes, from challenges come opportunities.

Discuss your toughest client challenges here.

Here, we ask a handful of curl-centric stylists to share their most challenging curly client experience. Read on to learn how they coped with common client calamities — ranging from denial and distrust to emotional and physical pain.

Curl Stylist: Pam Bobb
Location: Island Salon in Indialantic, Fla.
Biggest Challenge: A client hides a painful color allergy.

It started as a routine color service for a long-time curly client. But on this day, Pam Bobb noticed her client kept wincing during the process.

Something was wrong.

Taken aback, Bobb asked if she was in pain.

Her answer? “I just have to suffer through this.”

Bobb had been coloring her client’s hair for a year with no problems. Or so she thought. She was confused, until her client confessed that she was allergic to the color. The chemicals caused an itchy scalp and blistering burns that morphed into scabs. The anguish lingered for a day or two.

“She was in pain the whole time and never told me. It really upset me because you don’t want to see your client suffer or go away,” says Bobb, a naturally curly stylist. “Women will suffer to be beautiful and she was just afraid I would stop coloring her hair.”

That didn’t happen. Instead, Bobb experimented with dozens of products to manage the allergic reaction. Tar shampoo ultimately worked, but it smelled horrid.

Not willing to settle, Bobb kept searching until she found a more permanent and palatable answer: Dennis Bernard’s PowerTools line called STB (Stop The Burn). She added 20 drops to the color before applying it, and viola! No pain. No putrid smell.

Today, Bobb is much more probing when clients sit in her chair for a color service. No more suffering in silence.

Curl Stylist: Christo
Location: Christo Fifth Avenue Salon in New York
Biggest Challenge: A client rejects her curls.

Christo says the toughest dilemma he faces over and over again is the curly girl in denial.

“I see it all the time,” he says.

In a memorable example, Christo recalls a client who came to him for a cut and highlights. She hated her textured tresses, and wasted no time asking Christo for a blowout.

“I told her, ‘I could that, but do you know you have beautiful curls?’” Christo asked her.

“My hair doesn’t curl, it’s just frizzy,” she moaned.

But Christo pressed on, encouraging her to go curly that day—and he offered a styling lesson.

“I said, ‘Then, If you don’t like it, I can have one of my stylists blow it out for you. But at least give it a chance,’” Christo told her.

The problem, he says, was that she didn’t how to style her curls, or even care for them. His encouragement worked. The client loved her new look.

“I always style her hair curly now,” Christo says. “She told me, ‘I love now that I have an option to wear my hair curly, I don’t want to blow dry it straight!’”

Christo’s advice to stylists? Be patient with curlies in denial. Encourage them to wear their hair natural — at least just once. And don’t forget to offer a styling lesson, so they can learn to rock their curls at home, too.

Curl Stylist: Kaycee Clark
Location: Dear Clark Hair Studio in Dallas, Texas
Biggest Challenge: An emotional client lashes out.

Kaycee Clark has two jobs. She runs her salon and is one of the stylists. Sometimes, she has to step away from a client to manage the business. It’s part of the deal. One day, while styling a client, Clark was pulled away to handle a problem at the front desk. Little did she know, that day would offer a teachable moment.

“I stepped away a couple of times, and even though I came back to do her hair, my mind was still dealing with the situation,” Clark says.

Everything seemed to work out though, until the next time the client came in for an appointment.

“She chewed me out!” Clark says. “She let me have it about stepping away. But I don’t just walk off from my client, I’m always good at customer service.”

That’s not how her client saw it.

“She was in pain that day, and recovering from two major surgeries,” Clark says. “It was not good timing for her. I didn’t even charge her.”

Clark’s distractions could have cost her salon a client that day, but she was lucky. The woman is still a client of the salon, she just sits in someone else’s chair.

“Now when I see that a client is in a vulnerable position, I take a deep breath and try not to take things personally,” Clark says. “I’ll give them a little extra attention, ask them if they’re feeling OK, if I can get them something to drink.”

