Consultation Hack: Become the Client Whisperer
When I moved (back) to Dallas from San Diego, I fell deep into a Yelp review depression. Eager to find a new salon, I turned to review sites for guidance. As everyone knows, the best way to discover local businesses is to dive head first into a steaming cesspool of run on sentences and hatred. According to most reviewers, every stylist is terrible and no salon deserves any stars. My hope began to fail me. Were there no options for a semi-novice with a mind to grow? Would I be forced to return to my humble librarian beginnings, shuffling literature for all eternity?
As I persevered in sifting through exclamation points and arbitrary capitalization, I was able to find a handful of quality businesses that nevertheless have a sprinkling of aggressively negative reviews. Why? Eventually a pattern emerged — a reconciliation of two seemingly disparate realities into a single truth. I could see exactly where each service went wrong.
The consultation. The stylists totally fucked the consultations.
Here’s the thing. As stylists, we get so focused on behind-the-chair realities that we stop questioning our own assumptions. We approach hair from the technical view of a professional instead of the internet-educated perspective of a client. The problem is clients don’t know that “going lighter” can have many interpretations or that layers do not in fact come in threes. And frankly they shouldn’t really need to. That’s what they pay us for.
Point blank, clarifying and managing your clients’ expectations is your responsibility, not the clients’.
As important as consultations are, conducting a laser-focused conversation with your client can actually be pretty easy if you listen well and keep a few points in mind.
It’s not what they say, it’s what they mean. Remember that the vast majority of your clientele have not spent twelve months and twenty grand on a cosmetology education, so technical jargon is going to be way over their heads. This coupled with the fact that much of our work is inherently subjective (“just an inch” amiright?) creates extra ambiguity in already-ambiguous words like short, cool, red, and vibrant. Take the extra time to actually clarify clients’ meaning instead of taking their words at face value. Not only will this approach eliminate misunderstandings, it also makes clients feel safe, which means you just got yourself a brand new lifer.
Leading questions are key. Asking only yes/no questions is going to get you nowhere real quick. Instead, go for open-ended questions like, “What do you like about your hair?” or, “What are your challenges with your current cut?” This will keep you in control of the conversation and put the onus on your client to dig deep and use their big descriptive words.
A picture is worth ten hundred billion thousand words. We live in an instant gratification, visually driven world. Skip the tech talk and go straight to visual aids. Be sure to use your open-ended questions here to determine exactly what it is your client likes (and maybe kinda hates) about each photo. Bonus points if you provide pics instead of waiting for your client to thumb through Pinterest. Makes you look hella competent and prevents excessive tangential photo sharing.
Tie it all up with a bow. I would argue that this is the most important step. Finish up the consultation by repeating everything back to your client. Rewording the discussion and detailing your plan guarantees in no uncertain terms that you and your client are on the same page. They are more likely to be happy with your work, and your pretty little butt is covered from doing an entire service that the client doesn’t even want and you therefore might not get paid for. Additionally, this protects you against the inevitable flakey client. If they decide at the end they want a few tweaks, that’s one more service you get to put on your invoice.
At the end of the day, you may be the best stylist in the biz, but if it’s not the look your client wants and you agreed to, you have given them a bad service. Let’s avoid so much potential heartache and involve our clients in planning the best possible service. They’ll be happy, you’ll be happy, and your pocket book will be happy. Win-win-win.
Photo courtesy Henri Pham