Dear Jane,

I’m sure you’ve noticed by now the empty line in your book where my standing appointment once appeared. I’ve left you for another nail technician, one who greets me warmly and focuses on me throughout the appointment, refusing phone calls and other interruptions. She also promises to shorten my nails when I ask her to, instead of nodding in agreement and leaving them long like she thinks they should be. She never gossips about her other clients, so I know she’ll respect my privacy as well.

When I have a bad week and it shows on my nails, she’ll be understanding and not charge me extra. She knows, after all, I’m only human. Finally, no matter how close we become, she’ll always prepare for me as she would a guest in her home by cleaning her work area, setting out fresh towels, and disinfecting her implements.

She cares for me, and is not afraid to show it in all these little but important ways. I hope that someday, you can form this kind of long-lasting, rewarding relationship with another client.

Sincerely,  Your Former Client

OK, so this isn’t a real letter, but the reasons this fictitious client gave for finding a new nail technician are all too true. We talked to more than a dozen nail clients who’ve either switched nail technicians or quit professional nail care altogether because of poor customer service, substandard or painful technical skills and poor sanitation.

In talking to these clients about their salon expectations and experiences, each person sometimes had more than one reason for switching nail technicians – which most of them have done several times – but when all was said and done, we found they had three non-negotiable expectations of their nail technicians and salons. (Interestingly, price and ambiance, the specialties of discount and high-end salons respectively, ranked very low on their list of complaints.)

If you breach one of these unspoken promises, expect to hear from them, but remember, actions often speak louder than words and they may just disappear. So as you read, ask yourself: Could one of these former clients be talking about you?

Customer + Service = Satisfaction

One danger in developing personal relationships with clients lies in the expectation that they’ll understand when you’re running a few minutes behind because you squeezed a client in, or that you need to take a phone call or two during their appointment. After all, they’re friends, right?

Wrong. These “friends” are still paying clients, and when they perceive that they don’t have your full attention and respect, they feel slighted, or even worse, taken advantage of. While few clients would fail to forgive the occasional interruption or wait a few minutes, if you let your service level slip more than once or twice, chances are they’ll start noticing the nails of others, and ask where they got them done.

Just ask Dawn, 30. “I was at my last salon six years, and after about two years the customer service began deteriorating,” she remembers. Though subtle at first, by year five she was feeling rushed in and out, and she noticed the salon never really looked clean anymore. “Considering I was a paying customer, they just weren’t paying attention to me as they should be,” Dawn says, adding that she never got any satisfaction – or even a response – from telling her technician of dissatisfaction.

Gloria, 51, longs for the old days, having spent the past six years looking for someone who would make her feel as special and pampered as her first nail technician. “After I moved, the first new salon would not understand I didn’t want my cuticles cut,” she remembers. “The second used cheap polish that chipped the next day, but charged big prices. The next one tried to insist I have a thin layer of acrylics over my natural nails.”

Finally, she found a salon where the owner herself did Gloria’s nails, and together the two worked through her chipping problem. “She bought various products until we discovered on that works great on natural nails!” she exclaims. “Once again, I had beautiful nails that lasted one week between manicures and three weeks between pedicures.”

However, within a few months, Gloria began to feel taken for granted, as her technician became later and later for Gloria’s standing appointment because she was squeezing in repair appointments and walk-ins beforehand. “Then she would talk on the phone and book other appointments, or gossip with others in the salon, all while rushing through my service. At times, the water soak was so hot it was uncomfortable.”

Then there was Linda, 53, whose technician refused to remove her acrylics. Linda did it herself and then made an appointment for a manicure. When she got to the salon, she discovered her technician has switched her appointment to another tech. “After two years of doing my nails, I guess she decided she didn’t need my business anymore.”

For some clients, the reason can be even more single: “The service was boring. Here I was using valuable time (I’m a working mom with busy kids) to get my nails done, and the technician would talk to everyone in the shop except for me,” says Kathellen, 43. And Stacy, 20, says she quit her nail technician of almost a year because the tech couldn’t ever remember her name!

