Most nail technicians spend loads of time, effort, and money to bring the best nail care services possible to their clients, yet many still have unfilled appointment slots. In order to “win the game” you must sell your time efficiently to clients who want what you have to sell. Use these easy tips to turn each new customer into a committed standing client.

The Phone-In: When a new customer calls, take your time. Remember it’s a possible $800 plus per year call. Many nail techs just quote “A fill is $25, do ya want to book one?” Try explaining in a cheerful, excited, intelligent way about the service the caller is interested in. The longer you keep her on the phone, the more likely she is to book an appointment. Repeat the agreed date and time and add: “If this time should become inconvenient for you, please do me the courtesy of 24 hours’ notice so I have the opportunity to rebook the slot.”

Confirm It: You must confirm the first-time appointment and any other you even suspect might need a reminder. Try keeping a monthly total of lost income from late cancellations and no-shows. You’ll be surprised at the numbers. (It could total a car payment per month.) Your goal should be zero.

The Drop-By: Hopefully you’ll be able to answer questions without disrupting your current client. The visitor will be impressed with what you are doing — and most of the time your sitting client will jump in with an unpaid testimonial that will seal the deal. After she’s booked, be sure to hand her your service fee and information card or brochure along with her appointment card.

Be Ready: Before your new customer arrives, sit in your client chair. How would your table look to you if you were the new customer? Are the table, chair, and floor clean and dust-free? A can of air and a Swiffer go a long way; so does being on time! While you’re at it, how do your nails look? How comfortable would you be getting your hair done by a stylist with fried hair? Your road to creating maximum confidence quickly with a new customer is so much easier if your own nails look great.

Explain It: Sure, everybody likes to talk about “Oprah” and “Desperate Housewives,” but new customers like to know what you are applying and why. It’s a great way to put your special spin on the service. When I explain the gel application process to a new customer, it all seems new to her even if she has had gel nails in the past. Add new products and techniques to your arsenal and shine with your newfound product knowledge. Try adding colored gel polish, for example.

Can the Cell: We’ve all become accustomed to cell phones as a part of lives, but no one — new client or old — likes to be forced to be a part of your personal conversations. Your upscale service should include voicemail so you can return messages between clients. It’s not great for clients to fumble with a phone either, but it’s their hour so it isn’t a two-way street. If a coworker or receptionist must interrupt you, please request they acknowledge the sitting client before speaking to you.

Follow It Up: Always do some kind of follow-up on that new customer approximately one week after the first appointment. It is especially effective to take before and after photos of her new nails and send them in a thank-you card with a reminder of her first standing appointment. Or a phone call will do to check up on her satisfaction with the service and to deliver an appointment reminder.

Offer a Handout: After the actual service is completed, the appointment isn’t over. Leave yourself enough time to turn this first-time customer into a loyal standing client. If you are new to a gym, golf club, etc., you are given information about the establishment’s policies and procedures. We need to do that as well. It will prevent misunderstandings that can result in lost business. (For example, spell out your no-show policy including charges they will incur.)

It’s Time to Commit

Now that this first-time customer is aware of your business policies, it’s time to ask for that commitment to a standing appointment. Don’t wait, make it happen on the first visit! Explain that in order to guarantee this new customer a convenient appointment time, she needs to have a standing appointment of her own. Your tone should imply you are so busy and in such demand that she could end up on the wait list if she doesn’t commit right away. Everybody loves to be with the busiest tech, don’t they?

Develop a “Master Standing List” to help quickly find a permanent slot for a new standing client. Try to encourage your new customer to come every two weeks. Granted, some don’t really need to come that often, but most look forward to their time with you on a regular 14-day rotation. Keep Week 1 and Week 2 Master Lists. You can quickly offer one of your few open slots. What about “three-weekers?” Just mark out the opposite week appointment time and use that for new customers, floaters, and pedicures. Your goal, however, should be a standing client in every slot to make the most money. Always use a pencil so you can add and (hopefully not) subtract clients from your master lists.

These standing lists make it easy to run your numbers. It only takes minutes to add up all your available slots and multiply them by your fill-in or hourly fee. Then figure 80% and 50% totals as well. Now you are aware of your financial bottom line and how important it is to have each slot spoken for. When it’s time to update your appointment book, just use these standing lists to fill in a complete week’s standings at a time, instead of writing in a single client’s name over and over again. If you’ve ever accidentally skipped a page and had to go back and erase several months’ worth of incorrect appointments, you’ll love this system. Those of you who are booking on PDAs now (hooray for you) can re-create these sheets in your memo section.

This whole endeavor should take approximately five minutes, but it’s as important, in the long run, as the entire nail service when it comes to filling appointment slots and loading your pockets with cash. Having a planned procedure makes this part flow just like a product application technique, so put yours in place today.

The Ingredients of an Effective Handout

Design a handout that contains all the information a new client should know. Include the following:

Your Fees: Keep it simple. Charge the same price for full sets and fill-ins of whatever types of artificial nail services you offer (acrylic, gels etc.). You don’t want a client choosing a service based on price rather than what’s right for her. Some of your less used offerings can be included in the salon’s regular price list, but keep these basic and easy to remember. Play up anything that will seem like an added value to the customer, like “Infrequent repairs are free as time permits.”

Your Days and Hours: It’s important for customers to know when you are and are not available. It keeps you from having to use the “No, I’m not here that day” phrase too many times. Since your customer is probably — like most of us — a busy, over-scheduled person, she needs help remembering when you are available. Listing your hours is also helpful when the client wants to speak to you personally.

Your Cancellation Policy: Politely, but firmly, point out your cancellation policy in bold. How many times do no-shows give you the “But I didn’t know...” retort when you announce the fee for the missed appointment? Make sure both first-timers and standing clients know your policy before the worst happens.

How to Pay: Whether you’re an employee or a booth renter, the client needs to know what types of payment you accept. If a customer expects to use a credit card and you only accept cash or checks, you have an embarrassing problem. Make sure they know what forms of payment you accept upfront.

Kid Policy: This is a biggie. If you have a standing policy against children in your nail department, and a customer shows up with a “small human” in tow, you will have to re-book them. In the process you’ll lose that appointment income and may alienate the customer beyond repair. If you are set up for small visitors, that’s fine as well; just let your customers know what your policy is before it becomes a problem.

Mission Statement and Personal Information: Business women respond especially well to mission statements since they are commonplace in the business world. Limited personal information, accomplishments, and a photo help the new customer get to know you better and to build that bridge from new customer to committed client quickly.

Paula Gilmore is a columnist with 30 years experience in the nail care industry. She is a nail tech based in Washoe Valley, Nev., and a business advisor for Young Nails.

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