As an overworked and underpaid salon owner I understand the challenges of getting clients to pre-book their appointments. Each employee feels more like a liability than an asset when I anxiously look at the glaringly empty white patches in our appointment book for the upcoming week. I’m tired of the anxiety I face waiting for the phone to ring, or worse, the chaos of those last-minute calls I can’t properly accommodate because I couldn’t pre-plan my scheduling.

Something has got to change, and I know it starts with me. I have learned that I am my own worst enemy. I give clients excuses like, “Next week is still pretty open so you have time to call later.” Even worse, sometimes I’m too afraid to say anything at all. But where do I begin? How do I retrain hundreds of clients who have been making appointments at the last minute since the beginning?

I knew it was time to get help. I interviewed salons across North America that have had found success in overcoming the dreaded, “I have to check my calendar.” From practicing dialog to offering incentives, here are some tricks I learned.

Change Your Mindset Christie Citsay, spa director at Vito Mazza Salon & Day Spa in Woodbridge, N.J., says her staff of six nail techs has increased pre-booking from 15%-20% to 25%-30% in the past six months by changing their mindset about what customer service is. “In the past a client would come and the tech would give her a great service, but she got stuck being the client’s friend and amateur psychiatrist,” says Citsay. “We have to come back to being the client’s professional provider first by asking clients things like, ‘What is your goal?’ ‘What would you like to accomplish with this visits?’ or ‘What are some concerns with your nails?’ Once the client opens up and tells us what her goal is, we are able to come back with a solution.

“We’re living in a goal-oriented society,” says Citsay, and the key to getting clients to pre-book is to educate them on why pre-booking regular services is going to help them reach their goals.” Once the client understands the suggested regime, she knows why she needs to come back and when to come back. Then it’s easy to encourage pre-booking. Larry Oskin, president of Marketing Solutions in Fairfax, Va., agrees that proper client consultations are important for ensuring future appointments. “Your dialog will set the pace for how often your client should visit,” he says. “You should offer a service plan for the client, and then present an opportunity to pre-schedule right then.”

Adriane Johnson of Danato Salon & Spa in Toronto, Canada, says that as nail professionals, we are there to meet all of the client’s needs, which includes educating them on what they need to do to maintain their results (like getting a pedicure monthly to maintain good feet). “We don’t really talk about the weather,” says Johnson. “If you have a client in your chair for 15 minutes, you need to utilize that 15 minutes to the best of your ability. Listen to what she needs.” Once you can get a client hooked into a service and you’ve convinced her why she needs the service, she says, it’s easier to get her to pre-book.

Get Clients Excited Visual Changes Salon and Spa in Ellicott City, Md., uses a pre-booking contest to motivate their clients to pre-book. Every time a client books her next appointment before leaving the salon, her name is entered into a monthly drawing to win a $100 credit to the salon. “The more often you come in, the more chances you have,” says owner and general manager Sarah McGee. “It’s fun to see who wins every month,” and it’s been successful. Before implementing its pre-booking program, the salon saw only 35% of its clients pre-booking before leaving the salon. Now, the salon has seen a huge jump to 50% pre-booking in only five months and has set its sights on 75% pre-booked in the next few months. “It just takes a system that everyone knows,” says McGee. They market their contest to their guests in many ways: signage throughout the salon as well as on their website, each staff member makes sure to explain to the guest why it is necessary to pre-book, the front desk staff always makes the offer when the client signs out, and it is explained in the new client letter to help reinforce the message.

Vito Mazza also uses a contest to motivate clients to pre-book. Citsay says that when clients leave the salon after a great service, they are immediately hit with reality and are bombarded with the million and one things they need to do. Suddenly scheduling something for themselves gets pushed down to the bottom of the list. That’s why, she says, it is so important clients reschedule their appointments before they leave the salon, and the contest is just a little extra motivation. At Vita Mazza anyone who rebooks her service before she leaves is entered into a $50 monthly drawing. They also run specials where the client can receive complimentary upgrades on her next service if she pre-schedules. “The majority of people want to win something,” she says, “They feel as if they are getting an added value to their service.”

Offer Encouragement McGee’s staff uses similar scripts to educate their clients on the need to pre-book. They worked as a team to come up with ways to approach a client about pre-booking and then practiced with role playing until they felt comfortable. “We change it up every so often, and we have a nice array of different ways to discuss it with the client,” says McGee. “Any time a new employee comes on board, she gives us new perspectives and wordings to work with.” She points out that even though they strategize as a team for successful wording, “everyone uses what works best for them and what produces the best results, but we all use the same key components.” Scripts have helped build the staff’s confidence and have worked well to increase pre-booking. McGee’s favorite script is: “Let’s review your future visits with us. Oh, you don’t have any? Well, we need to change that! What days and times work best for you?”

Oskin, of Marketing Solutions, gives some practical advice on how to use scripting. “Don’t ask for their next appointment; tell them when it will be,” he says. “Don’t ask questions that could solicit a yes or no response. Don’t say, ‘Would you like to book your next manicure?’ Instead, say ‘Let’s book your next appointment so I can save time for you. Would you like me to book your appointment for next week on Monday at 10 a.m. again?’”

Oskin also suggests exploring pre-booking rewards such as a program whereby clients can earn a free manicure with any eight to 10 that are pre-booked, a free gift for pre-booking a larger service combo, or offering a discount on future services when they are booked before the client leaves the salon. You can even use pre-booking rewards to cross-market other services.

The possibilities seem endless, but what’s most important is that you have a clear plan for promoting pre-booking.

The final trick is just to stick with it. McGee keeps her staff motivated with a team huddle every morning where they review yesterday’s percentage and encourage each other toward their current goal. “Just knowing those critical numbers every day has made a huge difference,” she says.

sidebar: Words that Work
“Did you know that you can save 20% on any future manicure by pre-booking that appointment before you leave today?”
“Would you like me to book your appointment for next week on Monday at 10 a.m. again... or next Tuesday at 10 a.m.? Right now I am open for your favorite time both days, but I don’t want you to miss out on getting the best option for you.”
“I noticed that you like this particular time slot on Fridays and I want to make sure that it’s reserved for you. May I go ahead and schedule you in for Fridays at 10 a.m. for the summer?”
“Susie’s manicure openings are starting to get filled up for next week. I would like to schedule you now before you go so that we can make sure you get in when you want.”
“We want you to know one of the awesome benefits of being a client is that you can pre-schedule your next appointment with us and we highly recommend it. To thank you for scheduling your next appointment ahead of time, after you set up your appointment you can enter our pre-book drawing. “

sidebar: When a Client Says, “I Have to Check My Calendar”
“How about we put something in now just to make sure you’ve got some time reserved for you. You can always call me and change it when you can get to your calendar. I don’t want you to miss out on getting in with Jane next week and it’s easier for us to move some things around than to try to get you in last minute.”
“Well let me just check our book for you and see what’s available for next week. I’ll write it on a card for you to save time when you get home and look at your calendar.”
“Sure. I live by my calendar too! Why don’t I check the book for you to find what appointment times are available for your fill with Jen and I will call you with that information tonight to save you some time? Is there a better time to call?”


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