When Inquiring Minds Want to Know: Doing Client Surveys

bySuzette Hill | May 1, 1999

While having her three LaBelle Day Spas named the best source for both nail and skin care services by readers of the Palo Alto Weekly for the fifth straight year is a point of pride for owner Bella Schneider, she’s not about to rest on her laurels. This spa owner and skin care manufacturer works hard to stay one step ahead of her clients’ wants and needs.

“My goal is always to be on the cutting edge,” she explains. Schneider relies heavily on client feedback obtained from the customer-satisfaction surveys that all clients receive with each appointment, as well as the annual planning survey she conducts in-salon.

“My surveys have very specific goals,” Schneider explains. “They’re not simply geared to finding out how well we’re doing because we already have the answer to that – we’re booked three months in advance for weekends. My surveys are developed to promote certain services and get feedback on them from clients, or to find out if clients have spotted new services elsewhere that they want me to add.”

While most salon owners and nail technicians probably have a pretty good grasp of their clients’ overall satisfaction level with their salon, a periodic client survey is still a great way of gauging how well your business is responding to your clientele’s wants and needs.

Left or Right?

Client surveys are an invaluable tool for salon owners to keep their finger on the clients’ pulse, so to speak, says George Franke, an associate professor of management and management and marketing at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa.

“When you come to an intersection, do you want to turn left or right?” Franke asks, adding that marketing research reduces the uncertainty of decision-making by providing a marketing roadmap of sorts.

“The ability to have your clients rate you becomes a necessary stands of accountability and measurability if you strive for consistent improvements for your salon business,” adds Larry Oskin, president of Marketing Solutions (Fairfax, Va.), a marketing, advertising, PR, and consulting agency. “To improve the quality of your customer service, you must also measure the gap between your clients’ true needs and wants versus what you and your staff perceive.”

Schneider, for example, has added a slew of new nail services such as a smooth and Soothe Pedicure, Polynesian Pedicure, and Fruit and Cream Manicure based on client survey results. And Rachel Gower, co-owner of the two Houston-based The Upper Hand salons, says she and her partner have made both minor and major adjustments to their salons based on client feedback from surveys. “When the company was in the developmental states, one of the most critical factors to each element of the salon was that all decisions must be based on what the customer would perceived and desire,” she explains. Initially they obtained client feedback through focus groups, but after the salons opened they began surveying clients.

“We learned even the brands of polish we needed. And we learned that we needed to redesign certain features of our second location, such as the seating and reception areas, and to expand our offerings to include facial services, waxing, and massage.”

“The most important answers we get are to open-ended requests for clients’ suggestions,” says Bob Zupko, owner of the Robert Andrew DaySpa Saon in Gambrills, Md. “Surveys help us ensure we have implemented each new positive customer service enhancement. We also use the survey to update our computer databases, mailing lists, and telephone lists.” 

A Simple Yes or No May Do

The first task in creating a customer survey is to identify your own business goals and objectives, and then plan a customer survey that measures how well you’re reaching those goals. “You can open yourself up for a lot if you just put yourself out there for clients to shoot at, but if you start with a targeted idea, you can learn a lot more,” Schneider notes.


“First, know your strategic goals,” Oskin advises. “Let’s say a salon owner’s goals are to improve retail sales by 10%, increase nail case service by 20%, and grow nail art by 10%.” Then you would create a survey that asks clients what they want and need in these areas as well as how you can improve in addressing them. According to Oskin, a successful survey includes the following:

  • Questions that rate first impressions and all the regularly used salon experiences.
  • Questions that rate all the rarely used or new services
  • A simple format that uses a numerical rating or yes/no system
  • Areas for open-ended essay comments and suggestions
  • A comprehensive design that is professionally typeset and printed on high-equality paper and incorporates the salon logo and graphics or photos
  • A token product or service reward for survey participation that doubles as a promotion
  • A self-addressed, postage-paid mail format

Oskin recommends developing questions with your staff, who can not only help formulate the questions, but whose participation will ensure the ultimate success of implementing customer-suggested changes. “Once you determine the areas you want to research, divide the questions into those areas,” he continues. “For example, you may want to ask about the quality of your staff, the front desk service, the products, or just total customer service on such issues as cleanliness. One of the important things to learning is how you are attracting customers and then how you’re getting them back the second time.

“Do some questions as yes and no and some as rankings. You could, for example, provide 10 reasons for why a client visits the salon and ask clients to rank each reason in order of importance to them. Another question would be to rank your staff on the critical attributes such as technical skill and customer service. That way you’re doing qualititative research. As for essay question, I recommend very limited use. I would ask a maximum of four essay questions and give no more than three lines each for the response.”

When Michelle Yaksich and Terri Decort, owners of Nail Galleria, began planning their salon relocation in the summer of 1997, they decided to survey their clients about whether they’d continue patronizing the salon after the move and what new services they’d like, as well as any other ideas they had. “We geared the survey toward finding out what things we were overlooking for the new salon,” Yaksich remembers. “Myself, Terri, and the salon coordinator brainstormed questions, and then we got together with our employees to get their ideas. We did a lot of yes/no questions with blanks for explanations and any other ideas they had.”

