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3 Reasons Why Customers are Late and 2 Solutions for Your Business [ORIGINAL]

We ran a series of interviews with 20 of our hairstylists. 

During these interviews, we asked questions about blog posts that stuck in these stylists' memories, posts that they would like to see and overall anxieties and frustrations about being a hairstylist. 

The following is blog post #1 in a series on How to Solve the Problem of Late Customers.


The information presented is based upon the latest research in psychology and business.

There are three main reasons why customers are late:

  1. They feel a sense of entitlement as a customer.
  2. They have a different perception of time.
  3. They think being early is boring.

To read about the solutions as well as a script on what exactly to say to your customers when they arrive late, read the full article!

Let's Imagine...

...that you’re prepping for your 12 o’clock appointment. You unfold your towel of tools and dust off the chair for your next client. You take a deep breath and look at the clock - 12:06pm. Your eyebrows furrow “Where is she…?” Anxiety starts to creep in. 12:11pm. Still no client. Now you’re frustrated. “How could someone miss an appointment that THEY scheduled?” 12:16pm rolls around, and in walks your client - casually holding her bag walking up to you as if nothing happened and giving you the generic “oh my goodness, I’m so sorry I’m late.” What do you do?

Well, if you’re like a lot of us (I’m guilty of this, too) - you’ll either assume that your client is rude or completely disorganized. Or both.

But, according to a well-documented psychological bias, neither of those things may actually be true.

We might have fallen prey to what is known as the “fundamental attribution error.”

This is basically a fancy term that describes the following thought process:

“If I’m late, it’s because of traffic. If you’re late, it’s because you’re a disorganized, egotistical, incompetent toad.”

"Thou art as loathsome as a toad"

But before we launch into Shakespearean insults, we have to first understand “what is the real reason why this person is late?”

You might be thinking, “I can’t control whether or not they show up on time, why should I bother?” Well, the bottom line is your “bottom-line.” Time is money. And the quicker you can begin to understand why your customers do what they do, the quicker you can solve the problem of late customers. Then you can get your time, business [and frustration] under control.

So, why are my clients always late? 3 reasons. (HINT: none of them have to do with being terrible people).

1) They have a deep rooted sense of entitlement in their role as a customer

Between you and me, there might be those clients who feel that because they are paying for your service, then you can wait for them. But, this isn’t necessarily a conscious choice.

Imagine the last time you went to a restaurant. Did you just go to the restaurant expecting to be given food and that’s it? Maybe. But you also went to the restaurant with certain expectations: there should be a waiter, napkins, decent lighting, background music with just the right amount of volume… You get the point.

The point is, you never made an agreement with the service-providers about every experience you expect to have during your time in the restaurant.

Yes, your customers are going to you to get a haircut or blow dry or to have extensions put in; but they, just like you, have expectations about service that aren’t necessarily explicit. And one of them is the notion that they can be late and still receive perfect service.

And, whether intentionally or not, the truth is some of your clients will believe that as a service-provider, your role is beneath their role as a customer. But it isn’t that they intentionally get pleasure from making you wait, it’s that they assume the role of authority.

We all do this. But why?

Well think about it. What is the central dogma of all of sales? The customer is always right. It’s no wonder we feel this sense of entitlement!

2) They have a different perception of time

Because of their personality, they literally think that a minute is longer than it really is.

Jeff Conte a psychology professor at SDSU ran a study that found Type A personalities (ambitious and competitive) and Type B personalities (creative, reflective, explorative) had completely different perceptions of time. He asked them, without looking at the clock, to tell him when they thought 60 seconds had passed. Type A personalities on average stopped the clock at 58 seconds. Guess when Type B stopped the clock? On average, 77 seconds. That’s a remarkable difference.

I’m not saying that all your customers are deeply reflective philosophers and are not at fault for being late. I’m saying that there are many more reasons that can determine whether a person will be late other than “they don’t respect me!”

And as a stylist and someone running a business, you are in a great position to add value to your customers [and your bottom line] by solving their problem of chronic lateness [or at the very least, just getting them to hold your appointments on time!]

3) They prefer the thrill of being rushed over the boredom of being early

Adoree Durayappah-Harrison, an MBA from UPenn and a graduate-level scholar in positive psychology provides the following theory: “People are late not because they prefer to be late, it’s because they don’t want to be early. They want to be exactly on-time.

I have to admit, this describes me perfectly. I want to be exactly on time, and as a result, I’m usually 5-10 minutes late.

As we know, most things are out of our control. So this sense of naive optimism about their day prevents your customers from being on time.

But even if they realize that leaving 10 minutes prior is a good thing, the risk of being early is still there.

