The (good) difference between your salon…and a BIG business.

There’s a good reason why service businesses – like yours, presumably – should never go out of business. (Conversely, it’s a mystery why many of them do.)

The reason they should thrive comes down to human nature; people like to do business with other people, not faceless, corporate entities, or machines. Businesses that rely solely on technology to sustain their revenues come and go. Remember Kodak? Gone. MySpace? A $700 million white elephant. History is littered with businesses that failed at least in part because they deliberately kept their customers at arms length.


But those who strive to serve, face to face, can weather almost any storm.


One personal example: 

Mitchell Falls, in the Kimberley,

Michelle and I like to do road trips, touring our vast country, towing our camper trailer. (Cue excuse to show holiday pics here.) Last week, after our most recent 10,000km drive through the Kimberley region of Western Australia, I took the trailer to the local dealer for a routine bearings-and-brakes service.


It’s a husband and wife operation, just Jim and Lynda, operating out of a rented warehouse in the northern suburbs of Perth. Three days later, when I went back to collect the trailer, Jim had not only done the routine stuff, he’d replaced a couple of broken parts, lubricated all the fiddly bits I somehow never got around to, fitted a new battery under warranty, and even re-fitted a water pump I’d jerry-rigged after it was damaged on the notorious Gibb River Road.


And the total bill? Nothing. Nada. Zero. Refused to accept payment. Jim knows that I sing the praises of this particular make of camper trailer. Accordingly, in a Facebook group I run for this brand, I duly extolled the virtues of Jim’s excellent service, and others chimed in with similar sentiments. Jim knows that businesses like his live and die on the strength or weakness of the relationship between him and his customers.


It doesn’t actually matter that his product is acknowledged as one of the best. The previous owners of the dealership had the same product, but their attitude to customer service was appalling, and it showed in sales.


As a consumer, you can’t have a relationship with a machine, or a website, or a call centre. You can only have a relationship with people, In the end, even the biggest businesses are just people doing their thing, except that the bigger the business, the more its people hide behind the grand facade.


(The smarter people behind the biggest of businesses know this. Apple didn’t need Steve Jobs for his technical or engineering expertise. Apple needed Jobs because it was Jobs who had the relationship with the company’s customers. To them, Jobs was Apple.)


Many of our Member salons & spas take customer service to the extreme. One makes a habit of sending hand-written birthday cards – real ones, in an envelope, in the mail, with a real stamp, not just a lazy text message or email – to her top 500 clients. That’s an average of 40 a month, every month. But it comes back in spades of sales. Another will open her salon on a Sunday if a customer can’t make it any other time. These are the kind of ‘above and beyond’ actions that people extol to their friends.


Henry Ford

It’s not doing the expected that people talk about. It’s doing the unexpected. The small and inexpensive gift, brought out from under the counter as the customer pays her bill. The random phone call a few days after your visit, from the owner who asks “Hi Jane, I just wanted to check that you were happy with our service when you were in this week?” This is the kind of service you just can’t get from a machine, or a website, or a call centre.


To quote Henry Ford: “A business absolutely devoted to service will have only one worry about profits.  They will be embarrassingly large.”

Salon Gift Certificate Template: Does this happen in YOUR salon???

customer service

Salon Gift Certificate Template: Does this happen in YOUR salon???

Yesterday, I did some free research for you, ‘mystery shopping’ a local salon business touted as one of my town’s most up-market, stylish salons.
And the news is:

It failed my report card.

I won’t name the salon, but if its owner is reading this, she’ll recognize herself. This salon is one of three owned by a young entrepreneur who’s done a lot of things right, but still lets money fall through the cracks through lack of attention to detail. And there is magic in the detail.

I wandered in late yesterday afternoon, a Monday, to get a haircut. The layout is impressive – 20 chairs line the walls, with a massive raised catwalk down the middle for the fashion shows the salon has become known for.

That’s a tick for laterally thinking about how to create a ‘buzz’ that spills over into attracting new clients, an ‘involvement device’ to acknowledge that as the majority of customers are women, they’re interested in all things fashion and style, not just getting their hair done.

I was greeted at reception by a pleasant young lady (one of five staff on duty, only one of whom was actually cutting hair, being a Monday) who informed me that my haircut would cost an eye-watering $71. This for the privilege of having the services of the company’s ‘art director’, an innovative way of describing their most talented stylist.

When I visibly gulped at this – in a town where an average male haircut might stretch to $35 – she offered me instead, one of their ‘artists’ – another inventive term for what ordinary salons would call a ‘senior’ – for only $62. And if this was too much, I could have one of their ‘designers’ – their version of a mere apprentice, for a few dollars less.

Another massive tick from me for innovation. This salon owner is doing what I’m constantly nagging our Members to do – to re-think what it is they’re selling, to re-invent the business in such a way that it differentiates itself from the competition, simply by re-branding the common and thus making it un-common. Out of thin air, creating more perceived value. “Ordinary salons have seniors and apprentices. We have ‘artists’ and ‘designers’.”

Here’s what’s instructive: using differential pricing, you can elevate the perceived value of your own services. Example – clients insisting they only want the owner pay more for that privilege.

Next, I was asked to complete a client details form – name, all my phone numbers, email address – and crucially, tick-boxes for how I found out about the salon. A database-building system most salons are too lazy to implement, too ignorant to recognize its value.

I was introduced to my ‘artist’ who led me to her chair.

Unfortunately, that’s about when the shine started to come off an impressive start.

I was handed a selection of magazines. They were dog-eared, months old. As she washed my hair, my ‘artist’ cheerfully asked me the standard questions – ‘had a busy day so far?’ Yes, thanks. … ‘Got a big weekend planned?’ Mmmm…couple of social functions, that’s all. ‘What line of work are you in?’

I knew she was going to ask this, so I threw in a truthful answer, specifically to check her pulse.

‘Er, I show salons how to market themselves more effectively, more efficiently, how to increase the per-visit ticket price, and get customers coming back more often…’

“Really….and do you live locally?”

She might have been thinking, but it wasn’t about what I was saying. Nice enough girl, no pulse.

But the wheels really fell off back at the reception desk. Here I was, a brand new customer just walked in off the street, happily paying my $62 buzz-cut bill. I stood there idly chatting with the receptionist, my ‘artist’ attentively nearby.

Sigh. No attempt to sell me product, despite earlier telling my ‘artist’ I always use gel in my hair.

No request for feedback (i.e. testimonial) about my experience in their business.

Not even the slightest effort to re-book me next month.

I walked out the door, the sound of staff chattering to each other about their Christmas plans fading in my ears.

What a crying shame that it’s like this in almost ALL businesses. Attention to detail is its own economic stimulus package.