Accessibility Vs Entitlement: Client Interactions during Covid
It’s time for another in our unpopular opinions series. I’m always a little nervous publishing these cause I’m never excited to cause a stir, but its something I feel needs to be discussed. Todays opinion centers on client entitlement. If you follow me at all online or know me, you know I feel strongly about accessibility, education and making piercing accessible for more clients. I publish blogs and content online to make information and education possible for clients. My studio has an online store that helps make quality jewelry accessible world wide. This means more clients then ever are becoming educated about safe piercing, how to choose a safe piercer, and what to look for.
However, I also have found some clients are becoming entitled. During COVID we have seen a rise in client and customer entitlement across all industries. The internet is flooded with videos and stories of customers verbally abusing service industry workers, even becoming violent, usually over unreasonable or impossible demands. It’s a massive issue that goes beyond the piercing industry. And recently there has been a large outcry about accessibility in the industry that goes beyond actual accessibility. As the omicron variant is spreading around many studios are restricting services again for safety. And due to that, there has been a large influx of arguments, primarily on instagram and TikTok, surrounding "accessibility", access to piercers, and clients "rights". And not valid arguments like a clients right to safe, clean piercings, quality jewelry, or ethical standards. Largely these arguments are from clients who believe being asked to wear a mask or have to schedule an appointment is “inaccessible” to them. We are all familiar with videos of anti-mask Karens floating around online. However, these aren't the only clients studios are struggling with. These are some of the most visible, but below that is a group of clients who are generally respectful and understand the importance of quality piercing, but demand unreasonable access and effort. Clients who understand the need for safety and rules, but expect quality piercers to be accessible to them 24/7, or demand an impossible level of service.
I’d like to start with stories about two separate client interactions I had recently. The first reached out to me about getting cheek piercings done. The client had had them once previously and they hadn’t healed properly- lots of issues with abscessing and irritation, and they’d left some scarring the client was unhappy with. They were done by a piercer who wan’t very experienced, and then further worked on by other inexperienced piercers, and had incorrect jewelry installed at the wrong times causing even more problems. They’d been treating the scars for a while in hopes of having them redone, and they were very interested in coming to see me for these piercings. They were planning to travel from states away, because there was no one in their area who even worked on cheek piercings. This client had limited ability to drive and travel, so this trip was going to be a big one! I unfortunately told the client I wasn’t comfortable doing these piercings on them knowing they had no one local to rely on for checkups, downsizes, and help. I explained that with the amount of scarring they had and their past experiences these were going to be a very difficult heal, and likely need regular upsizing, downsizing, and checkups. That emergencies could happen that needed a piercers attention within 24-48 hours. And given that they were so far away from not only me, but anyone even willing or educated enough to swap jewelry or work on them, it wouldn’t be ethical of me to do these piercings and leave them without any follow up care while they healed. Plus add on the fact they didn’t have reliable transportation, sometimes for weeks at a time. Ethically, I didn’t think these were conditions that would be safe to do such a high risk piercing under. I was told that was rude, and that I didn’t really care about accessibility because some people just don’t live near good piercers, and I shouldn’t deny them the piercing they wanted simply because they couldn’t get regular followups. When I reminded them of all the issues they had last time from not being able to get help and explained how much work these would be, I was told I was unreasonable and stuck up. The client went on to leave bad reviews about me on social media saying I denied her service without any explanation, I was elitist, I didn’t care about clients, and I was a horrible person.
Then, I had another somewhat similar interaction a few weeks later. I had a different client reach out to me about nipple piercings. She’d had an augmentation done a few years ago and was ready to have them pierced! She came in for a consultation, and we discussed that with the scarring from her augmentation that these would be a more advanced piercing, and we would need to be very very careful with them while healing. Regular checkups and downsizes would be a thing. When we sat down to schedule the piercing appointment and her first checkups, it turned out her days off and my days off were the same. She really preferred to come in on a sunday, but that was my day off. Eventually we found a Friday that would work, but it was a month and a half away. The client was very upset, and asked how her checkups and downsizes would work if I was off sundays. I explained that I would happily see her any of my scheduled days, but I did have days off every week. I was told that I wasn’t being accommodating to her needs at all, and if I wanted to offer services that were so advanced, I needed to be accessible to my clients around their schedule. She demanded I come in on my days off to do her work so it fit her schedule. I refused, and tried to offer virtual followups or alternatives that fit with everyones schedule. She declined. Later, she emailed my studio asking for my schedule to be changed so I could be there on days that worked for her. Obviously, this did not happen, and when it didn’t, she made a long public post about how horrible the studio is, how we don’t care about clients, and aren’t willing to accommodate anyone.
