Lapsed or lost? |

4 mins

Lapsed or lost?

Losing a client is never easy but a lapsed client isn’t necessarily gone forever and can often be tempted back, writes Hellen Ward

I don’t think that anyone running a column or managing a salon could argue with the fact that one of the most important things to properly track and monitor is their customer base: who is coming, how often, what they are having done and how much they are spending per visit.

Great software is key in tracking this and I know our system (Phorest) provides invaluable data. One of the most interesting things it reveals is “lapsed clients”. Whether you’re the operator or practitioner, or even the boss, seeing those names is always like a dagger in the heart.

It’s really hard not to overthink just why a valued customer stopped coming. What did you do wrong? What signals did you miss? What could you have done differently? How could you have prevented them leaving? Why do they prefer somebody or somewhere else?

When I was out for dinner with a friend recently, we were talking about a mutual acquaintance. “I haven’t seen her for ages,” I said innocently. “Yes, she said she doesn’t go to Richard Ward anymore and therefore she hadn’t seen you,” replied my friend, going on to fill me in on the latest news. Too late – my mind was working overtime. Hardly listening to the gossip, all I could think about was why we’d lost her. It was all I could do not to pick up my phone and check her client file there and then. Who did she last see? When did she last come in? Should we call her? Why wasn’t she coming in anymore?

Gone for good?

I was so bothered that I looked up the meaning of lapsed. No longer valid; expired, it said. It can also mean no longer following the rules and practices of a religion or doctrine; non-practising. Too right non-practising. Not practising putting money in our till!

I remember when I was a hairdresser running a column. If I saw one of my clients switching to another stylist, it was mortifying. When you provide a service to a client, it’s human nature to wonder whether they really are happy and whether they’d really tell you if they weren’t. We are all insecure, and whereas seeing a busy column really bolsters confidence, seeing a client happily – dare I say ruthlessly (or at least that’s how it feels) – moving to a colleague is bound to make us doubt ourselves.

We’ve long practised a “freedom to roam” policy, so clients feel that if they haven’t found quite the right operator for them, they have no need to feel embarrassed to try someone different. But in reality, the person who’s been left can’t help but wonder why. And it’s not just ego – it’s the creeping insecurity of self-doubt that could lead to imposter syndrome.

I wonder if our clients have any idea of what goes on psychologically when they don’t feel they can tell us how we could do things better.

Realising that I might be analysing this a little too much, I thought about my own buying habits. Going back five years, was my favourite restaurant still the same? No, I have a new eaterie that’s my go-to place. My favourite clothing label? While I still love Sandro, now Zadig & Voltaire is my absolute love. My favourite shoe brand or make-up products? No, they’ve changed too. Being totally honest, lots of the things on my list – from regular supermarket to hotel of choice – are now slightly different. As my mum always says, everything is always changing all the time – we just don’t necessarily notice it.

Changing times

Thinking further, did that mean that the brand or establishment concerned did anything wrong? Who changed – me or them? I realised, it’s sometimes a mix of both. My tastes have changed a little, and will constantly do so. I’ve experienced other brands that gel with me just a little more. That fit with the “me that I am now” just a little better.

Circumstances change. There are multiple reasons why people shop around and switch their brand loyalties. It’s not always financial (as our first instinct tells us) or even service orientated. It could be logistical.

Just because a client has lapsed it doesn’t mean they’re a convert to the competition and couldn’t be tempted back. But first, we need to properly establish exactly what made them leave. And the reasons aren’t that surprising. Ease, convenience and price all come into play, but more often than not it’s that they felt undervalued, or that they weren’t listened to. Ouch! So frustrating, so easily remedied, so avoidable.

“Just because a client has lapsed it DOESN’T MEAN they’re a CONVERT TO THE COMPETITION and couldn’t be tempted back. But first, we need to really PROPERLY ESTABLISH exactly what MADE THEM LEAVE„

Since the pandemic we’ve had an influx of clients coming back – and we are not alone, from what other salons owners tell me – but what’s been most surprising about the returners is the vast number who hadn’t visited the salon for years; sometimes over a decade. They’ve rediscovered their love for us and it’s heartening. Maybe they’ve remembered something that made them feel great and decided to give us another go, so we’d better ensure we perform. You might get a second chance with a customer, but you’ll invariably never get a third. Now we just have to figure out how to stop them lapsing in the first place.

Hellen Ward is managing director of Richard Ward Hair & Metrospa in London and co-founder of Salon Employers Association (SEA).

This article appears in June 2023

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June 2023
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