Sharpen Your Skills, Not Your Nippers

While your clients don’t have the technical training that you do, they do know getting their nails done should be a comfortable, pain-free experience. So when Victoria, 24, tried to explain to a technician trimming her cuticles that it hurt, she was confused when the nail technician said that what she was feeling was normal. Common sense, however, dictated otherwise when they started bleeding. As far as she’s concerned, her first manicure will be her last.

Likewise, Dawn says the final straw for her at her last salon was a technical problem as well. “I told the technician she was hurting the skin around my nails, but she just kept going,” she explains. “Then all of the sudden she said I had a hangnail when really she had cut me. I never went back after that.”

For Linda, her last nail technician kept nipping back the acrylic so far that it peeled up layers of her natural nail. Linda told her at each appointment that it hurt, arguing that if it was hurting it obviously wasn’t lifted that far back. “She would just smile and say she was sorry but that she didn’t want fungus to get under it,” Linda says.

Even when the customer isn’t right (although in this case she was), you should stop doing the step called into question, address that client’s concerns, and find a solution agreeable to both of you (unless there are legal or moral concerns, such as applying acrylic over an infected nail at the client’s insistence).

For other clients, the problems are much more subtle. For example, Leslie, 39, salon-hopped for several months, never quite understanding why she couldn’t settle in. Hindsight, however, is 20/20.

“I appreciate my current salon and technician because there is a room dedicated to pedicures, whereas the other had no privacy,” she remembers. “Also, the pedicure station is elevated above the technician. At other salons, I had to lift my feet up and it usually ended up hurting my legs.”

But her biggest reason for calling her new salon home? “I love to have my feet and legs rubbed, and my pedicurist spends a long time rubbing them with a combination of sea salts and peppermint oil,” Leslie continues. “No one before has ever spent that long on my feet. And her service is always consistent, so I know what to expect.”

Maria, 48, only wishes she could find the same. After leaving her first salon after the customer service had all but disappeared, she’s spent the past five years looking for a new salon with high-quality pedicures and fills. “I need someone with really good technical skills, who pays attention to when a nail needs to be taken off and replaced,” Maria says. She thinks that technicians too often fill a nail that really should be replaced, and then she’s the one who must live with the results.

Diana, 40, has switched nail technicians a few times over the past few years, searching for someone closer to home and who costs less. The first time she switched, she says the technician was too rough on her nails. “She used the drill for almost everything, and it was extremely painful,” she explains. “She also was very meticulous about how much of her product she used – she would tear all of her paper towels into fourths and use and re-use one per customer.”

And remember Stacy, whose first technician couldn’t remember her name? Her next technicians was much more attentive and greeted her by name, but Stacy says after the first fill, four of the nails broke in one week, which she says was four too many for her, considering she hadn’t done anything differently. Now, she’s at a third salon, where she says the customer service at her first visit wasn’t the greatest, but that, so far, the nails are.

Cleanliness Is Next to …

With all the attention salon sanitation and disinfection practices have gotten over the past few years, clients sometimes wonder if they’re the only ones who have taken notice. For example, when Kathellen moved from manicures to acrylics, she was excited at the prospect of long-lasting nail polish, but her first set, she says, had unnatural humps and looked “very tacky.”
So she switched to a new technician, who she says gave her great-looking nails, but in a manner that disgusted her.

“He would use his fingernails to push back my cuticles, which would crack because they were so dry,” she remembers. “Nor did he keep his utensils in any cleaning solution. I watched him finish one person and move on to the next without even changing them.”

Karen, 33, had the same complaint of her former salon, asking, “Aren’t the tools supposed to be soaking in that blue stuff? And when they just pull emery boards and clippers from a drawer, it makes me tense.” Incredibly, in the 15 years Karen has been getting her nails done, she claims never to have had a regular nail technician. “I leave a salon first and foremost because of cleanliness,” she asserts. “I will not get one of those disgusting nail infections, so if the tools aren’t soaking in something, I don’t go back.”

Sanitation extends far beyond the implements, however. As these clients not, they don’t expect the Taj Mahal, but they greatly appreciate tidy, fresh-smelling bathrooms, clean towels on the workstation that are free from dust and filings of a previous client, and grime-free walls and floors. Diana remembers a salon she visited where the technician stored her implements in “gross” plastic bags hung on the wall next to her station. “It was unsightly,” she says.

