What sets one nail technician or salon apart from the rest? In a word, service—and not the technical kind. “I think the biggest difference between a full-service salon and a discount salon is the client consultation,” asserts Karol Singleton, a nail technician and office manager at Centre Salon & Day Spa in Clearwater, Fla. “That interaction between the client and the nail technician is invaluable, and you’ll gain her confidence immediately.”

“If you can solve a client’s problems, she’s yours for life,” agrees Erika Terzani, owner of Touch of Class in Fort Morgan, Colo. “She might go somewhere else and ask for a manicure or fill, and she’ll get it, but odds are the people won’t take the time to explain any problems she has with her nails or offer suggestions on how to care for them.”

These and other nail technicians emphatically agree that thorough and ongoing client consultations—which begin at the first appointment with a client history and profile and continue through the services and through the years—are what separate the professionals form the mere practitioners in today’s nail industry.

Value-Added Service

For some nail technicians, the ideal client consultation begins with a detailed client profile at the first appointment that is continuously updated at each appointment. Others prefer a more informal approach and record only the basic client information such as name, address, phone number, and birthday. All of them, however, say the information they get—and give—is as invaluable to their service as any product they may use.

“It’s not a one-size-fits-all service we’re performing,” says Rima Kitsko, owner of Spoiled Rotten in Indianapolis, Ind. “If you don’t know certain things about a client, you may not giver her the type of service that will work best.”

At Seattle, Wash.-based Gene Juarez Salons, in fact, nail department education director Linda Green says they’ve progressed from a consultative discussion at the beginning of each service to a consulting session that encompasses the entire service.

“We’re taking the nail department into a whole different area,” she explains, “one that is more synonymous with what happens in skin care. In that department, you go in and have a detailed consultation about what service you need, and they throughout that service they’re consulting with you and educating you.”

To Green, this progression makes the service much more valuable to the nail client. “For instance, what value does a pedicure have to a client if you soak the feet, give her a massage, and trim and polish her toenails? The service value to the client is that she got her nails trimmed and polished and she enjoyed the massage.

“If you consult with her and educate her, you’re increasing the value of your service by explaining the essential oils and what they do, and the reflexology massage and its therapeutic benefits. At the same time, you’re pointing out things like how you can help heal the rash between her toes, as well as what she can do for it at home. Suddenly, you’ve increased immeasurably the value of the service in her eyes.”

The Initial Consultation

At Gene Juarez, the client consultation begins with the greeting. “When the nail technician greets the client in the waiting area, she asks, ‘How are you today?’ The clients response tells us not only about her mood, but also a little about her personality style—is she talkative or more reserved? We also confirm the service that she is expecting,” Green says.

“Once the client is seated at the station, the consultation consists of assessing the condition of her nails, how she feels about the nails she has, and discussing the challenges she has with her nails and the solutions we suggest. By listening first, it’s an invitation to let her tell you about her nails. If she’s not happy, we’ll ask a series of questions.

When the client’s desires clash with the nail technician’s recommendations—she has an active lifestyle yet wants long extensions, for example—Green says they use “the three F’s” (feel, felt, found) to convince the client it’s in her best interest to follow their advice. “If someone really wants long nails but isn’t suited for them, I say, ‘I know how you feel, long nails are glamorous and fun. I felt the same way, but I found that by wearing them long they break more easily and tend to lift. I’ve found that someone as active as you are will probably be much happier with a shorter length because the nails don’t tend to break between services.’”

If the client still insists she wants long nail, Green says they ask the client to sign a disclosure form that acknowledges she has been told the service may not meet her expectations and cannot be guaranteed. However, since nail technicians started using the “three F’s” formula, Green says that clients rarely disregard the nail technician’s recommendation.

LaCinda Headings, a nail instructor at Xenon International School of Hair Design in Wichita, Kan., agrees. “I teach my students to reach an agreement with their clients. When they do occasionally get a client who really wants long nails even though you know it won’t work for her lifestyle, that’s when discussion really comes into play. Tell her, ‘If we go with longer nails you probably will have breaks. I can give you the length you want, but I can’t guarantee my work then so when you come back in two weeks, I’ll have to charge you to repair any breaks in addition to the cost of rebalance.’” Sometimes, she says, money can change the client’s mind when you can’t.

In addition to gathering the basics—name, address, phones number, occupation—nail technicians like Kitsko and Pam Klimek, a nail technician at Nail Boutique in Sterling Heights, Mich., ask for the following:

Past nail care history

Nail challenges (lifting, acrylic reactions, excessive breakage)

What she hopes to achieve with her nails; i.e., loner length, growing her own nails, long-lasting polish, etc.

How often she plans to come for nail services and whether she can commit to a home-care regiment

Lifestyle and hobbies

Medical history (allergies, mediations, pregnancy, etc.)

Klimek and Kitsko also note the current condition of the client’s nails. Specifically they record:

The length and shape of the nail beds

The color of the nail beds, any abnormal spots or marks; drill damage; cracks or breaks; infection (if signs of an infection are present Klimek draws a picture of the nail, noting the borders of the infection and the color)

Length of the free edge

The overall condition of the nails (dry and brittle, soft and peeling, healthy and flexible)

Nail technicians say the initial consultation should take no more than 10 to 15 minutes, and some of that some time is discussion that takes place during the service anyway. Regardless, they assert the small time investment up-front pays off in the long run with a better understanding of your client and her needs.

