How to recognise a red flag customer

I need to raise a really sensitive topic. When I say sensitive, I mean there may be people who read this who disagree with my view, and some may even be offended by my comments.

It is certainly not my intention to cause upset to any of our readers, however this is an important subject for technicians, and one that anyone who has been in the industry for a while will be more than familiar with. The fact remains that ‘red flag’ customers exist, and should be identified as early as possible to prevent harm to both the client, and the technicians business. This topic, however sensitive, should not be avoided.

What is a red flag customer?

The term ‘red flag’ is commonly used in the scalp micropigmentation industry to describe a customer that fits one or more of the following criteria:

  • Unrealistic expectations, despite advice to the contrary.
  • Demands a style that is likely to look unnatural, or wants more sessions than is advisable.
  • Difficult to deal with. Unreasonable, argumentative or aggressive behavior.
  • Exhibits signs of body dysmorphia.
  • Already been to two or more providers and remains dissatisfied.
  • Fixated with removal process before treatment has even started.
  • A client with a serious blood-borne disease such as HIV or AIDS.

A real world example

I know a client who travelled from Australia to the UK for a scalp micropigmentation procedure. He was clearly suffering with poor body image, and was fixated with the size of his forehead. He wanted his hairline lowered to cover more of his forehead than was advised, to such an extent that his frontal hairline would have crossed his frown lines.

The client had 10 treatment sessions in total, bankrupting himself in the process with the cost of flights, accommodation and treatments. In my opinion the clinic providing the treatments should have identified the problem and refused to offer any further treatments, but they did not. Eventually they stopped treating him and the client turned his attention to one of the newer clinics that had opened in Australia.

Another red flag

During the consultation process, a client voiced paranoia about his treatment being detected. Nothing unusual there, however he then told the consultant that he’d ‘kill someone’ if they found out. Later in the consultation he told the consultant that he’d been to another clinic for a different cosmetic procedure, where he’d been forcibly removed by the police after attacking the technician. It was also mentioned that he’d been to prison, although the reason was unclear.

An obvious refusal of treatment, right? Wrong. The commission-driven consultant booked the client to be treated by a technician working in the clinic ON HIS OWN. The client then behaved aggressively during a rest break midway through his first session, and walked out without paying. He never returned to the clinic.

One more

A client who had treatment with FOUR different clinics, yet remained dissatisfied with the outcome.

To cut to the short version, he had a great first treatment with Clinic One, but panicked, rushed home and scrubbed his scalp in the shower with a pumice stone and lemon juice.

Clinic Two refused to treat him until his scalp had healed from the self-inflicted abuse, so he went to Clinic Three. Against all logic, they treated him. That evening, he repeated his pumice and lemon juice routine and was later hospitalized when the bleeding wouldn’t stop.

About 6 months later he went back to Clinic Two (the one that had initially refused treatment), and had three successful treatment sessions.

You’d think that would be the story over, right?

He complained about his great looking treatment then went to Clinic Four, a major competitor of Clinic Two, who used his complaint to attack Clinic Two on social media.

The last I heard, the client was pursuing legal action against both Clinic Two and Clinic Four for medical malpractice.

Giving in to temptation

Finding customers can be difficult. When a prospective client enters your office, you want to seal the deal, especially if you just completed your SMP training and are trying to build your portfolio. I understand that, and so does everyone else. You have the skill and tools to give the customer what they want, and they have cash in hand waiting to buy from you. Why wouldn’t you take their business?

I’m not necessarily saying you shouldn’t treat the client. I am, however, saying that treating the client should not be an automatic decision. There are conflicting arguments, for and against.

For example, if a client is exhibiting signs of aggression, or their expectations are totally unrealistic, or your clinic would be the third they’ve had service from, then on the face of it, it makes perfect sense to refuse treatment. On the other hand if you’re not intimidated by their aggressive behavior, if they sign a waiver (not an ideal solution for anyone BTW), or if you believe you have stronger technical ability than their previous technicians, it might make sense to proceed with treatment.

The other issue, of course, is what happens if you refuse treatment. Are they likely to walk to your nearest competitor and have a treatment anyway? If you KNOW your competitor would just take their money regardless, and if you are GENUINELY confident the client will achieve a better outcome with you, then that’s another argument in favor of treatment.

Remember – it’s YOUR business, and YOUR choice. This also means you have to take responsibility for the choice you make. If you choose to treat the client, then you must accept that the client comes with baggage, and you should be prepared for that.

What are the potential consequences?

Treating a ‘red flag’ customer is not necessarily a no-no, but you do need to be aware of what could potentially happen.

The most obvious risk is that the chance of satisfying your customer is greatly reduced. This could lead to an excessive number of sessions, a moral or legal obligation to pay for a full removal, a possible refund demand, and you could even find yourself at the sharp end of a hefty compensation claim.

You could also find yourself the target of slander by the client, or by a competitor. The world of social media makes it very easy for news to travel, and even though you may have produced exceptional work to the best of your ability, your reputation could be permanently damaged.

Of course, we must also consider potential damage to your customer’s wellbeing. Sure, they may be unreasonable, rude, aggressive or a downright pain in the ass. The bottom line is – you have a duty of care to make sure you only ever act in their best interest. If having a procedure would be bad for their physical or emotional state, you should not proceed with treatment under any circumstances.

No-one ever said acting with integrity was easy. That’s why so many technicians sadly do not.

It goes without saying, but make sure you are fully insured, have a company structure that limits your liability, and ensure you are compliant with the law. If things go bad and you’re unprotected, you’re in for a rough ride.

Due to the complexity of ‘red flag’ cases in general, I recommend joining our Facebook group where these matters can be discussed with other professionals.

A note on HIV and AIDS

I believe that no client should be treated unfairly or with prejudice, or be labelled a ‘red flag’ for derogatory purposes, on the basis of any medical condition. That said, the technician absolutely has the right to refuse treatment if they feel uncomfortable or at risk.

I am not suitably qualified to offer advice in this area, nor am I prepared to attempt to offer guidance around this issue as I am ill-equipped to do so. I am aware of technicians who have treated clients with HIV, and they did so only after taking extreme precautions.

If in doubt, you might want to join our Facebook group to ask the opinion of other professionals in the field, some of which may have encountered this situation before.

About body dysmorphia

Body dysmorphia, or body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) is a serious psychological condition that affects a persons self-perception. Similar to the feelings experienced by someone with anorexia, BDD causes a person to become overly fixated with an aspect (or aspects) of their physical appearance.

We’re all self-conscious about how we look, and few of us are 100% self-confident. We all have things about us that we’d change if we could. It is important to recognize that body dysmorphia is an entirely different ball game. You can be a little unhappy, or clinically depressed, such is the distinction between mild insecurity and BDD.

For more information about body dysmorphia, see these links:

Body dysmorphia rears its head every single day in the scalp micropigmentation industry. I’ve seen countless genuine cases, and they affect a significant proportion of clients that could be considered ‘red flags’, yet awareness of BDD among technicians is worryingly low.

Every SMP professional should have a basic understanding of how to identify BDD, and how to handle situations when they arise. Above all, technicians should have the courage and strength of character to act in the clients best interest at all times, even if that goes against what the client wants.

If you are a client and feel you may be experiencing body dysmorphia, help is available. You can contact the BDD Foundation in confidence, anytime. I urge you to do so before undergoing any cosmetic procedure.