Customer Service

20 High-Touch Ideas for a High-Tech World

In the modern retail environment of commodity services and prices, consumers will pay a premium for old-fashioned customer service. Try any (or all) of these 20 high-touch customer service tips.

What ever happened to customer service? It used to be that sales clerks roamed store floors in search of someone to help and gas station attendants rushed to pump your gas and wash your windows. Nowadays sales clerks play hide and seek with customers, and we’re the ones on the hunt! And the closest I’ve come to someone helping me at a gas station is a disembodied voice prompting me to start pumping.

Perhaps we took it too much for granted, but not anymore! These days good customer service is like a fine wine, cherished and hard to find.

As mid-level salons struggle to carve a niche between the discounters and day spas, they would be well served to examine what went wrong for department stores, which for years have been losing market share to mass merchandisers and big boxes on the one hand and to specialty retailers on the other. In response to value-conscious consumers, they cutback the number of employees on the floor so they could hold prices down, but they couldn’t even come dose to the cut-rate prices of mass merchandisers, nor were they offering anywhere near the customer service levels of specialty retailers. By trying to satisfy everyone, they satisfied no one. Today’s growth in retail is in specialty retailers arid mass merchandisers. Department store retailers continue to struggle, with one glaring exception: Nordstrom.

We at NAILS think salons should borrow a page from Nordstrom. Where Nordstrom stocks its shelves with high- quality merchandise, salons need to shore up their service menus with a selection of focused services that every nail technician provides with the same level of technical skill and product knowledge. Next, those nail technicians need to hone their customer service skills. Where Nordstrom associates escort customers to the dressing room, nail technicians should consider accompanying clients to the sink to wash their hands. Where Nordstrom salespeople recommend merchandise based on information gleaned from the customer, so too should nail techs recommend products and services based on the client’s needs. Finally, where Nordstrom associates make the customer feel like a queen in ways large and small, so too should nail technicians make their clients feel valued and cared for. Following you’ll find different ways in which nail technicians tell us they offer superior customer ser­vice, plus a few ideas of our own.

1. Start with a simple “hello.” It’s so basic, but I was reminded how important such acknowledgement is last week when my children’s hairstylist of three years didn’t acknowledge our arrival. Twenty-five minutes later I was silently fuming and vowing to find a new salon, all because I didn’t feel valued for my loyalty or my money. I’m still bugged more than a week later. Yet if she had said hello and communicated that she was running behind, she would have garnered my sympathy and my patience.

If the configuration of your salon allows, greet each client that enters the door. All it takes is a simple, “Hi! Have a seat or help yourself to a cup of coffee and I’ll be with you in a few minutes.” That tells the client you know she is there and that she’ll soon have all your attention. If your set-up doesn’t allow this, make sure your salon has a policy that all clients are greeted upon their arrival by someone so that you know your clients are being taken care of.

2. Nurture them inside and out. Even if it’s a pitcher of ice water and lemon slices set up in the waiting area, clients appreciate the gesture as well as the deed itself. Coffee, tea, lemonade, and iced tea are other perennial favorites. At Great Nails-Guaranteed! in Peoria, Ariz., clients can choose from a selection of six flavored coffees or, in summer, lemonade and iced tea. “We vary the flavor of the teas and lemonade daily so clients won’t get bored,” says Pam Klimak. Great Nails- Guaranteed! also takes refreshment one step further with a simple spread of cookies. The staff takes turns bringing in the cookies, which spreads the cost as well as the selection.
Ruth Windsor of Angelic Nails in Garden City, Mich., takes it one step further, saying she always serves clients some sort of snack (past favorites include cookies, cheese and crackers, fresh fruit, smoothies, etc.). In the fall, she and her family go apple picking, using the fruits of their labor — as well as handmade crusts — to present every client with an apple pie.

3. The first time should be special...Client retention starts at the first visit, so ensure that your first-time client gets the attention that she needs. After gathering her basic information, take a few minutes to talk to her about the condition of her hands and nails, the type of service she’s chosen and the end results she visualizes, and her lifestyle (occupation, hobbies, etc.). Share with her your observations and recommendations, and at the end of the service provide a complimentary home-care kit (which you can price into the service) along with instructions on how to use it.

4. ...and so should every other time. How many times have you told someone — or even thought to yourself— something like, “She won’t mind. She’s been my client for years.” That may hold true the first time that you’re running late or you interrupt her appointment by taking a phone call, but she minds very much when it happens again. Regardless of how long a client has been coming to your salon, treat her as you would a new client—be on time, push your troubles to the side, and focus on making her experience in your chair the best that you can.

5. Let them have it “their way.” In a world of national chains, off- the-rack everything, and numeric passwords over personal recognition, it’s no wonder consumers love the idea of products and services made-to- order. At La. vie l’orange in Los Angeles, owner Kelly Brown spends a few minutes before each service consulting with the client before whipping up a customized exfoliant here or a one-of-a-kind scented lotion there. You don’t have to custom-make your products to provide clients a made-to-order service, though. At Golden Shears in Runnemede, N.J., nail clients are invited to pick and choose from a menu of add-on services to create a custom manicure or pedicure experience without a custom price.

6. Give a little extra TLC. For those clients who seem to have had a rough day, Susan Beaumarchais of Southern Elegance in Warner Robins, Ga., opens her ears and her hands. “I lend a friendly ear to listen to those who need to talk, and I give them extra attention in the hand or foot massage,” she says. “My customers know that whatever they tell me will always stay between us.” Similarly, Windsor will give clients complaining of a headache a five-minute reflexology foot massage.