A Building Block

The client consultation and client profile form are the foundation upon which to build your professional relationship with your clients. “This information helps me to determine what the best service may be for this particular client. If it’s enhancements, I know what sort of product is best to use and whether I should sculpt or do tip overlays,” Kitsko explains. “If she’s getting a pedicure I know what the water temperature should be. It also tells me what I need to keep an eye on at the subsequent visits, like poor cuticles.”

In addition to gathering the basic personal information and nail care history, many nail technicians emphasize the importance of asking about the client’s health. At minimum, says Patti Smith, owner of The Nail Suite in Mississauga, Ontario, you need to find out if she has high blood pressure, circulatory disorders, diabetes, or varicose veins because these will affect pedicures, massage techniques, cuticle trimming, and how you respond to any accidental cuts or nicks. Smith also asks whether the client has allergies or asthma, because some scented products may trigger an asthma attack.

After the initial service, most technicians also record the products used—including tip style and sizes, type of adhesive, and powders (including colors)—and any products the client purchases for home care.

Many nail technicians update the client profile at each visit with information on the condition of the nails and the products used. “If a client is having problems with lifting, I can access her information to see where changes need to be made or see what might be causing it, like long-term medications, lifestyle, or infrequency of visits,” Kitsko adds.

The client profile also can reveal things the client is doing that may be causing the problems. For example, if a client has lifting on the same two nail at each appointment, you can explore with her the reasons why these particular nails lift. “If you don’t keep notes on this, you may not notice that it’s always the same nails because you may have done 60 or more clients since you last saw her,” Singleton notes.

It Goes Both Ways

Equally important as what you learn about your client is what she learns about you, the service, and how to maintain her nails at home. “The consultation is only part of the overall client education,” Singleton says. “I show clients my nails and tell them what products I use. I advise them not to use emery boards and why, and I show them the files they should use. I explain how important sanitation is and I show them how I clean my implements. I tell them why I use a Menda pump for my polish remover and liquid, and why I use gauze instead of cotton to remove polish. I educate them about the products and why I use toluene and formaldehyde-free polishes. As I go through the service I explain the steps and why I use certain things.”

Singleton always schedules a little extra time for the first-time client during which she gives her a tour of the salon, showing her the massage and facial rooms and the other services offered. “I give her the salon menu and our pamphlets. If she expresses interest in a massage we’ll give her a complimentary one the first time,” she notes.

This extra effort pays off for the salon, says Singleton, who says a new nail client often becomes a new hair or skin care client as well. Green, too, notes the fringe benefits of client consultations.

“Since we’ve started emphasizing client education, we’ve seen a huge increase in our retail sales,” she says. “The nail technician’s job is to give the service and fully educate the client on what she’s using, why she’s using it, and how the client benefits. By just having that information, chances are she’ll want the product.”

[sidebar] “I’ve had some people come in who think they want acrylics, but after I take the time to talk to them, I find out that’s not really what they want. Sometimes they think acrylics are the way to get their nails to grow. If our discussion leads me to believe a good home-care regimen would work better, I recommend that instead. These people usually end up being very happy we chose this route.” --Sally Miller, Sylvia’s A Gallery of Style, Montpelier, Vt.

“During the client consultation you should always discuss the financial and time commitment a client is making to her nails. Ensure she can maintain them on a biweekly basis, and let her know what it will cost. I’m surprised at the number of clients who don’t think about this.”

--Kendra Chmielewski, spa coordinator, Charles Penzone The Grand Salon, Dublin and Gahanna, Ohio

The client consultation entails whole-body wellness. For a lot of people, having their nails done might be the one thing they’re taking care of about themselves, and that makes it important to them. If you give them the personal attention, it makes them feel very good.

--Jaque Lyon, nail department manager, Salon Millenium, Winnetka, Ill.

New clients are taken aback when I have them fill out my client profile because they’re rarely asked questions about things like their health history. They are really impressed that I ask.

--Erika Terzani, Touch of Class, Morgan, Colo.

Form for Success

LaCinda Headings developed this client consultation form for her students in 1996 to help them become true nail professionals from the start.

“The consultation should always include a diagnosis and prescription and an agreement with the client,” she notes. “I always teach students to diagnose the client and prescribe a service before asking clients what they want. This establishes them as the professional and gains the client’s trust because they’re taking control. The whole goal is to customize the service for each client, and if they don’t talk to each one individually then they end up doing cookie-cutter nails.”

Headings notes that the consultation is an on-going process from service to service, especially if there is a breakdown. “If you have a service breakdown, obviously things went wrong in the diagnosis. It also improves your services because you’re always looking back at what you did and how it went. It can also improve your speed because when you know that what you did worked, you know exactly what to do this time.”

[sidebar] Client Profiles Complete the Picture

While the medical community may not agree that menopause or medications such as hormone replacement therapies affect the nails, Erika Terzani and Patti Smith say they find that clients who take such medications almost always have problems with dry nail plates and lifting.

“I had one client who had been getting manicures on and off for about a year and she always had problems with polish chipping,” Terzani says. “When we discussed she remembered that after she started taking the medication her skin and nails became very dry. We put the enhancements on and sure enough, she had lots of lifting.”

Terzani had the client use cuticle oils and hand creams, but because she also handled paper frequently in her job as a receptionist they didn’t note much improvement. Now, the client gets a paraffin dip with each fill and has become a “no-problem’ client—and a very loyal one at that.

[sidebar] Other Articles to Read in NAILS

1)”Get to Know Your Clients” (May 1995)

2) “From a Client’s Perspective” (February 1992)

3) “Satisfaction Guaranteed” (January 1992)

For reprint and licensing requests for this article, Click here.

Read more about