A systematic, organized receptionist can curb client cancellations and no-shows before they become problems.
Operating in a Utopian world, your salon would run like a well-oiled machine. Clients would arrive as the previous client vacated the chair, and technicians never would need a break. There wouldn’t be any time to squeeze in emergency appointments, but then again, there wouldn’t be any nail emergencies.
For better or worse, this is not Utopia, and salons do get last-minute cancellations and no-shows. Although cancellations are unavoidable, when clients begin to take your service for granted, you lose their patronage, their money, and your patience. That’s where a well-trained receptionist can help eliminate many of the system’s glitches. “Our receptionist is the heartbeat of the salon,” says Sabrina Stahn, owner of Sabrina Salon of Nails (Minnetonka, Minn.). “We call her Major Tom.”
FIRST IMPRESSIONS COUNT
First and foremost, your receptionist must be cordial. If your clients can’t make it past the front desk without colliding with Ms. Confrontation or Ms. Grumpy, they’ll stop coming. Also, if a first-time caller is not answered by a courteous professional, she’ll hang up without even making an appointment.
“Receptionists do all that social butterfly stuff that, as an owner, you wish you could do if you had the time,” says Terri Taricco, owner of Nail Essentials (Swansea, Mass.). “But if you have your own clientele, as I do, you can’t.”
Betty Fitzmorris, receptionist at Thrillz (Rochester, N.Y.), says that a receptionist who spends some time chatting with the clientele as they enter or are about to leave the salon is a big plus. Similarly, Karla Borrelli, co-owner of Karla and Honeys Salon (W. Paterson, N.J.), says that a receptionist who makes a good first impression can actually bring in new business.
The key to booking appointments that will hold is organization. Stahn’s receptionist, Flora, always writes down a client’s name and phone number and asks how to spell the name and if the number is for work or home.
Incoming calls tend to slowdown between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m., and Flora takes this opportunity to call every client scheduled for an appointment the following day. “Some people verify and still don’t show up die next day,” admits Stahn, “but we have seen a drop in the number of no-shows.
“We watch new clients, standing-appointment clients who are scheduled on a day other than their regular slot, or an old client who is trying a new service. These are the people who are most likely to forget or get the time confused, so we call them first.”
Sharon Parker, owner of The Nail Detail (Tampa, Fla.), has her receptionist call first-time clients for confirmation, as they are typically the worst offenders because they have no loyalty to the salon. “Usually if it’s a no-show it’s a new client,” says Debbie Ciampi, owner of Viva Nails (Chicago). “What are you going to do, charge her? You can’t.”
Nail Essentials’ receptionists see that technicians fill out client cards after every visit and help keep addresses and phone numbers current. There is a list by the phone of clients who are hoping to squeeze in an appointment, and once a time opens the receptionist calls these people to fill it.
Many missed appointments are the results of simple misunderstandings. Fitzmorris reduces this problem by repeating the information she wrote in her book back to her client. For example, she’ll say, “Thank you very much, Mrs. Caine. We’ll see you on Monday, February 28 at 10:30 a.m.” Fitzmorris also puts an asterisk by names of repeat offenders and calls to remind them of their appointments.
Borrelli’s receptionist confirms each day’s appointments that morning, writes out appointment cards for clients who schedule their next visit as they’re leaving, and tries to reschedule a client’s appointment when she cancels.
Technician Vickie Sutton works with three other technicians at Your Nail Pros (Lilburn, Ga.). All three are self-employed and keep their own books. When she gets a cancellation, Sutton tries to work someone else into the slot or to find someone who can swap times with the client who needs to cancel. “It takes a little extra time, but clients appreciate it and it makes them more likely to call,” says Sutton. “It’s important to treat them as a person, not just a client, and to remain flexible.” When Sutton can’t fit a client in, she tries to squeeze her in with one of the other three technicians.
Stahn is reluctant to drive away even the worst offenders. For example, if a client is habitually late, her technician or receptionist will book her service for 15 minutes longer than usual. At times, however, Stahn finds that clients need some prodding. Stahn prefers to do this job herself rather than throwing this uncomfortable task at her receptionist. Stahn says to the client, “I really need you to be on time. You’re costing us a lot of money, and I know you don’t mean to do that, but I really need you to be consistent.”
