Conversation StarterThe consultation is where success starts. And where it can come to a screeching halt.

As a service provider, your role in client service and satisfaction begins with the consultation. Most consultation experts stress listening skills. Getting your clients to talk about something worth listening to, however, starts with your ability to effectively ask purposeful, open-ended questions.


The Big Exchange

At Beautiful Hair Company in Chappaqua, New York, owner Franco Marino considers the first-time consultation so important he books half an hour for it, charges $45 (his staff charges $25) and does not deduct the cost from the service.

His extensive consultation is more like an interview, and begins with an official form including questions like:

• How much time do you spend styling your hair?

• Does anyone else influence how you wear your hair style?

• Are you open to change?

• What is your occupation?

Of course, the form also asks about previous chemical services, frequency of shampooing, time spent styling and allergic reactions. All these are just preludes to the conversation, which naturally includes discussion about likes, dislikes and dream styles. Another biggie: If you could change just one thing about your hair, what would it be?

“Most stylists think the consultation should reveal what the client wants to do with her hair,” notes Marino. “It should be about what you envision for that client, based on her features, skin tone, eye color and the tone of her hair. Always make the client feel like you are there to listen and help her move in a particular image direction. Make it clear you are interested in a long-term relationship, not a quick fix.”

The advantage of his lengthy approach, he says, is that it does establish a mutually beneficial relationship, and the client understands every decision takes into consideration the hair’s quality and health.

What Clients Want

George Menzor, owner of Wavelengths Hair and Nail Salon in Santa Fe, New Mexico, says he always asks about as much hair and life history as he can, as well as any changes or desires. “Then I conjure up a plan and time schedule,” says Menzor. Naturally, maintenance and upkeep is key to success, which is why you should always ask about home styling ability, available time and the desire to keep one look or change styles frequently.

The consultation is frequently compared to a first date— forget to listen and there won’t be a second. But you also have to be as interesting as you are interested. Review your client schedule the day before and having at least one new idea for every client scheduled. If it’s a new client you’ve never physically seen, gather ideas from magazines, websites, the fashion world, etc.

If it’s someone you’ve seen before, be ready with something that will take his or her look to the next level, advises Menzor. And of course, gauge the client’s happiness with the current cut, color, style and take-home products.

“Clients are always chasing that first-visit high,” says Menzor. “They want something new and exciting. I always change what I do with the season and with a trend update. And I always treat clients to a new consultation with every visit. Why would they pay for the same style every time?”

Feels Like the First Time

Deborah McCann works at Deborah McCann & Company salon in Dublin, Ohio, and is a Global Haircolor Educator for Redken. One lesson she likes to remind all stylists is that there is no such thing as a “regular.” Clients who support you with their visits are VIPs, she say.

“Clients understand their value,” say McCann. “I have a very dedicated clientele, and I travel 40 weeks a year. I work eight days a month in my studio and I banked $120,000 in one year on that work. I consult carefully with every existing client—it takes just 3-5 minutes.”

For pros like McCann, who avoid deals and discounts, time is the new added-value. McCann’s “everytime” questions include: How do you feel about your hair? How often are you shampooing and blow drying? At what part of the day does your hair let you down? What type of versatility do you like—a cut that stays put or a style you can pull back at the health club?

All these are things that can change between visits. Just as a personal trainer or a financial consultation creates a personalized program that is continually reassessed, you should create a custom hair plan that includes a goal.

“If you ask the right questions, you get challenges,” she says. “Then, you need to be astute enough to have a solution. Salons lose clients because they assume the client does not want change. What you take for granted, you will lose.”

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