Reading Your Client

Do you want to know the big secret behind being successful in medical esthetics and cosmetic medicine? It’s more important to make your clients feel good than it is to make them look good. Although it is true that physical appearance does matter to a point, there is also evidence that how a person feels is even more important. Studies have proven that women who believe that they are viewed as attractive are more animated and more confident.1 Therefore, it is apparent that physical appearance and attractiveness do make a difference, but only if they are accompanied by concurrent feelings of greater self-esteem and self-worth.

Common personality traits

Intently listening during consultations is the key to defining the best treatments for clients. If you get the best possible outcome from a treatment procedure but your client is dissatisfied, you have failed to achieve your goal: client satisfaction. Conversely, if your outcome is a little less than you would have liked, but the client is thrilled with the result, then you have succeeded both with your consultation and with your job performance. Your client is happy, and that’s the secret to your success.

By recognizing some common personality types, you may better meet the needs of your clients and, in turn, grow your business. Following are common personality types seen in a medical esthetic office. Clearly, many clients won’t fall into one specific category; however, these can be used as a teaching tool or a pneumonic reference designed to highlight common client motivations.

Satisfied Sally. This client will most likely come in and be happy with whatever treatment she receives. She loves facials, she loves the practice, she loves you—everything is wonderful. This doesn’t mean that you should upsell Sally, but offer whatever treatment you think is the best, and make sure she feels relaxed. The client is likely coming into your facility to escape—she feels the spa or medical office is more like a social event than a necessity. Make sure she feels welcome and appreciated, and remember that you are not only treating the skin, but also the spirit. Sally is also likely to be an advocate, resulting in multiple referrals.

Know-it-all Nancy. This client has researched the Internet exhaustively and has read many articles on cosmetic procedures. She will tell you what she wants done and why—she saw it on a talk show and is convinced it is the best treatment. Nancy will give you a puzzled look if you tell her otherwise. Frequently, her information is outdated or incomplete. This client comes to you not so much for your expert opinion and diagnostic skills, but for your technical services. Try to understand her ultimate goal, and then explain how to best achieve it. Realize that if you give Nancy the treatment she wants and it doesn’t meet her expectations, she will believe that it is your fault. On the other hand, if you give her a different treatment and it doesn’t meet her outcome, she will fault you even more. If you think another treatment is more suited than the one Nancy requests, explain the pros and cons with detailed specifics. Be sure the client makes the final decision, unless of course the particular treatment that she wants is not beneficial or is potentially harmful.

Bitter Betty. This client has spent thousands of dollars on treatments and products from another provider and didn’t see results. She is skeptical that all cosmetic providers are out to get her money. You really have to make a positive impression on this client to gain her trust. First of all, check Betty’s expectations: If they are not realistic then it is better not to treat her. If you do decide to treat her, refrain from selling products and add-on services the first visit; this would only scare her away. Start out with a treatment that will give her an immediate result. Provide samples allowing her to prove to herself that the products will make a difference. Betty will appreciate your conservative commitment to her well-being. Documenting improvements with before-and-after pictures can be helpful.

Too-friendly Fran. The client who repeatedly tells you that you are the best and that she feels privileged to work with you should come with a warning. Likewise, someone who keeps sending you or your team gifts is also concerning. Too often, this client wants to befriend you or a staff member. Be careful because Fran may have ulterior motives. Especially in medical spas and practices, if you open the door to this person, she may expect discounts, personal favors and more. Don’t travel down this road. Always maintain a healthy and professional separation from clients. Never give the client personal information about yourself—be friendly, but always bring conversations back to their skin care. Also, document all gifts, cards and phone calls on their chart.

Esthetic-shopper Sharon. This client flatters you, says that she has been considering treatment for the past year and has been to five of your competitors. Now she is ready and wants to hear your opinion. When Sharon is just about commit to a service, she needs to check something and promises to get back to you the next day. She may come for repeat consultations without committing to an actual service and she can be difficult to please. Don’t aggressively talk this client into getting services. Give her all the information and let her make the decision. If Sharon immediately undergoes a cosmetic treatment, she may have second thoughts or regrets afterward. The No. 1 way to destroy your career is to have unhappy clients saying bad things about you to others.

Passive-aggressive Patty. This is the client who comes in and seems compliant with your recommendations. She signs all the consent forms and appears to be the model patient, a pleasure to treat. Unfortunately, Patty doesn’t follow after-treatment recommendations. She will be nice and thankful in front of you, but behind your back she will speak negatively of you to your team members and others. Additionally, Patty may be on the Internet telling stories about you. You would have never seen this coming. It is hard to weed out this client because she is deceptively nice face to face. You must encourage this client to tell you her needs and desires. Reiterate all the possible side effects of the treatment and how to care for her skin at home following the treatment. Make sure all consent forms are signed and attempt to obtain before-and-after pictures—they can be lifesavers.

Wendy wants it all. This client often comes in and says she wants or needs every treatment that you offer. You need to be highly sensitive to identifying whether Wendy suffers from a medical condition resulting in a distorted body image. Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) is a very serious psychiatric condition that needs to be handled by a medical professional. This client is extremely critical of her physique, despite the fact there may not be any noticeable disfigurement or defect. If you encounter someone that you think may have this disability, do not treat her. Immediately refer the client to the appropriate medical personnel. We estimate that 5–10% of the patients in our practice exhibit some aspect of this disease. Unfortunately, just about all cosmetic providers have worked with at least one of these patients and, in hindsight, wishes they hadn’t. The BDD client usually has had multiple procedures by other cosmetic providers and has never been satisfied, but is convinced you will make everything better. Wendy often fixates on her nose, skin and weight, and will frequently examine herself in the mirror, although some BDD clients completely avoid it. Patient questionnaires are available to physicians that can be used to better identify BDD sufferers, however, if you intuitively feel uncomfortable treating someone, listen to your gut.

Treating the psyche

Esthetic medicine and care is as much about treating the psyche as it is improving the physical body. To be a successful esthetician, understanding client/patient motivation is a prerequisite. So much of what is perceived as attractive is subjective and personal. The key is to be able to listen intently to your clients, understand their desires and then offer them the best treatments, helping them to reach their goals.


1. M Snyder Tanke, ED and E Berscheid, Social perception and interpersonal behavior: on the self-fulfilling nature of interpersonal stereotypes. J Personal Soc Psychol. 35 656–66 (1977)

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