You’ve decided to try a new stylist, but before you make the commitment, you call to set up a 15-minute consultation to interview him. You want to make sure you’re both on the same page about your color, your cut, the cost, the amount of maintenance, and a dozen other questions you have. Those 15 minutes determine if you book an appointment or thank the stylist for his time and call someone else. You’ll make a judgment about his knowledge, his personality, maybe even his skills. If he wins you over in the consultation, but forgets or ignores your preferences while he cuts and colors your hair, you’ll likely leave the salon never to return. And you’ll tell your friends.

Conversely, let’s imagine the stylist took those 15-minutes to listen to you, and then explained all the legitimate reasons your hair can’t “look like the picture.” However, he repeated back to you what you want: a maintenancefree style that looks breezy and natural. Then he offered an alternative style and a few products that would allow you to achieve a similar look. You’ll likely leave the salon with a scheduled appointment. And you’ll tell your friends.

The truth is, a stylist (or a nail tech) can be wildly talented and educated, but if she doesn’t make a connection during the consultation, the client won’t return. If you don’t take the time to listen to what a client wants and educate her about which products and services will best help her achieve her goals, she’s likely to walk away as disillusioned with you as you would have been in the story of the imaginary stylist.

Everyone has a story, and one of your responsibilities as a nail tech is to listen to your client’s story to determine how to give her the best experience possible. The client consultation provides the perfect medium to do this. When done well, a consultation feels natural, organic, even spontaneous. The information you collect allows you to better understand your client’s health issues, how she uses her hands, when she will want to come in for appointments, and why she chose you and your salon. The consultation “builds your wealth, knowledge, integrity, trust and honesty,” says Sam Villa, stylist and Redken educator.

A nail tech for 13 years and spa director at Salon Art-Tiff in Ephrata, Pa., Gina Burkholder still gives clients a consultation at every appointment. “I treat new clients differently than repeat clients,” she says, “but at each appointment I check in to see if I am meeting their expectations.” The consultation is an exercise in listening. Here you establish yourself as a professional who not only hears, but also understands. The consultation is not the time to talk personally about yourself. “Effective communication is 80% listening,” says Villa. If your client mentions she plays tennis, for example, launch into a follow-up response about the length of her nails, not an anecdote about your own love of the sport. Just as effective communication is 80% listening and 20% talking, so an effective consultation will be 80% professional and only 20% personal. The conversation is likely to last only three to fi ve minutes, so keep it focused.

Whether asked on an intake form or informally at the desk, the questions you ask help you determine which service is best for your client. Is the client in for a special occasion? Does she intend to continue maintenance? If so, how often would she like to return to the salon? Does she want enhancements, gel-polish, or a traditional manicure? Why? Is she on any medication? Does she have any health conditions? Is she in a lot of water? How active is she? Does she have kids and pets? What length is best? What shape? “Sometimes, a client’s wish doesn’t correspond to the lifestyle,” says Burkholder. Other times, clients use terms differently than techs would. For example, a client might say she wants a gel overlay, but she really means she wants gel-polish. Ask questions, listen, and educate.

Next page: Foot facts and handling expectations



Consults with pedicure clients would include questions about footwear, and health issues such as cancer, diabetes, or high blood pressure. Is the client pregnant? A tech may need to ask further questions about dry heels, calluses, pincer nails, ingrown nails, or even fungus. Gather as much information as you can about a client’s history and condition and document all the information. “We have a way to tell the front desk to add notes to a client’s file,” says Burkholder. “This way, the notes show up on the work slip at the client’s next appointment.”

“When a new client comes in, I have a consultation while I’m doing the pedicure,” says Lourdes Castillo, owner of Lourdes Nail Studio in Sarasota, Fla. “I look over the feet and begin to ask questions to decide what the client needs.” Castillo has taken classes in podology, so she uses the consultation time to talk about any conditions she sees, and also to educate her on which products she needs for at-home care. If she learns the client is diabetic, she opts for a special fi ling machine that cleans and shortens the nails and will not cut the skin.


Once you learn about the client’s health, lifestyle, and hopes for her nails, take the time to educate. “The consultation is a good time to let clients know what to expect and when to expect it,” says Burkholder. For example, explains Burkholder, a client may come in and want acrylics removed, and she wants perfect nails after the removal. She says she will acknowledge the limitation in being able to achieve that, but suggest an alternative. This could be gel-polish, or it could be a natural nail treatment the client would purchase for home care. During the service, Burkholder educates clients on the purpose and benefits of the products she is using. She revisits the conversation she had during the consultation. While applying strengthener, for example, she may say, “You told me your nails are weak, so I’ve chosen this strengthener.” She then teaches the client the importance of applying it every day and starting fresh at the end of the week. “I also have to tell clients to use the whole bottle,” says Burkholder. “Otherwise, they’ll use it once or twice and not see a difference and conclude it doesn’t work.” Gather information at the consultation and use the service time to educate and manage expectations.

Castillo agrees. “I was talking with a new client who said she wanted gel-polish on her toenails and regular polish on her fingers.” After asking a few more questions, Castillo convinced the client she wanted the reverse. “Sometimes I hear a client tell me what she wants, and I say, ‘No, that’s not what you want.’” laughs Castillo. “They really appreciate it when I suggest something that would be better for them.” Castillo uses the example of a nail biter coming in and wanting long acrylic nails. “I explain to her the nails will fall off, and she won’t be happy. She won’t be happy about the nails coming off, and she really won’t be happy when I charge her to put them back on!” Instead, she will apply short
enhancements and let them grow into the long nails the client wants.

Castillo and Burkholder have the experience and skill to conduct consultations as part of the first steps of a service. For this reason, they don’t schedule extra time with new clients. However, new techs would likely benefi t from cushioning the appointments of new clients with a few extra minutes. First, so they can listen fully and write down answers where appropriate. Second, new clients could take a little more time since they will require brief moments of consultation a number of times during the appointment. Burkholder says for new clients she will shape one nail, then stop and show the client. “I tell her to look at the length and the shape and let me know if that’s what she likes,” she explains. The learning curve of the new client could make the appointment last longer.

You’ve gathered the information, you’ve listened to your client, and you’ve educated her on products while you were performing her service. Don’t miss this crucial step to establish yourself as a knowledgeable professional: Pull retail items off the shelf and recommend steps for at-home maintenance. “We use baskets at our salon,” says Burkholder. “Any retail item we think a client should use at home, we gather together and place in the basket.”

Find out if your clients have any relevant medical conditions or allergies before providing services.

Find out if your clients have any relevant medical conditions or allergies before providing services.

Burkholder will say something such as, “While you were here, we talked about XYZ Products. I’ve put them up at the front desk for you.” And leave it at that. What do you do with all the information you’ve gathered, including which product recommendations she refused? As a stand-alone tech, you may be able to keep things organized on your computer or tablet. You could even create hard copy fi les on 4” x 6” client cards that contain all the information you need. In a larger salon, it’s likely you’re a step removed from the process and all the information is added into the computer by the front desk staff. If this is the case, make sure you have a way to add notes to the fi le, as Burkholder does. Ultimately, your client will expect you to remember the little ways you personalize her nails. 

The consultation is a deciding point in your relationship with your client. Use that time to set yourself apart. You’re not just a pleasant conversationalist and talented nail artist. You’re an educated professional who can discover the goals of the client, and you’re in a position to help her meet her goals as you keep her hands and feet beautiful and healthy. Once you’ve established yourself as an empathic listener and a nail expert, you’ll earn her trust and loyalty.

Download a sample client consultation form here.

For reprint and licensing requests for this article, Click here.

Read more about