We've all been there at one time or another: a miscommunication results in a hated haircut, an equipment malfunction makes a client irate, a stylist makes a real mistake. While no salon or spa is immune to these types of instances, there are steps you can take to minimize them and there are also ways to diffuse a tense situation. Here are some of our best tips.

Prevent the Negative Experience

Prevention and pro-activity are key for a good customer experience in your salon or spa. Do regular checks and inspections on your salon equipment to make sure it's working properly, and require your stylists to do the same with their individual supplies. Make sure you stay well stocked with shampoos, spa disposables, and any other necessary equipment. And most importantly, guide your employees in the art of communication. You may have the best stylist in the world, but if she can't communicate well with customers, you will end up with problems.

Encourage your staff to ask for lots of visual aids. The moment the client sits down in the salon chair is not the time to start chopping. Stylists should ideally have plenty of photos to reference of the cut and style the client prefers as well as examples of what she really does not like. This will go a long way toward avoiding any misunderstandings.

Stylists should have conversations about the haircut with the client, asking questions such as, "How much effort are you willing to put into getting ready each morning?" and "How often do you plan to come in to maintain the style or color?" Being realistic about this will keep the client happy. If she insists that she only has 10 minutes to spend on her hair each day, your stylist can helpfully steer her away from high maintenance styles.

Have your stylists walk through each thing they do before they do it to be sure that they're staying on the same page with the client and her needs.

Be Empathetic and Understanding

In the event that a stylist makes a legitimate mistake, or even if your employees follow all of the above advice to a T, there will still inevitably be some hiccups along the way. Sometimes "short" means longer to a client than to a stylist, or a client may decide she hates the haircut she chose for herself. In situations like these, emotions run high, and it may be easier for the embarrassed client to lash out at the stylist than to take responsibility herself. In these cases, it is extremely important for your stylist and you to remain calm.

Get in the right mindset. Focus on your unhappy client and listen actively to her complaints. Don't join in badmouthing your stylist if that's what she's doing, but don't take sides either. Just focus on the task at hand, which is allowing the customer to express her discontent.

Be apologetic. If your stylist did everything right but the client is upset, you should still be genuinely sorry that the customer feels this way. Empathize with her, don't raise your voice or act defensive, and simply say you are sorry. Be careful to monitor your body language too. If the client thinks you're just paying lip service to her, but you're rolling your eyes or shifting your weight impatiently, she will not take your apology seriously and the situation could escalate.

Offer a solution. You can suggest that another stylist try to fix the style (for free) if it's at all possible. If that isn't an option, offer a free or heavily discounted service on the client's next visit. If she is not appeased, consider asking her what she thinks can make it up to her, and honor her request as long as it is within reason. This can make her feel more empowered in a situation in which she previously felt powerless.

Follow up. This step is often overlooked but can be the most effective one. Let a day or two pass, and then follow up with your client either by phone or with a handwritten card to express your regret again and to be sure that the customer is satisfied with the way the problem was handled. This could go a long way to repairing the client's damaged trust in your business and getting her to come back.

Do What's Best for Your Business

Above all, you have to look out for your business and your employees. If the unhappy customer in question is commonly known to your stylists as a troublemaker, if she has made the rounds of many of your staff and never been satisfied, if she is constantly complaining and making a scene, it may be time to consider refusing service to this particular client. You want to have a positive relationship with all of your clients, and if you find one with whom this is impossible, it's often better for everyone involved to simply let the client know that their behavior is unacceptable in your salon and that you can no longer do their hair.

Be very careful with the way you approach this situation, as it can backfire if the client gets angry and posts negative reviews of your salon online. In general, though, people reading reviews are often savvy enough to be able to tell when a reviewer is being unreasonable with their criticism, so don't let this deter you from doing what's necessary for your employees' and your other clients' comfort.