Ask Angel

Dealing with Difficult Clients


Dear Ms. Angel,

I’ve been piercing for over 20 years, and I’m running into so many customers that are hard to deal with. There’s way more than there used to be, and the problem is basically with the younger ones. They are super impatient, unfocused, rude and demanding. They want everything, and they want it right now. They just have to get the same piercing and jewelry as their friend or some Instagram pic, but won’t listen to the fact that they don’t have the same anatomy.

When I didn’t have jewelry they wanted, I’ve had them just turn around and leave. No, “thank you,” or anything. It is hard to get them to pay attention and sometimes I’m almost afraid to pierce them because I don’t think they can take in my aftercare info. They won’t stop using cellphones in the shop. I have signs up and I ask nicely and everything. But they just won’t put down the damn phone!

They’re more tiring to deal with, less satisfying than the people I can actually connect with, and they are leaving me feeling very frustrated with my job. I love piercing and I don’t want to stop, but I strongly prefer working on people who are present and into it.

I used to have problem customers now and then, but this has just gotten worse and worse. Some days it seems like everyone who comes in is like this. Do you have any suggestions? I’m losing it! Sorry about the rant, and thanks for everything you do for our industry. G.

Dear G.,

You’re not the first piercer to struggle with this issue, and I know that difficult clients can be taxing and exasperating. Having an occasional rant in the presence of an understanding and supportive person or audience is good for you, so no apology is required.

Though I’m not a fan of stereotypes, your description does sound like Millennials: a quarter of them even characterize their own generation negatively, commonly labeling themselves as “lazy,” “entitled,” and “impatient.”(i) The entitlement mentality has been defined as the belief that the person is inherently deserving of privileges or special treatment. According to psychologist Dr. Ellen Hendriksen, those with an entitled mindset, “…may think nothing of inconveniencing others by canceling at the last minute, or no-showing for appointments, and have trouble compromising, negotiating, following rules, and waiting their turn. They’re also manipulative and controlling, but if that doesn’t get them what they want, they can become threatening and hostile.”(ii) Yikes!

A significant demographic shift is at least partially responsible for the increasing changes. As of this year, Millennials (born between 1980 and 2000) number around 73 million. They’ve surpassed Baby Boomers as the largest living adult generation and are on track to spend $1.4 trillion by 2020. So, they’re a population we cannot ignore or avoid, especially since they fall squarely into the age group of the typical piercee.

Since piercing is a personal service business, we obviously can’t do it without live customers. (And fortunately, they can’t get pierced via mobile device.) I would love to present you with a simple and effective solution, but I’m afraid that there isn’t one—short of specializing exclusively in children’s ears and/or mature clientele.

The truth is that you will probably have to learn to cope with them, and it is going to require some patience. Okay, a lot of it. Fortunately, patience can be increased through practice and using a variety of techniques. Take some time to study up and perform recommended exercises and practices (iii), (iv). It could save your job and your sanity. If you value either or both of those, do not skip this recommendation.

Interestingly, adjusting your expectations may also be helpful. A University of British Columbia study cites customer incivility as a cause of stress, exhaustion, absenteeism, and reduced work performance. The research showed that employees who expect to encounter rude customers at work react far less strongly than employees who face unexpected rudeness.(v) So, oddly, it may be beneficial to anticipate dealing with problematic patrons. Then when you have a day filled with easy pleasant ones, you’ll be exceptionally gratified.

Below are some other suggestions that I hope you will find useful anytime you encounter a challenging customer.

1. Remain calm- When a client is being rude or difficult, nothing will be gained by responding in kind. Maintain control of yourself no matter how hard your buttons are pushed. Be polite and provide tactful, professional responses. Something as simple as taking several slow deep breaths can help you to keep your cool. Deliberately unclench your shoulder and jaw muscles, and any others that have tensed up.

2. Listen- Allow the person to have their say, even if they are mistaken or lack pertinent information. Provide feedback that you’re listening through nodding and verbal cues. Attempt to comprehend your customer’s perspective. Unless someone is intentionally messing with you, they believe that their unreasonable request is realistic. This is frequently because they don’t know anything about piercing and need educating.

3. Reflect back- Let them know you hear them and understand their position. Express regret that their expectations cannot be met and apologize for any disappointment that they may be feeling. Sometimes just acknowledging that you’ve truly heard them is enough to neutralize the situation. Try to connect and build rapport—use their name often (everyone loves this!) and attempt to maintain eye contact.

4. Don’t take anything personally- Remember that the customer doesn’t know you and this isn’t really about you. If they try to make it personal, gently guide the conversation back to the issue and how you intend to deal with it.

5. Stick to policy- Making exceptions reinforces bad behavior, so consistently abide by the clear, written policies you have in place. If you don’t have them, create them now! Protect yourself by setting limits, treating everyone the same, and not compromising where you shouldn’t. For example, to enforce your phone policy: point to the posted “Please turn off and put away your phone” sign, and then wait for them to do it—right then, before proceeding with the next step. You may have to be somewhat bossy, but you are in charge in the studio. Explain that if you’re distracted by the phone their piercing might not come out right, or you risk a needle stick. Hopefully information will lead to better understanding.

You will have to consider the consequences of establishing limits and being firm. There’s always a chance of losing the client if you don’t give them what they want. But if their behavior or request surpasses your acceptable parameters, you need to be willing to let them go. The customer isn’t always right, and when conduct is unacceptable, their departure from the studio is an appropriate outcome.
Remember to deeply appreciate and enjoy the wonderful piercees you do connect with. Times change, and unfortunately, I don’t think you’ve simply been unlucky. I believe that certain common characteristics of the Millennial generation can make more of our clientele extra challenging. Though other people’s behavior is beyond our control, we do (or should) have command over our own actions and reactions. Don’t let them beat you. Learn what approaches and techniques are most effective for you to cope and utilize them to do your best.




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