How to manage toxic customers in your spa

toxic customers

What is a toxic customer? One that poisons your spa environment and negatively impacts the people around them. Here are some tips on how to handle toxic customers in your spa.

Detox the workplace

When you run or work in a spa, eventually you’re going to encounter a toxic customer.

What is a toxic customer? One that poisons your spa environment and negatively impacts the people around them. You’ll know them when you meet them. 

What is a toxic customer?

They make unreasonable demands and are difficult – toxic customers may always be trying to get a discount or deal, or more than what they pay for. While it’s always good to go above and beyond for a guest, this should be because you want to enhance their experience, not because you feel bullied into it.

They are never happy  – Toxic customers always find something to complain about and you may always feel like you’re treading water around them or walking on eggshells.

They are rude to or abusive of your staff – Toxic customers may abuse your staff or try to take advantage of them.

They don’t care about other people  – Toxic customers may only seem to care about themselves, make last minute cancellations, no-show for appointments, or show up disproportionately late, and not grasp the fact that this behavior impacts your business and your team and costs you money. Once is understandable but doing this over and over again shows a disregard for other people.

They suck up your time – Toxic customers take up a lot of time, whether it be complaining, arguing, or demanding more from you and your team.

They cost more than they are worth – at the end of the day, your toxic customers will cost you more than they are worth, in time, in staff morale, and in other ways.

Toxic customers are more than just difficult 

Toxic customers are not just difficult customers. Sometimes people are difficult or demanding but they can be dealt with fairly easily through better communication and patience. Other times, a guest will have a legitimate complaint based on a negative experience. It’s important to know the difference.

Spas build their entire business models on promises of pampering, luxury, and even “transformational” experiences. This sets high expectations, sometimes unreasonably high, and that can lead to cranky customers if the person is prone to being demanding in the first place. Here are some strategies for handling toxic customers 

11 strategies for handling toxic customers

Ask yourself if you are part of the problem. We’re often quick to blame others but is it possible that the customer is not, in fact, toxic and has a legitimate complaint? As we just mentioned, sometimes a customer will have a valid grievance and we have to be careful not to make the mistake of ignoring our own role when there is a problem. So, take a look at the situation and assess it objectively.

Be the calm presence in a heated moment. If a guest is upset, remain calm. This may be enough to diffuse a situation in itself, as angry people often lose steam when countered with calm – though sometimes after getting even more angry and then running out of steam. Keeping calm no matter how badly someone else is behaving will help you handle any situation with grace and clarity.

Speak to the customer privately. Sometimes, as we mention here in this article about toxic employees (LINK), people have no idea how their behavior affects others. Have a conversation and tell them you have noticed that they are consistently dissatisfied, that there is often friction with team members, or whatever the case may be. If it is a one-time issue, take them aside to discuss that issue. Again, simply talking to them may be enough to change the behavior. Ask if there is a particular issue on your end that can be reasonably addressed and offer the opportunity for the other person to speak to it.

Listen. Listen to the customer actively and with empathy. Sometimes people lose it because they feel like they are not being heard and, really, that’s all they want. We all want to be heard and to be seen, and some will lash out because they don’t have the coping mechanisms to handle themselves thoughtfully when they feel things are going off the rails. We all have a friend who is a bit like this, don’t we? They’re not bad people. They just have some gaps in their communication skills.

Get the other side of the story. If there is a specific issue to be dealt with, like a problem with a service provider, get their side of the story. Do this privately and not in front of the guest so the encounter doesn’t devolve into contrasting versions of events. If need be, send the customer home and try to figure things out in their absence.

Protect your team and yourself. You need to draw a line with customers as to what you will and will not tolerate. Make it clear that abusive language or behavior towards either you or your team is unacceptable and that they will be asked to leave if things get out of hand.

Have your employees’ backs. Never throw your employees under the bus or side with the customer because you are afraid of losing business. If there is an issue with the employee, address that separately, but as a leader it is your job to support your team and remain diplomatic during conflict. If you don’t support your team they will leave you and, with staffing in the spa industry being what it is today, you don’t need that.

Apologize. Dale Carnegie, author of How to Win Friends and Influence People, tells a story in the best-selling book about disarming a police officer who was about to give him a fine for an off-leash dog, with an effusive apology. When Carnegie did this, the officer started backing down and reassuring Carnegie that his offense wasn’t actually that serious. Carnegie writes: “That policeman, being human, wanted a feeling of importance; so when I began to condemn myself, the only way he could nourish his self-esteem was to take the magnanimous attitude of showing mercy.” Carnegie admits that he was inarguably in the wrong, but it still illustrates the power of an apology. You don’t have to apologize for something you didn’t do or for any wrongdoing that did not occur, but you can apologize because you’re sorry the customer is unhappy. If there is a particular situation that is resolvable, try to resolve it. Ask the customer how they would like to see this happen and decide if it’s reasonable. 

Explain how things work. This might be better in an email, but sometimes it can be helpful for people to have things spelled out for them. Again, not everyone understands how their actions impact others, that last minute cancellations cost a company and the employee time and money and throw off the schedule, or that demanding modifications to a service can be an inconvenience for the provider who is expected to stick to a schedule, or that when they get angry it affects everyone around them. Explaining how things work and how one thing affects another might help.

Let them go. Repeat offenders who are routinely toxic will need to be let go and told they are no longer welcome in your spa. A difficult customer may be turned around with an apology, a gift, or a complimentary service. But a toxic customer will not and you should not be in a position where you feel that you are constantly catering to the needs of an impossible person. Your team should not be subject to this either. Send a kindly, clearly, and firmly worded note stating that you think it’s best if they don’t return and wish them the best finding a more suitable business for their needs. Any outstanding balance on packages or memberships should be returned.

Keep notes. Keep a record of the guest’s behavior so that, if you have not banned them from the spa, when they return, your staff can be prepared and know what to expect. Or, if you do choose to ban them, make a note as to why. Some customers should absolutely never be given a second chance, including those that are violent and inappropriate. Future management and new team members will need this information. Your spa management software should have a note taking function to allow you to do this and to share information with all your staff, even across multiple properties. Future management and new team members will need this information. 

Spa Executive is published by Book4Time, the leader in guest management, revenue and mobile solutions for the most exclusive spas, hotels, and resorts around the globe. Learn more at book4time.com.

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