I wish these were isolated stories but they are not. Myself, and many other piercers, are often insulted, called names, and spoken down to over things like this. Lately it’s become quite common for clients online to accuse piercers and studios of being inaccessible, inauthentic, cold or rude. And, in many areas of piercing I think accessibility is lacking. I’ve written entire blog posts on issues surrounding fat phobia, LGBTQIA issues, and problems with abuse in the industry. The industry does have a lot of growing to do where accessibility is concerned. But some elements of piercing are to allow piercers to work safely, do heathy piercings, and have their own healthy boundaries. Quite frankly I find the amount of people throwing around the word accessibility for any issue to be demeaning to actual issues that need our attention.
Some piercings are not as accessible- and that’s ok
I would love to see a world where piercing was more accessible. Where the majority of studios carried high quality jewelry, had experienced piercers, and offered all services. Unfortunately, that’s not the world we live in. Sadly the majority of studios are lower quality, and have poor quality jewelry, uneducated staff members, and generally don’t care. And while there are many piercers learning and growing and trying to do better, it’s a steep learning curve to offering safe piercings. It’s an even steeper one to offering more advanced and difficult piercings.
And that’s with good reason. The more advanced or difficult a piercing, the more experience and education a piercer needs to have. Doctors don’t do brain surgery day one- it takes years and years of learning and education before you get to that level. Piercing is the same.
This however means that depending on the piercings you want and where you live, you might not have someone in your area with the education and training to do the piercings you want. You may have to travel to find someone able to do these piercings. But just getting a piercing done is often times only the first step. Many more advanced or difficult piercings need regular checkups and visits with a piercer while they heal. Things like cheeks and high nostrils which are known to swell are going to need many downsizes when they are first done- I’ve had clients get 4 or 5 or more downsizes sometimes with these piercings! They are very very swollen when first pierced, and as that swelling slowly goes down jewelry needs to be shortened to prevent snagging, biting, and irritation. Leaving jewelry long can cause bumps that often don’t recover. And these are piercings that usually require a piercers assistance in downsizing- with high nostrils the risks of inhaling a barbell during downsizing is real, and with cheeks it’s easy to loose connection or size jewelry wrong if you aren’t a professional.
Beyond that, some piercings and some situations may call for more followup work while healing. Things like cheeks and high nostrils are known for having irritations and issues while healing. That means seeing a piercer for extra checkups to figure out what’s causing problems- and how to get them to stop. Sometimes it’s a fairly easy piercing, like say a helix, but a client has a medical condition, scar tissue, or other factors that make things harder to heal. I myself have psoriasis and can get flareups around my piercings- and I need a piercer to help me with cleaning my piercings when that happens.
And while I wish there were amazing piercers in every town who were skilled enough to offer all these piercings, or at least offer followup care and troubleshooting, there’s not! And while virtual checkups are a thing, they only go so far. I can get on zoom with you and tell you what’s causing the issues with your piercings- but that doesn’t help much if you need new jewelry to fix the problem and there’s no one for 200 miles who sells it or could even install it.
For simpler piercings sometimes we can teach a client basics about downsizing and I’ve pierced distance clients before and set them home with things for their downsize and healing. And that’s a great way to make things more accessible. But a helix or a labret piercing is a different beast to say cheeks or high nostrils. The risks are far fewer if something goes wrong, and it’s far easier to get help for those things. But for some very advanced piercings or situations, you need a piercer not just to do the piercing but to help you heal it. That’s simple the nature of these piercings.