So the question becomes, why would someone not want to be early?

Well, for starters, being early usually implies having to sit around with nothing to do, and for a lot of people, they feel like their time is valuable and shouldn’t be spent waiting on someone else [ironic, I know].

Long story short, having your clients show up early wastes their time, just like having your clients show up late wastes your time.

Which of these reasons can we control and what are the solutions?

We can't control personality. ❌

We can't control perception of time. ❌

We CAN make being early more valuable. ✅

We CAN set clear expectations. ✅

1) Make being early more valuable

Remember we mentioned the restaurant example above? About how we all expect certain things from a restaurant even though all we pay for is the food.

Ask yourself, what do you do apart from cut hair or put in hair extensions that could be considered as one of these expectations?

From talking to stylists, I can list out a couple:

1) Provide therapy

This seems to be one of those cases where because you and your customer spend so much time together and in such close proximity, it’s almost natural that a good conversation will sprout. But this is technically not a service that you need to provide. It can instead be an extra perk. Besides, the customer is definitely going to expect it! Use this extra time to have a conversation about their wants and needs. This doesn’t mean you have to follow through on everything your customer says, but this is an extremely important question to answer in business - “what do my customers want?”

[In another post, we’ll teach you exactly how to develop a conversation with your clients to uncover these wants and needs].

2) Give scalp massages

Scalp massages are another part of the hair styling experience that seems to be expected. Whether it’s during the hair wash or during the hair styling, you can explicitly implement this as part of your service even if it’s already expected.

The trick here is to transform these from expectations into “extra perks” set aside for people who show up for appointments on time.

2) Set clear expectations about your service

A huge reason why customers showing up late is a big problem is because hair stylists are in a Catch-22. If they rush through the hair appointment to try and make up for time, the quality of service goes down. If they don’t rush through the hair appointment, then the people next in line have to wait even longer.

What’s a stylist to do? Dr. Linda Sapadin, a psychologist in private practice in New York says that instead of getting upset, you can take a stand and set boundaries with your customers. You can provide sanctions - or actions that you will take if the customer isn’t on time.

Here’s what you do.

Step 1: Schedule appointments with clear beginning AND end times (ie. 12:30pm-2:00pm).

Step 2: Have a verbal conversation with your customers that the scalp massage and conversation will be kept to a minimum if you do not arrive at the starting time (ie. 12:30pm)

If all else fails, advertise to your late customers that you only have appointments 15 minutes before it will really start.

For example, on your calendar, your appointment window might be from 12:30pm-2:00pm, but you can tell your late customer it will be from 12:15pm-2:00pm so that even if they show up 15 minutes late, it still falls within the actual appointment window.

Now, if you’re like a lot of us, you might think “’s easier to take their money and avoid confrontation.” But, after a while of having a late customers, that thought will turn into “you know what, money isn’t everything. I feel so disrespected…”


At this point, it’s hard to control what you say to the customer, so here’s a script that you can follow with confidence next time a customer shows up late.

Let’s revisit the story from above. A customer walks in late, what would you do? Here’s a script for you to follow. Speak it in a calm, concerned and lighthearted voice:

“Is everything alright? [this should give them a bit of surprise, so wait for them to answer].

Oh good, I was starting to get worried, because our appointment was at 12. You’re okay, right? [their response is most likely going to be irrelevant unless it was an actual accident or emergency].

Okay, I just wanted to be clear, that when you pay me, you’re paying for the 2 hours [or however long the appointment is set for].

So, I’m going to need you to come in at 12 next time so you can get all the little extra perks that come with being on time! I also need to make sure I’m finished by 2 o’clock so I can be ready for my next client [or if this is the last client of the day, you can say that you need to get home on time].

I hate having to rush through our appointments, because this is meant to be really relaxing for you [smile and pause]!

But the only way for you to get the best treatment is by arriving on time. Alright? [smile and wait for their response].

End Script.

It’s important here to try NOT to turn this into a big conversation or argument. Be calm. Be clear. Be honest.

I don’t expect you to memorize this. As long as you get the following message across you will be fine:

Please be on time. It’s nothing personal, I just want you to get the most bang for your buck!

Late customers cause you anxiety and frustration. And in a profession that is built out of passion, art and meticulous work, understanding and solving this problem will allow you to enjoy your hairstyling business again.

Just remember:

  • We’ve all been late to appointments
    • Take a deep breath and accept that you CAN solve this problem
  • Focus on what you can control
    • Make being early valuable
    • Set clear boundaries and expectations

Now it's your turn.

What advice would you give to another stylist going through the same problems?

Let us know in the comment section below.

Know someone who might benefit from reading this? Share it with them on the right!

Talk soon.



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