Irma Cameron, owner of Posh Nails (Wayzata, Minn.), handles the receptionist duties herself, calling problem clients both the day before and the day of the appointment. “I ask, ‘Is 5 p.m. okay or should we reschedule?’ Sometimes it makes them think, ‘Am I causing a problem by being late?’” she explains. “Others will think. They’ll service me no matter when I come in or what I do.’ For those clients, we book an extra half hour. It is inconvenient, but we don’t want to lose the client. There’s an understanding in my salon that it’s okay for a client to move from one tech to another. It’s not okay if a client goes to another salon.”
GET NO-SHOWS BACK
Parker’s receptionist, Jill Konzelman, calls all no-shows from the previous week — not to scold them but to try to get them back to the salon. She starts with, “Hi, this is Jill from The Nail Detail. We wanted to touch base with you because we know you couldn’t keep your last appointment. Is there something we can do for you? Would you like to make another appointment?”
Parker says that sometimes clients miss their appointments because they’re trying out a new salon, but even if they weren’t happy with their new service, guilt prevents them from calling their old salon back. Having her receptionist call shows the client her patronage is appreciated and wanted.
Konzelman also sends reminder cards to clients who haven’t been to the salon in three to five months. The cards inform clients about salon specials, and Konzelman always adds a personal note. “Possibly they stood us up,” explains Parker, “and they’re feeling bad about that. But with a personal note, they know we’re not mad about it.”
PENALIZING PROBLEM CLIENTS
Sabrina Salon of Nails charges clients $6 if they fail to show up for an appointment. “We’re flexible with this rule,” explains Stahn. “We’re not trying to beat people down. We don’t require that the cancellation be done 24 hours prior to the appointment — only that a client calls and cancels out of consideration. There are times when they can’t, and we won’t enforce the rule. The rule exists for those who abuse the system.
“If someone calls and says that her appointment card had the right day on it — Wednesday, for example — but she was confused and thought that today was Tuesday, we’ll bite it. The customer always comes first.”
The Nail Detail charges $10 for no-shows or cancellations within 24 hours of the appointment. However, enforcement of this policy is left up to the nail technician. “It’s not so much the money, but it acts as a deterrent,” says Parker.
If you need to charge people for no-shows, charge half the service price and build from there if the situation doesn’t improve, suggests Bill Perron, chief operations officer for Salon Development Corporation (St. Paul, Minn.). A trickier situation is whether salons should charge clients for cancellations less than 24 hours before the appointment. Perron doesn’t think so. “It’s kind of an insult to the client,” he says. “There’s no need to create ill will.”
Perron also advises receptionists to do everything they can to solve client problems before resorting to no-show fees. Even after someone has missed several appointments, there are other options to consider.
You may require clients to pay in advance for their service. The client must then be at the salon on time or forfeit the money. If this method isn’t effective, Perron suggests sending the client to another salon. Though this may seem like you’re robbing yourself of a client and her money, you’ve already lost a lot of money from this client’s cancellations and no-shows.
Many salons don’t charge fees even to habitual no-show clients. Fitzmorris, who has about three to four cancellations with notice and one no-show per week, finds the penalty practice offensive. “We have an elite clientele and we wouldn’t feel comfortable charging fees.”
Are fees an effective deterrent? Sutton says that charging people doesn’t work. “You can lose the client completely,” she says. “I simply tell everyone that if they don’t call and cancel their appointments and they are a no-show three times, I won’t do their nails anymore.”
ADDING A RECEPTIONIST
“Now is a good time to try a receptionist if the money has been holding you back,” says Taricco. ‘There are probably a lot of good ones out there. I would never not have a receptionist again. Not only do they help your salon’s organization, they help keep your technicians booked, and they can increase your retail sales too. Finally, they enhance the reputation of your salon.”
Even if the salon owner has a system in place for scheduling clients, reminding them of appointments, and following up on missed sessions, a receptionist can free everyone up for some other duties and more clients.