And if you don’t have access to a piercer it’s truly not ethical for someone to do something very difficult and very high risk and leave you with no one to assist. It also often means the piercer who did the piercing ends up having to give hours and hours of time messaging with the client, trying to figure out fixes, shipping jewelry out that sometimes fits and sometimes doesn’t, and ends up being way more work then it would have been if someone was local and could just come in as needed. And I do understand that it sucks, it sucks to want a piercing and have no one near you who can do it. I do genuinely wish there were more good piercers out there and every city and town had someone to go to. But that’s simply not the reality- and that reality is not the fault of good piercers who are out there offering safe services. Asking a piercer to do something high risk and not be able to follow up on it or give it the care it needs is unethical. And asking them to do it and them offer hours and hours of often unpaid advice, virtual followups, and time spent troubleshooting isn’t fair to piercers either.
For this reason many piercers don’t offer certain piercings while they are traveling or to clients who aren’t local. It’s not to be rude or to deny you a piercing you really want. It’s because we know the reality of what these piercing entail while they heal, and we know that these piercings are as much about working with you to heal them well as they are piercing them correctly in the first place. And that’s not being inaccessible- it’s putting clients safety and wellbeing before anything else.
Clients are not entitled to a piercer’s time 24/7
Piercers are human beings as well. We take time to eat, sleep, drink, we have lives, families, and pets. We have things we do outside of piercing. Burnout is a huge issue in the piercing industry as many piercers overwork themselves trying to be accessible 24/7. I personally have struggled with that- working 7 days a week, 12 hours a day, answering messages and emails outside of work hours constantly. It’s miserable. I am far happier as a person setting boundaries and working while I am scheduled to be at work and taking time to be a person outside of work.
That said client entitlement plays a role in burn out majorly. Clients often feel very much entitled to piercers at any given time. Often we have clients demand our staff come in on their days off to accommodate them or come in early and stay late. I’ve had clients call complaining they messaged or emailed an artist and haven’t heart back- and it’s only been 20-30 minutes since they messaged. Clients often forget that their piercers/tattoo artists/hair stylists/etc are people too who take time away from work. They expect to get answers back within minutes, to get appointments same day or next day, and to have their schedules accommodated for. And can become downright nasty when it doesn’t happen.
I do think piercers should be accessible to clients- within reason. Answering messages and emails during business hours. Having reasonable hours on their schedule where clients can see them. Helping a client if there’s an emergency. But this demand for our time 24/7 is not reasonable accessibility. Demanding service workers provide you all of their time and energy it not accessibility.
Piercers provide a service for clients, but that does not mean the client is always right. Service workers are entitled to have a life outside the service the provide. And a piercer being off on a day you wanted to come in or asleep when you messaged them is not a lack of accessibility. No service worked owes you every hour of their day. Since covid has started client entitlement has been a growing issue, and a range of industries has been speaking out about it.
Piercers are Human
Beyond that, I want to remind folks that piercers, front of house, and tattoo artists are all also humans. That means we have good days and bad days, ups and downs. It also means sometimes we get sick and have to take off work, sometimes studios are short staffed. It would be amazing if every single day we could offer 300% to every single client who walked in the door but that is simply not the reality of the world.
We will have bad days. We will get sick. We will need time off. And while a bad day should never be an excuse for bad work, it does mean your experience with your studio may be different then what you are used to or expect. Unfortunately, many clients don't view it that way. I have had days myself where I have gotten difficult news, namely a day where I found out about a dear friends passing. I was still capable of doing safe, correct piercings. But I was not my usual, bubbly, peppy self. I was grieving. I had a client tell me it was rude and cold of me not to be my usual self, and actually say "I won't be tipping you if you don't pep up and smile!"
And this leaves us in an awkward catch-22. Becasuse when I have been actually sick and unable to safely work on clients and taken days off, I have often gotten messages telling me how upset clients are their appointment was canceled, and how I should have come in and worked on them, even sick. (This actually happened while I had COVID, and the same client insisted I come in to pierce them and just wear a mask). But when piercers do come in even if we feel a little under the weather or have a mentally off day, we get told we are being cold, rude, and unaccommodating.
There is often no space left for us to be human. If we are not perfectly healthy, perfectly happy, and perfectly mannered 24/7, we are harshly criticized, given bad reviews, and sometimes even treated poorly by clients. But if we take time off, we get the same response.
