The Dos and Don'ts of Communicating with Upset Guests


They say the key to every great relationship is communication – and handling a guest complaint is no different. We’re in the service industry—and the reality is—not everyone is going to be happy about the services they’ve received.

If you do find yourself in this situation, it’s important to know how to handle the conversation the right way so that you can retain that client. However, like most things, it’s easier said than done. Industry expert Kati Whitledge is here to break down the dos and don’ts of communicating with upset guests in order to help you come out of those contentious conversations on top.                                        

In addition to hosting the beloved Beyond The Technique podcast, Kati is the owner of the award-winning Be Inspired Salon located in Madison, Wisconsin, and the creative brain behind Meet Your Stylist, an innovative salon software system that matches potential clients with salon professionals based on services, lifestyle preferences, and personality metrics.

The Dos

Kati emphasizes that when talking with an upset or aggressive guest face-to-face, you’ll want to remember the three positive C’s—calm, connect and collaborate. Let’s dive into each.   


First and foremost, it is so important to stay calm. It can be very easy to allow our emotions to take over, we typically have an adrenalin rush when contentious events occur. Staying calm helps us stay in control of the conversation. Also, by taking time to really listen and soak in what the guest is saying, you’re able to set the tone that in the pursuit of finding common ground, everyone will be in a rational state of mind.


We really need to do our best to connect with our guests in a way that makes them feel understood. Usually, when a guest is upset, it’s because they don’t feel heard. Kati knows firsthand that the best way to connect with an upset guest is to ask questions and affirm that you’re hearing what they’re saying.

Quick Tip: Use the guest’s name. If you can slip their name in as you’re asking questions and trying to understand their frustration, they’ll feel like they’re being treated as human versus a commodity, something we all appreciate.


Once you’ve listened to the guest complaint and asked questions to have the best understanding of their concerns, the next step is to collaborate with them. Kati is a firm believer in that a win-win can always be found.

Give your guest a couple of options as to how they might like to proceed. If they were upset about the price, ask if they would like to see an associate stylist in the future. If they still want a senior stylist’s expertise, offer to schedule their cut and colors separately. Providing these options instills confidence in your salon operations, it shows that you stand with your professionals and value their worth, yet it also empowers your guest to decide on how to positively move forward.

The Definitely Do-Nots

In an ideal world, we would all resolve conflict with ease, but of course we know every situation is unique. Which is why Kati also covers the three C’s that you must avoid when you are faced with an upset guest. You must never curse, correct or condescend.


This should be the most obvious but if we fail at keeping our cool, we may fall into a swearing trap. Our emotions can be fickle when dealing with contentious conversations, but we must never let our tempers get the best of us. Although you might have a valid point, the second you curse, you’re going to be viewed as irrational and all credit is lost.


Have you heard the saying, “Would you rather be right, or happy?” If your guest is sharing feedback that is inaccurate, as much as you want to tell them they’re wrong, we must respond in a way that empathizes with them. In fact, there are ways around this, such as asking questions that will lead them to accuracy.


We’ve all had people talk to us in a condescending manner, it never feels good. No one wants to be treated as if they are unintelligent or feel undervalued. Kati always suggests going back to the golden rule—treat people the way you want to be treated.

Also, you never know what someone is going through. Remember that when guests dump negative feedback on you, many times it’s because they are personally dissatisfied for some reason and their sense of loss of control is challenging for them to work through. Hence, they may take it out on you. As the saying goes, the best defense is a great offense—ask questions, stay calm and figure out a way to find resolution together. 

To listen to the podcast that inspired this blog, check out episode 168, and if you’d like to learn a little bit more about our host, Kati, check out her website and don’t forget to subscribe to the Beyond The Technique podcast for more incredible industry insight.

Samantha Georgson