In her dual role as salon owner and stylist, Kaycee Clark has to be a master multitasker. It’s a lesson Clark won’t soon forget.

She now tries to fully step back from her role as boss when she’s working with a client.

“When the client is done, then I can go back to dealing with the situation,” Clark says. “It’s about swallowing a big piece of humble pie because at the end of the day: it’s a business.”

Curl Stylist: Charles Farlow
Location: Zapien Salon in Atlanta, Ga.
Biggest Challenge: A client distrusts a product suggestion.

Charles Farlow is always testing new products for his curly clients. He does the research so his clients don’t have to.

By the time Farlow recommends a product, he has already given it a lot of thought. So, when a new client second-guessed his motives — accusing him of “just trying to sell her stuff” — he was offended but chose not to be defensive. Instead, he responded with a disarming tactic.

“I said, ‘I’m not going to even let you buy anything today because that’s what you think,’” Farlow recalls.

He proceeded to send her home with free samples. Ultimately, she tried the products, saw they worked, and eventually bought them.

“She ended up being a good customer and trusting me,” Farlow says.

He still offers his clients free product samples, whatever it takes to earn their trust.

Curl Stylist: Luisa Valdes
Location: Lunatic Fringe Salon in Altamonte Springs, Fla.
Biggest Challenge: A client’s curls bury highlights.

When a client brought in a picture of the highlights she wanted, Luis Valdes tried to duplicate the look. It would prove much more complicated than she expected.

“I took smaller weaves to keep it more natural it didn’t show up as much as I thought it would,” Valdes says. “The curly hair hid so much that you could barely tell.”

The result? Her client was disappointed.

“The highlights weren’t as prominent as they were when we blow-dried a section, just to see it,” Valdes says.

The problem was in the picture. The client in the chair was curly, but the woman in the photo had straight hair.
Valdes needed to try a different technique. So, she went bold, adding thicker slices of highlights that showed up as a swirl in each curl.

“The final look was exactly what she wanted,” Valdes says.

Today, Valdes pays even closer attention to the images her curly clients bring in (no straight photos), and adjusts the coloring technique based on the client’s texture.

It became yet another reminder that one size does not fit all, especially for stylists navigating the many twists and turns of the curly world.

2 Comments for “Curl-Centric Stylists Reveal Their Toughest Client Challenge”
  1. by Amanda Statham

    On September 2, 2009 at 10:36 pm

    One of my toughest client experiances was a sweet woman that in our consultation said that she had never happy with her hair. Always I have been a firm beliver that there is no bad hair just bad cuts, color, style, products, etc. So I listened, asked questions and made suggestions. We had an hour long consultation. We settled on a mid-length cut and an allover chocolate brown color. She left super happy singing my praises. When she returned for her next appointment she was very unhappy and picked apart the cut, color, everything. I listened and talked to her at length to find a resolve. She left, once again, very happy singing my praises. Next appointment, again, she was displeased. This happens over and over for several sessions. Until one day she comes in with scabs all over her head and patches of hair missing. She had been pulling it out and picking her scalp until it bled. Picking at it in my chair she keeps telling me that this next cut has to get her a boyfriend. This is when I realize that this woman has deeper problems than her hair. She is generally and utterly unhappy. I ask her why she keeps coming in to see me if she isnt satisfied after she leaves. She says Im the best stylist she ever had. I regretfully had to tell her I could not preform a service on her with wounds on the sclap. I refered her to my boss and told her that maybe she would be able to keep her happy. My boss had the same round and round experiance I did. The most important part of my job is making every one of my clients feel and look fantastic through all the stages of life. Marriage, divorce, pregnancy, etc. Every once and awhile there are those whose boost of the salon is not enough to carry them. No matter how much they want it to “fix” their view of themselves. I dont mind listening or counseling but, I am no psychiatrist.

  2. by Gretchen Heber

    On October 7, 2009 at 1:06 pm

    Wow! What a story! You are so patient, and a bit of a therapist, too!

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