7. Give clients 110% of your attention. Refuse all phone calls, ignore other conversations, and refrain from participating in salon banter. For example, Beaumarchais has everything she needs for a service ready when the customer arrives. “Clients have my complete attention during the service,” she asserts. “I do not leave the room while my customer is in the chair, and I feel it’s rude to continuously get up and down while performing a service.” Though it’s hard, many technicians also have adopted a “no calls” policy while they’re with a client If you’re worried you’ll drive callers elsewhere, either explain in your message or have the person answering the phone explain that you’re with a client and will return the call within the hour.

8. Massage, massage, massage. We can’t say it enough because clients can’t seem to get enough. Remember, though, to work smarter rather than harder. If you spend just five minutes on massage during the manicure, rather than bumping it to 10 minutes, concentrate on making it the most memorable five minutes of her day. To this end, consider bartering some one-on-one training time with a massage therapist. Have her demonstrate her favourite techniques on you.

9. Thank you.” When’s the last time you got something in the mail that wasn’t an advertisement, a sales pitch, or a bill? For most it’s a rare event, indeed. For this reason, Klimak periodically sends thank you notes to her regular clients, offering them a complimentary paraffin treatment for their continued patronage. She also collects e-mail addresses and sends greeting cards from websites such as Bluemountain.com to show clients she’s thinking of them.

10. Warm them up. For example, Bethany Boyd, owner of Nails by Bethany in Tucson, Ariz., wraps clients’ hands in heated mitts before starting the service on cold days. For cold-weather pedicures, she coats clients’ hands with a vitamin treatment and covers them with heated towels. Other technicians told us they place heating pads under their towels in winter, and those practicing LaStone Therapy will attest that not only do clients enjoy the heat of a smooth stone under their palm, but they find it easier to polish the client’s nails that way.

11. Remember the power of touch. Katherine Freeman-Fahrig of Extremities Hand and Foot Spa in St. Louis handles clients very gently, never grabbing or “gripping” their hands. When changing a client’s hand position, for example, she places her hand on the client’s lower arm, sliding her own hand down to the client’s. “While I still have a grasp on a finger I’ve been working, I reach slowly above her wrist to grasp her hand to turn it over or move it,” she describes. “When changing hands I hold my hand out, palm up, and wait for her to place her hand in mine. Then I grasp her hand, place my other hand on her wrist, and position her hand where I want.”

12. It’s the little things in life. Particularly with those clients who can’t seem to get out of the parking lot without dinging their polish, escort clients to their car, open the door, and even offer to help them buckle their seatbelt. And unexpected gestures like a brief neck and shoulder massage while their nails dry can garner a client’s undying gratitude.

13. Client consultation. Whether it’s her first or 99th service, every client at Angelic Nails gets a consultation before her service. “Things change over time and I want to make sure that they are getting the best possible service,” Windsor explains. In follow-up consultations, focus on whether she’s had any problems with her nails; does she want them shorter or longer than last time; and if she’s taking any new medications or taking up any new hobbies. You should also take this opportunity to make her aware of any problems you observe as well as any new services or products the salon offers that may interest her.

14. Foot fetish. As the weather turns cold, invite your nail clients to don a pair of heated booties during the service. When the weather warms up, let them soak their feet in a portable foot tub scented with a few drops of their favorite aromatherapy oil. If the footbath doesn’t have bubbling action, line the bottom with marbles or river rocks.

15. Value your clients’ time. As Michelle Maher of Hey Good Lookin’ in Soldotna, Ala., points out, her time-pressed clients sought her out because she’s rarely late to start an appointment and can get them out in just 45 minutes. “What my clients want is a fill or foil set in 45 minutes without me talking about my personal life,” Maher says. “They come to a nice clean salon, talk about whatever they want while I work, and they are out in a jiffy with beautiful pink and whites.”

16. Ready for a big change? Change everything. The industry norm is traditional workstations and typical stiff, hard client chairs. Consider generously padded recliners or big, cushy chairs where clients can sit or lie back and relax during their manicure or fill as well as during a pedicure.

17. Close your eyes... Invite clients to put their feet up during the service and provide them with a warm or cool compress to cover their eyes (being sure to add just a bit of essential oil to the compress to heighten the sensory experience.)

18. Looks good, feels great. Many technicians we talked to emphasized above all else the emotional connection they make with their clients. Even if you have to consult your notes, ask about the people and situations your client mentioned at her last appointment. Jo Laki, owner of Jo’s Naughty Nails in Hamlin, Pa., makes a point of following up on things the client mentioned at her last appointment. “If they told me a child or parent was sick, I ask about them,” she says. “If they were getting ready for a special family event like a graduation or wedding, I ask how it went. They love it that I remember and am concerned enough to ask.” If a client is having a par­ticularly rough time, some technicians say they will call the client a few days later just to say, “I’ve been thinking about you and wanted to make sure you’re OK.”

19. Never say no. “Instead of saying no to a client, I offer an alternative,” explains Freeman-Fahrig. “For example, I might say, ‘I don’t have any openings on Thursday, but I could put you down for 2 p.m. on Friday. Will that work?’ This tells the client that I’m working with her.”

20. Educate, recommend, and support. Particularly with new clients, talk them through the different steps of the service, explaining what you’re doing and why, the products you use and what they help you achieve, and how she can maintain the service at home. Never push clients toward a different service, but always let them know when you offer something they might benefit from, be it a product or service.

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