Where should you look for inspiration on what questions to ask?” You can hire a marketing firm, but I recommend doing your own research,” Oskin says. “Visit local resorts, hotels, and restaurants and ask for their customer surveys. Use those to get ideas.”

Elaine Shapiro, owner of Elan Salon & Day Spa in Cranston, R.I., says she got most of the ideas for the survey she’s been using for the past eight years from a magazine. “I aw someone else’s survey in an article, took bits and pieces of it and added questions on things I was interested in and then went from there,” she says. In her last survey, clients indicated they wanted more body services, so she says she’s added a few more body wraps and a Lavender Body Polish, all of which have been well-received.

One Hand Feeds the Other                                

While some salons choose to mail surveys to their clients, Oskin recommends against this approach because of the expense, as well as he client’s tendency to view it as junk mail. Instead, he recommends handing a survey to clients as they check out from the salon and including a postage-paid envelope so that they are more likely to return it. “The normal response to direct mail is 2%-5%; handing it out gets a 5%-10% response,” he notes. “If you hand it out at your station, you could get as much as 80% response, but you might not get honest responses.” After all, what client is going to say she didn’t like the service or the technician’s attitude, for example, when the technician is watching her fill it out?

Still Gower says The Upper Hand gets a 60% response by doing just this, and that technicians are trained to move away from the client immediately after handing them the survey so that there is no pressure on the client. Shapiro also distributes her survey in-salon, explaining clients receive them as they check out and are guaranteed anonymity because surveys are collected in a sealed box near the door. Like Gower, she claims a 60% response rate.

Yaksich and DeCort used to mail their surveys to clients as part of their salon newsletter, but realized that clients were usually taking a new newsletter in the salon to clip a coupon or fill out a survey, so they decided to hand them out in the salon and through other local businesses. “We found we’re enjoying a huge savings from not mailing them, and we get a good response to our specials by handing clients a newsletter as they walk in,” Yaksich says.

One way all three salons boost their client response rate to questionnaires is through promotional incentives. For example, Nail Galleria clients receive a card for a free paraffin dip with any service, while Elan clients who respond are entered in a drawing for a free service or package of services.


“You can double your survey into a promotion by offering clients a $5 gift certificate off a $25 retail purchase, or a discount on a service if they include their name, address, and phone number on the survey,” Oskin says. “Maybe the headline says, ‘Share Your Feedback and Receive a Special Gift’, and the body copy thanks the client for visiting and explains you’re surveying your clients to make sure you’re offering the best products and services at all times.” For useable results, Oskin says you should receive a response rate of at least 10% or 100 surveys, whichever is greater.

Use What You Get

Too often, salon owners who survey customers drop the ball after receiving the surveys by just glancing through the responses. If you format your questions correctly, tallying up the responses should be a quick exercise that yields some immediate useful information. With open-ended questions, on the other hand, the results may be harder to tally, but the individual comments may be quite valuable when it comes to client perceptions or suggestions.

Also, share the results with your staff, especially when it’s positive. “When clients compliment a technician, I make sure she is aware someone said something nice because when you give people positive input in puts a simple on their face,” Shapiro notes.

Gower agrees and takes it one step further. “The general manager at each location is responsible for viewing the completed surveys on a daily basis,” she explains. “All surveys are then posted in the employee lounge for all to see. This allows each team member to be recognized by her colleagues. It also applies just enough peer pressure to encourage each team member to provide the absolute best service they possibly can.”

While the results of a survey can tell you it’s time to extend your hours or your service menu, for example, don’t overact to customer comments. For example if 10 respondents of 100 ask a new service like tanning, that’s just 10%. While that may be enough to do a second survey focused solely on tanning, it is probably not enough on which to base investing several thousand dollars in space and equipment for the service.

“When we did our survey we got a huge call for hair, massage, and facial services,” Yaksich remembers. In the expansion they incorporated hair and massage services, both of which took off, but when Yaksich and DeCort later examined the numbers, they discovered only two of their regular clients had booked massages. All of the rest of the appointments came from guests of the hotel where they had moved their business. “Next time I would get more specific with the questions because we would have fallen on our face with that service if we weren’t in a hotel.”

Which raises yet another point about client surveys: You can’t believe everything clients tell you. Just as you do in everyday conversation with your clients, you must listen, evaluate, and respond appropriately, which sometimes means doing no more than simple listening. 


Through a Client’s Eyes

By Rachel Gower

While client surveys can be quite valuable, you can’t always assume you get clients’ honest, uncensored feedback. For this reason, The Upper Hand has recently launched a mystery shopper program.

Each category of services (manicure, pedicure, massage, facial) has a Mystery Shopper form with questions appropriate to the category. The questions also include appointment-making services, check-in/out services retail knowledge and recommendations, and overall salon atmosphere.

Each month a different customer from each salon is selected at random to participate in the program. Customers love this opportunity because not only do they become involved in the salon’s improvement, but they are reimbursed for services rendered.

The selected customers simply make an appointment for the previously decided upon service at a time of their choosing. This makes the test as real as possible. The customer’s only “homework” after the service is to complete the form and return it to the project managers.

The completed forms are analyzed by the entire management team. The program is not intended to be a “watchdog” disciplinary effort. Rather, it is designed to give management important feedback and alert them to areas that need improvement.


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