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Three Customer Service Experiences at Tattoo Shops That can Be Applied to Any Small Business

Customer Service Experiences at Tattoo Shops

Having a bad guest experience can leave more than a mark on your body.

Tattoo shops aren’t rugged hangouts for biker gangs and jailbirds. They’re run like any other business, and with that comes good customer service and a comfortable environment.

Artists are like entrepreneurs, running their own brands.

So there are plenty of do’s and don’t that artists and traditional business owners have in common. With an arm full of ink, I’ve been to my share of tattoo shops and there a few that I’ll never go to again. Here are some rules to go by…

1. Don’t leave your customers hanging

An apprentice is essentially a tattoo artist in training and they usually charge extremely discounted prices. You can’t always trust you’ll get professional quality, but for the cheap prices, it’s perfect for an impulsive and broke college student.

So when my usual artist recommended I see her own apprentice, I (impulsive and broke) was pretty interested.

To get in touch with the apprentice, let’s call her Ashley, I had to message her on Instagram. Except I had to wait to get my follow request approved since her account was private. This wouldn’t have been a big deal but it took her about 10 days to accept my follow request.

Once I was in, I sent her a message asking about her availability and after a couple of business days, she responds. We have a normal conversation, except every message back from her comes a couple of days later. After two weeks of a stalled back-and-forth, I got an appointment.

I was already wary when I tried to confirm my appointment the day before. She told me she didn’t know what time I could actually come in the following morning. Despite knowing I had plans to work around, she kept me guessing what time she’d arrive at the shop to see me.

After nearly a month of trying to schedule with her, I called it quits, thanked her for her time, and moved on.

2. Be kind and keep politics at home

I promise that most of my tattoos are thought out and beautiful, but like the previous examples, this story starts out with me wanting to make a cheap, impulsive, and probably stupid decision.

My usual tattoo artist was booked up for months in advance but my friend and I were in the mood to get a couple of tattoos that weekend. So she did some sleuthing and found a guy, Brian, with a solid portfolio. She messaged him about making an appointment and we were set.

When we get there, he mocks my friend’s tattoos and calls them “basic.” After every insult, he laughs and says, “I can’t help it, I’m from New Jersey!”

I wish I was joking. Brian also showed us a viral video from the war in Ukraine and said he would’ve shot the woman in the video if he was there. This was also followed by, “I’m from New Jersey!”

How was this guy real?

Brian then asked what we do for a living and I mentioned an LGBT advocacy group I write for. Apparently, that was a mistake. He began a lecture on how pronouns are ridiculous and that he would never tattoo someone with pronouns in their social media bio.

This was especially ironic considering he was tattooing my friend… who messaged him with pronouns in her bio.

After a few more homophobic remarks, he asked to see some of my writing. I sent him a link and got a big shocker: Brian hated it.

Fine by me, I’m not a big fan of him either.

3. Keep your commitments

After those experiences, I finally saved up enough cash and made an appointment a month in advance with my usual artist. With detail, care, and speed, Hannah’s work was always worth the extra money and wait.

The day arrives and I left work early to begin the 35-minute drive up to her shop. Once I’m halfway there, I get a text. Something came up and she had to reschedule.

Frustrated, I take the highway exit home and texted her back. I told her it was fine but also asked for more of a heads up in the future since I worked so far away. After thanking me profusely, we rescheduled for the following week.

I checked with her the night before and she assured me we were still on for the next day. But when that afternoon rolled around, she asked to reschedule again.

This back and forth of same-day cancellations happened for a month until one day, I made it to her shop for my appointment. While she was still crouched over another client’s ankle, she assured me she’d be ready for me in 20 minutes.

“No problem,” I said like a fool. I waited an hour before Hannah told me she didn’t want to do another tattoo that day.

I’d been going to this artist for years, but as I walked out of that shop I was prepared to never see her again.

I’m guessing Hannah caught on to the ridiculous nature of the situation. She promised she’d keep the next appointment and offered what was nearly a 70% discount for what would be a large and expensive tattoo.

Lured in by the sweet promise of saved money, I agreed. So more than a month after my initial appointment, she finally sat down and actually tattooed me.

Because she’s nearly finished with my sleeve, I’ll probably go back for the sake of continuity in the art style. But once that’s done, I won’t be going back to the artist I once boasted about to my friends and interested clients.

I’ve always tried to be accommodating with the artists I go to – they have their own lives and busy schedules. So do I. If I can’t get the same respect from an artist, or any other business, that I give them, why would I go back and give them more money?