In the course of doing business, nail salon owners must concern themselves with finding new clients if they want to keep their salons open. But those who concentrate solely on adding new clients may be missing out on a lucrative segment of the population — former clients who have not frequented the salon in a while.

“The old customer is 10 times more valuable than the new customer,” says Jeffrey Gitomer, author of Customer Satisfaction is Worthless, Customer Loyalty is Priceless. “You’ve already spent the money to find them. You’ve already done all of the hard work.”

There are various benefits to focusing on former clients. Often they are easier to win over than new clients. After all, they are already familiar with your services so you don’t have to educate them about what you do. Former clients are also easier to find because you already know who they are. Rather than targeting your marketing efforts to someone who you hope would be interested in taking care of their hands and nails, you’d be tailoring your message to someone who you know already has an interest in nail care.

Clients drop off for a variety of reasons. Some run into financial problems so they can no longer afford your services. Others have started frequenting another salon. Others might have been dissatisfied with a service they received in your salon.

Before you can determine whether it makes sense to expend effort trying to get a client back, you’ve got to know why they left in the first place. A customer who decides not to return is not a problem, but rather a symptom, says Gitomer. “Your job is to find out what the problem is. Maybe it was because somebody was rude to them, maybe it’s because they felt they should have paid less. You have to take the time to call them because if you don’t you’ll never know and you’ll live under a false impression until eventually your business is dead.”

If a client left because of reasons that had nothing to do with you, your only loss is that client. However, if that client left because of something that happened in your salon, then you may not only be losing her, but you may also be losing others as well since she can easily turn many potential clients away from your services by talking negatively about your shop.

Re-Connecting With the Client

For Erika Abrams, a nail technician at Frank Prine Salon in Boca Raton, Fla., the key to luring clients back is solving their problems.

When asked why they were leaving, “People have given me the answer that they couldn’t get an appointment that was good for them,” says Abrams. “Maybe they were talking to the wrong person. I’ve tried to work out something to accommodate them to try to get them to stay.”

Another reason clients might leave is because they’re not happy with the person who is doing their nails. “You might want to try to find somebody else in the salon that they might be happy with to keep them from leaving,” Abrams adds.

If you collect the mailing addresses of your clients, you can send surveys to those who have not been in the salon in awhile, asking them where they’ve been. With the answers to those surveys, you can approach those clients to try to lure them back.

Sometimes reclaiming a lost client is simply a matter of reminding her that she hasn’t been in lately. People’s lives sometimes become very complicated and a client might not have had the time to think about making a nail appointment. A postcard that says “We miss seeing you,” might be all a client needs to remind her to pick up the phone and make an appointment.

Along the same lines, you can use a variety of excuses to make contact with a client to remind her about your services. If your salon moves, use the occasion to send former clients postcards inviting them to check out the new location. If your salon starts to offer additional services, again, contact former clients to let them know of the changes and invite them to try the new services out. The idea behind such communications is to let clients know that you’re still trying to improve your salon and you still value them enough to keep them informed.

Another way to get back into a former client’s good graces is to use holidays to your advantage. By sending holiday cards to clients, you’re once again putting your salon in the forefront of their minds and you’re spreading holiday cheer at a time of year when people are often open to reconnecting with others. One beneficial piece of knowledge to have about clients is their birthdays. If you have that information stored, you can send a birthday card to clients who have not been in the salon recently. The client will likely be grateful that you remembered the birthday and might be interested in pampering herself on her special day.

While some nail technicians might think a client who moves away is a lost customer, that’s not always the case. At AP Model Nail in New York, N.Y., nail technicians try to keep in touch with regular clients even after they’ve moved away by dropping a card in the mail every now and then. The reason for the extra effort is simple, says Haesok Kwak, a nail technician there. Clients who move away often still have ties to an area long after they’ve left and keeping in touch has paid off. “Whenever they come to this area they always love to come back,” Kwak says. Even if a client who has moved never comes back, she can still recommend your services to the friends she’s left behind.

Changing Clients’ Minds

Things get a little trickier when a client is unhappy with the experience she had in your salon. “If someone is just not happy because of price or they’re not happy with the experience, there’s not really much you can do to change that,” says Abrams. Unless you’re willing to lower your prices, you’d do better to expend your energy marketing for new clients. However, even if someone had a bad experience, you can ask the client to give your salon another chance.

Sometimes all a client needs is an apology for her to give your salon another chance. If you agree that the service the client received was not up to par or the client was not satisfied with her nails, you can tell her you’re sorry she was not satisfied and offer to do the job again for free. Of course this option should be used primarily for clients who have already shown their loyalty. If it’s a client who has only been in your shop once, don’t offer free services since that client might not have had the intention of coming back a second time in the first place.

Incentives can often be used to get former clients to give your salon another chance. While a price cut is an option, Gitomer doesn’t recommend it because it sets up client expectations. “I wouldn’t say ‘you can come back in for $20’ if my fee was $25 because then they’re expecting $20 every time,” he says. What he does suggest is possibly offering clients a free bottle of nail polish or some other type of value-added gift or service. Whatever incentive is offered, the goal is to get clients in so you can show them that the bad experience was not the norm.

Of course there are some clients who you might decide aren’t worth the trouble, says Gitomer. For example, a client who makes too much of a commotion whenever she is in the salon, or one who repeatedly breaks appointments with little or no notice might be doing you a favor by staying away.

When to Hold ’em, When to Fold ’em

Of course, not every salon technician will agree that it makes sense to court former clients.

“I’m as busy as I want to be,” says C.D. Dashiell, a nail technician with the Associates at Patricks, a salon in Bradenton, Fla. “It’s part of the nature of the business that if one drops off, another one comes in the door.”

Another reason Dashiell doesn’t run specials to try to entice former clients back is because she’s found that specials tend to attract people who are more interested in looking for a bargain than in developing a long-term relationship with one particular salon.

“We’re a community that has so many nail techs that it’s virtually futile to spend your money to try to draw people in,” Dashiell says. “What we find we get when we run specials are the people who hop from salon to salon to salon — not the ones who stay long term.”

How much effort a nail technician should spend trying to reclaim lost clients is a call that’s up to the individual. But by incorporating ways to go after old clients while continuing to win over new ones, you can make sure your salon maintains a healthy client base, which in turn keeps your business in a good position for years to come.

However, it doesn’t matter how much energy and effort a nail technician expends luring back clients if he or she doesn’t offer good service to back it up.

A client “will drive 100 miles to get their nails done the right way. If the quality is there, the client will return,” says Gitomer.

Tamara E. Holmes is a freelance writer based in Largo, Md.

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