Clients absolutely come first and their experiences are the priority and focus in the piercing room, and I am not arguing otherwise. But I am saying that piercers are humans, and will not be perfect robots all the time. Grace must be given, both in allowing piercers to take time off when they need it, and allowing us days to be human. As long as the piercings that leave the studio are straight, correct, safe piercings and the client is respected and safe in their experience in the studio, that is what matters. And sometimes that means an appointment being canceled or rescheduled because someone is sick, or a piercer perhaps not being 100% their usual self that day.
I of course can’t talk about accessibility and entitlement without talking about piercing laws. Specifically, ID requirements. In most states in America, in order to get a piercing you must be 18 years of age or older. And in order to prove that, you must have a government issued piece of identification with name, date of birth, and photograph. You need an ID to buy alcohol, cigarettes, get medical procedures done, and yes, get pierced. And under the age of 18 the law varies state by state, but one thing stays the same. Parental consent is needed, and identification is needed for both the parent and the minor. That identification varies from state to state, but often includes original birth certificates, licenses, passports, or school IDs.
This is the law. Individual piercers and studios have no control over these requirements. They are put in place by health departments and state legislation. We are required by law to have these documents to pierce. And honestly, its pretty reasonable. They state wants to make sure you are over 18 before you permanently modify your body. And if you aren’t, they wanna make sure your parent or legal guardian is ok with you permanently modifying your body. And these documents allow us to prove all of this is correct and true. This way your cool aunt or uncle, or friend from school, can't take a 16 year old to tattoo and pierce their entire face. Which, honestly, is quite a reasonable restriction. None of that is very strange or different. You often need these same documents for a doctors visit.
That being said it is probably a weekly occurrence in most studios that someone forgets or doesn’t bring their ID. And we are always told we aren’t being accessible, that this is unreasonable. Many of the worst stories I hear of verbal and physical abuse from clients is over IDs.
Refusing to break the law is not being inaccessible. And asking someone to break the law for you is being entitled. A piercer could loose their license for piercing someone without proper identification. Asking someone to put their job on the line so you can break the law is absurd. And the fact that this is the topic that the most clients become the most aggressive and rude over is even more absurd.
I absolutely think there are areas where the industry needs to improve on accessibility. I would love to see an industry with more diverse representation, better educated to work with different disabilities and medical conditions, an industry with better pay and benefits to allow more people the ability to work in the field, and I’d love to see safe piercing become more wide spread and more studios in more towns, cities, and countries start to offer safer piercing.
But there are some elements of piercing that will likely never be as accessible as some people want- and that’s ok. Some piercings will always take more work and more time to heal, and getting these piercings done may be more expensive, more time consuming, and require a lot more from clients. Because of this, some piercings will inherently be harder to get done. And that’s ok. If a piercing is that advanced and needs that level of care, you want a piercer who takes that seriously and wouldn’t do these piercings willy nilly without ensuring that not only the piercing its self but the healing process went as smoothly as possible. That does mean being told no or not right now to some piercings sometimes.
Piercers will not be accessible 24/7- and it’s unreasonable to ask us to be. Piercers and any service workers are allowed to have a life outside of work. It’s ok for them to take time away, have days off and vacations, and be unreachable sometimes. We are not robots- we will not always be there, always perfect, all the time. We will have off days, sick days, and even just need to take time for ourselves. Asking piercers to essentially be on call 24/7 is unreasonable. Clients can get help during business hours, or seek a piercers coworkers if that piercer is off. But no one is owed anyone else time, 24/7.
And then the law itself. Sure, piercing and tattoo laws have their flaws and issues. But there is never an excuse or justification to ask an artist to break the law and endanger themselves for you. We have to follow the law, even when it is inconvenient for you.
I think the discourse surrounding accessibility in the industry in recent years is important, essential work. And I look forward to seeing these conversations continue and seeing accessibility become a larger priority for studios. But I also hope that clients see what is reasonable and what isn’t- and can come to see what the industry realistically can offer. I also feel to throw around the word accessibility and to accuse piercers of being inaccessible when they won’t comply with your every demand to be belittling of actual real issues that occur in the industry and areas where we do need to learn and grow. Please, to all the clients out there, respect your piercers and their boundaries, and understand that are simply humans, and we do what we do keep you safe.