At a friend’s birthday recently I had that moment of abject terror that most salon owners will relate to – someone introducing me to a client of the salon that I hadn’t met, and getting their “feedback”.
I suppose this happens in all walks of life, but for some reason discovering what people really think of your life’s work in a social situation always strikes fear into me. I suppose I should thank heaven for small mercies that it didn’t start with “well I used to be a client but…”
The trouble is, clients don’t tell us the truth. If only they did. What they say and what they mean are two different things.
The woman in question told me that she’d switched operators and now had to come “cloak and dagger style” on the person’s day off as she had “defected” to another team member who she preferred. Not because they were better technically, but because the experience was better. Even though we have a “free to roam” policy, I understand that she now feels awkward and disloyal. And worse, it isn’t because there was anything wrong with the service technically; far from it. It was that my team member broke one of the unwritten rules if you want to run a successful, busy column of clients in the hair and beauty sector, as I’ll explain below…
So, I thought it was about time I wrote my bullet point list and told the truth about clients. Feel free to pin it on your staff noticeboard because there is no easy way to say this.
1. Clients only ever really want to talk about themselves
Even though they may feign interest in your love life, ageing parents, depression, insomnia, divorce, break up, diet, health problems… trust me, they don’t care. In fact, they wish they had never got into a conversation about it with you in the first place, because they don’t really want it to be about you. They only care about themselves – and so they should.
This is the cardinal sin, and the one I referred to above. They are paying for an experience – to feel good about themselves and to look great; for you to concentrate on their hair, skin, nails, etc and give their experience your total devotion. To focus solely on them and spend their visit talking about the service you are providing, including their needs, wish list, long-term goals and results.
The reason the client I mentioned above left one team member for another was that the experience became an opportunity to off-load – but not from operator to client, but vice versa. She came in, trepidatious about her visit to London, and got told by her regular therapist that business was awful, none of her clients were coming in as often as before, she wasn’t busy enough, that she was the only client of the day and she’d had to wait until 4pm for her to come in, etc. No in-depth consultation, no analysis, no post-treatment assessment… just the operator bemoaning her lot.
So, instead of leaving feeling great, she left feeling dumped upon, and that is no reason to want to come back. It sounds obvious but when we become over-familiar, we run the risk of losing our customers altogether.
2. Don’t talk about politics, religion, sex or (new from 2019) Covid-19 with your clients – ever
The savvy boss has long known that it’s never wise to talk about contentious issues with clients. I learned that when I worked in Belfast during the troubles, where it was par for the course to avoid any comment on what was happening. Once, there was a bomb scare in the street outside the salon where I was regional manager and one of the staff admonished me for discussing it with a customer.
“See that client standing there? You have no idea if her son or husband was injured in it or whether he planted it – so just don’t go there,” she said. Point taken. And talking about the pandemic and whether you are pro or anti-vaccine should be avoided at all costs, too. You never know what someone’s stance is so it’s not worth risking it. Everyone has their own opinions. Unless you are specifically asked, don’t proffer yours.
3. Clients are not your friends and they never will be
They don’t want to mix with you and muddy the waters in their relationship with you. They will probably not want to socialise with you if you bump into them when you are out.
They might even go out of their way to avoid you in a social situation and pretend they didn’t see you. All the time they are paying the bill, the relationship is far better to remain purely business.
4. Clients won’t always tell you the truth
They may just not feel comfortable enough to say what they really want from their service. Or, as a friend of mine shared with me about her recent salon experience, she switched team members because she kept hinting her colour wasn’t blonde enough but felt that the colourist didn’t listen and kept telling her that her natural base was too dark to go lighter. Luckily, she found another staff member to give her what she wanted but again, she’s now scurrying in like a secret agent so she doesn’t have to face her original colourist.
5. Clients want you to always suggest something new and focus on their needs… always
Even if they say “just do the same as last time”, woe betide you taking that for granted every visit, because if you fail to suggest something new they’ll eventually leave you for someone who does (trust me).
All of this may be hard to swallow, but in my experience, it’s worth sharing with your teams. In the coming months, I will be also be sharing my thoughts on the truth about two other crucial elements in our eternal triangle: bosses and staff… watch this space.
Hellen Ward is managing director of Richard Ward Hair & Metrospa in London and a beauty ambassador for the National Hair & Beauty Federation (NHBF).