One Tech’s Loss Is Another Gain

Almost every nail client we asked gave a nail technician and salon several chances before moving on. Once they had left, however, they say there is almost nothing that would bring them back.

“I wouldn’t go back,” says Gloria of the salon owner who kept running behind and then answering the phone during her manicure. “We’ve all had ‘nail disasters’ that required a quick fix and I’ll accept that reason for a delay, but for her to try to squeeze a full manicure in at the expense of my appointment is not.” Ditto with her phone etiquette. “I know the phone is a necessity for technicians, but when phone abuse is allowed, I see no room for improvement.”

Likewise, Dawn says she would never return to her former salon, but she still has a few suggestions for the owner. “She should clean up her shop, sterilize things better, and hire more nail technicians so they don’t have to rush.”

She would offer the same advice to the owner of her current salon, which she says she’s also about to leave. “I like my nail technician and her skills, but the customer service is getting worse there,” she notes.

And Linda is quite happy where she is now. “At my new salon, I asked for short nails at the first appointment, explaining that I type all day. Two weeks later, she remembered to ask me if I wanted them shortened. I didn’t expect that.”

Karen, on the other hand, says there are salons she would consider returning to if they promised to quit pressuring her to upgrade or add-on to her basic manicure. “I was recently pressured into acrylic tips when all I wanted was a manicure,” she remembers. “When I said no to that, she became obsessed with giving me a pedicure. That’s a big turnoff.”

For the most part, though, these former clients would rather keep searching for the perfect nail technician, believing somewhere out there exists their “dream” salon where the people are friendly, the salon is clean, and the nails last between appointments. A place where there is no pain from over-zealous cuticle nipping and incorrectly used drills. And, too, a place where they’re always warmly welcomed, even if everyone doesn’t know their name.

Going the Distance for the Right Tech

For some women, their nails are so important that they’ll do whatever it takes to get the customer service and technical skills they want – we even spoke to one woman who flew from Indiana to California once a month to have her hair and nails done for more than two years before finding just the right salon in her new town. While clients who are willing to – and can afford to – go this far are few and far between, there are many clients who spend more time getting to the salon that they actually spend in it, but to them, it’s worth it. Here, Dianne Long explains why she drives 45 minutes each way to visit this year’s Salon of the Year winner Hair Spa for her nail services.

“I first read about Hair Spa in an article in a local newspaper. The article emphasized their dedication to providing a clean and healthy service. Hygiene was very important, and the article detailed how they achieved it with all the equipment and tools. That is what originally enticed me to go for a visit.”

The first time I visited was on a very stormy afternoon. When I walked in, there were candles lit all over the salon, and it was so peaceful. (I found out later that the storm had cut off their power and the candles were of necessity!) Salon owner Cathy Neben walked up and introduced herself to me and my 7-year-old daughter and took us on a tour without us even asking. She showed us everything and listened to what both of us had to say.

There are salons all over, and I know of several within 5-10 minutes of me that I could visit, but I choose not to for the following reasons:

Hair spa is clean. There is never any skimping on resources to provide a high-quality service, and Cathy is always on-premise to make sure everything is just right.

They treat my daughter with respect, kindness, and seriousness when she has her nails done.

Cathy knows her business and is always striving to improve. She treats her staff with respect and kindness.

Nail technician Sharon Jones does a beautiful job with my manicures and pedicures. She is always kind and careful to do her best, even at the end of a long day. She always tries her very best to fit me in according to my schedule. Even when she can’t, I know she has tried hard to do so. I like Sharon and her style.

I know I am getting the best and safest services possible.”

It’s Not Always About Money

While the industry questions how to compete with the low prices of discount salons, their disenchanted clients already have learned that these salons are by no means cheap. “The salon did not have a steady price range and would nickel and dime you to death,” says Gena. “If my nails had an especially rough two weeks they would charge me a dollar per nail to fix them, on top of the fill cost, and then on top of that they charged extra to paint my nails.”

“The fill price for short nails is posted as $10, but then when I asked for them to be shortened at my appointment, I was charged $3,” adds Linda, 52. Both have found new, mid-range salons where they pay a higher, all-inclusive fill price that costs them less than their “discount” nails did. “I am very happing with my new nail technician because she is very nice, she charges one price, and she is very cautious with my tender nails,” Gena says.


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