How to handle difficult customers who don’t want to follow health & safety protocol

handle difficult customers

Rules have changed in spa and wellness businesses for the foreseeable future. How to handle difficult customers who won’t follow safety protocol? Try these strategies.

Both spa customers and staff are learning to accept new health and safety regulations and to work with new protocols. You may live in a location that has created laws around things like mandatory mask wearing, or you may be setting these rules yourself. Either way, not everyone is happy about the changes.

Some people are perfectly willing to wear masks and practice physical distancing while others feel differently. In a recent ISPA Town Hall, Deirdre Strunk, of Canyon Ranch; Patrick Huey, of Montage, and Jim Root, of Mii Amo, all said they have been in situations since reopening in which guests have refused to wear masks. What do you do when a guest refuses to follow the rules you have set in place?

Be clear with your message and set an example

Before you get to handling a difficult guest, avoid encountering a problem in the first place. People should receive clear messaging about what is expected from them. Establish your policies — which might state, for example, that guests will be required to wear masks, undergo temperature checks, and shower when they arrive at the spa —  and communicate them. Explain the rules when they book over the phone, share the information on your website, and send an email after appointments are booked. Post signs around your spa. Don’t give anyone the opportunity to say that they didn’t know about the rules. It helps if you can point to local laws and requirements that back you up.

Make it easy for guests to comply. Offer masks to everyone who comes into your space, and if you’re requiring that people shower at the spa, provide clean, fluffy towels and your best shower products. Make the experience a luxury rather than a chore.

Set an example by following your own rules. Many spa managers have talked about the need to be demonstrative about cleanliness and sanitation these days, rather than keeping these things behind the scenes (as they were before). The same applies to mask wearing. Hopefully this will help you to encounter less resistance.

A customer still might decide that they don’t want to adhere to your rules. What do you do then? Here are six tips for handling a situation. 

1. Listen with empathy

Allow the person to tell you why they don’t want to adhere to the rules. Do this outside and from a distance, of course. Maybe they have a medical condition and feel they should be exempt. Note, however, that David Kaufman, MD, pulmonologist and director of the medical ICU at Tisch Hospital, told “There are no known medical conditions aside from a severe skin condition on your face that would prevent a person from wearing [a surgical mask or cloth face covering].”

Let them feel safe and heard. Nobody reacts well when they feel attacked or as though their feelings and opinions don’t matter. Unless someone feels that they have had their say, the conversation isn’t going to go anywhere.

2. Communicate that we’re all in this together

Communicate through your words and actions that we’re all in this together, and that you are not asking guests to do anything you’re not willing to do yourself. Explain that you have a team, and other guests, to protect, and appeal to the person’s humanity and reason. Point out that the rules apply to everyone and that it is not reasonable for you to bend them for one person. Everyone is feeling afraid and vulnerable, and sometimes people (probably subconsciously) feel that the only way to gain back some of their power is to push back. If you can position yourself as being on the “same side” as the other person, you might be able to come to a better outcome.

3. Stay calm

Don’t get angry or raise your voice. Stay calm, kind, and friendly. Getting angry with someone doesn’t usually make them change their mind; it makes them defensive and encourages them to double down on their stance. If you can create a feeling that you’re both on the same side and that you both want the same thing – a safe and positive experience for the guest – you may be able to bring the guest around to your way of thinking.

4. Support your team

If a team member has to stand up to a confrontational customer, stand by your employee. Again, everyone is feeling vulnerable, and your employees should know that you have their backs. If you don’t stand by your team member, that employee will likely remember the event and it can sour your relationship and, over time, your employer brand. You want everyone to feel safe and supported.

5. Stand your ground

If you meet someone who absolutely does not want to comply with the rules and you cannot come to an agreement, it might be time to apologize for the inconvenience and ask them to leave. Again, remain calm as you explain that you are not going to put your staff at risk and express your hope that things will go better another time. Do apologize and be as nice as possible. It’s much harder to fight with someone who is being nice to you. Be ready to fire customers. If someone is completely unreasonable, it’s OK to say that they would probably be better off going to another business and that you wish them the best. 

6. Be prepared to respond to reviews

Angry customers are much more likely to  take the time to leave a bad online review than happy customers are to leave a good one (though you should be encouraging your happy guests to do exactly that). It’s important that you monitor your online reviews and do your best to mitigate damage. If the customer goes online to complain publicly, do respond. Do not blame the guest or get into a fight. That will make you look bad. Apologize and express your regrets that the guest was unhappy with their experience. Reiterate that your priority is the safety of your staff and customers. The majority of potential customers check online reviews before visiting a business and will appreciate that you took the time to respond and that you are taking their safety seriously.

The calmer and more rational you are, the better your business will look.


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