Customer Service

Survey Says: Superior Service Sells

Salons that are the most service conscious are often the most survey savvy. They simply ask their clients what they want, then give it to them.

Whenever you stay at a hotel, eat in a restaurant, or take a vacation, chances are you will be asked to fill out a survey to rate the quality of your experience---from the overall service. (Was our staff friendly?) down to the little details (Did you have enough clean towels in your room?). What is this obsession with our opinions? Simple: Large corporations know the value of gathering market research data from the only people who count---their customers.

Whether you own a large full-service salon or you’re a single nail technician with one station, surveying your clients is a very cost-effective technique for gathering valuable data that can be used to make informed marketing decisions for your business.

Surveys can be written questionnaires that you mail to your clients or they can be filled out in the salon. They can be questions you ask clients in person or over the telephone. A client survey can be as simple as one question that takes less than five minutes to answer or as long as 15 minutes.

How can the information gained from these client surveys help you? For starters, it can help you retain current clients, attract new clients, learn more about your current clients, and it can even help you do what you already do well, better. Information gleaned from clients’ honest responses can also help you identify and correct customer complaints or problems and possibly help you avoid pitfalls.


 “Surveying your clients is the first step in becoming a conscious marketer,” says Susan Cox of CEO (Cox Education Opportunities) in Edina, Minn., who specializes in developing and marketing training and education and personal improvement programs. “In the competitive 1990s, you need to launch a conscious effort in order to stay in business. This is particularly important for salons that have been doing business in spite of themselves.

 “The most important function of a survey is to provide insight about who your current clients are, what they like, and what they don’t really need,” explains Cox. “Current marketing trends follow the idea that offering super service to current clients is more important than trying to capture new clients. Without that, you risk losing the business you already have.”

She adds that once you understand your client base, you will be better able to plan which new clients will be attracted to your business.

Cox suggests assigning or hiring someone to survey your clients over the phone. “Since clients are often apprehensive about telling you what they really think, ask a variety of questions to gain their perspective on your business. For example, ask your clients why they are attracted to a service business in general, such as a hotel or dry cleaners, and what they have liked and disliked about their experiences at those businesses.

 “Their answers will give you great insight about their expectations of good service without even mentioning your salon,” Cox adds. For example, if they tell you they love the food at their favorite restaurant but don’t go there often because they have to wait a long time to order, that means they don’t want to wait for long in your salon either, no matter how much they enjoy the actual service.

She recommends never asking direct questions about a particular nail technician because this is such a personal business. “You can find out what you need to know by asking questions such as, ‘What qualities of your nail technician do you like the most?’ and ‘How can your nail technician better service you?’”

Cox adds that surveying an accurate cross section of your clients is more important than reaching a specific percentage of clients.

She recommends surveying different clients throughout the day to ensure that you contact people who are coming to the salon from both work and home. Also, make sure you survey the clients of every nail technician in the shop because they each attract different types of clients and you can learn from all of their answers.

Once the information is collected, the next step is to summarize the important points and highlight areas---both good and bad---that clients mention frequently.

 “While you will want to plan immediately how to correct any problems, it is more important to make your good areas---those that keep clients coming back---even better right away,” says Cox.

As a final tip, whether you use a phone or written survey, Cox suggests offering a small incentive or thank you to clients who participate.

 “Offering a free polish change or 10% off a manicure will show the clients how important their answers are to you,” she explains.


Before Levonne King undertook the challenge of revamping the nail department at Uptown Hair Design in Pittsburgh, she wanted to make sure she understood exactly what the salon’s clients thought about nail services. She offered free manicures to non-salon clients in return for their objective rating of her service.

She gathered the information using a simple five-question survey that asked the following questions:

  • Do you currently have a nail technician?
  • What do you like about the service she provides?
  • What don’t you like about the service she provides?
  • What nail care services and products would you like to try in the future?
  • How do you feel about the entire manicure experience you just had? (Was the salon too noisy? Did you feel rushed? Was the massage long enough?)

 “The answers to those questions gave me insight into common mistakes made by others that I could avoid from the beginning,” says King. “For example, I discovered that the number one complaint was that clients often feel rushed. They don’t mind when you are speedy and keep to your schedule, but they don’t want to feel like you’re thinking about your next appointment before they are even out of the chair.

 “It’s all conveyed by body language,” she explains. “When you are rushing, you tend to move your head, you drop things, your voice fluctuates, your eyes flutter, and you don’t look the client in the eye---all indications that your concentration is not 100% on her.

 “To convey calmness, our technicians speak in a soft, subtle tone and look the client in the eye to convey that right then she is the most important person in the world,” she says. King adds that to get objective, accurate data, “Don’t survey friends who will give only positive responses.” She says clients welcome the opportunity to help.

 “When you tell them, ‘I am doing a survey so you can have the best service you have ever had,’ they realize you are serious and will cooperate,” she says.

King surveys clients several times a year before updating her service menu. “On the first survey, I discovered that our clients like natural nails and very posh services,” she says. “So I added an aromatherapy massage manicure, a Swedish manicure (hand facial), and a Day with Levonne. These are all very posh, pampering services with a focus on natural nails. Clients just love them, and they really help me build my ticket, too.” King offers clients an elegant hors dóeuvres spread and iced tea, using beautiful bowls to make it look even more elegant.


When Jackie Randolph, owner of Nail Expressions, a nails-only salon in Washington, D.C., considered moving her salon to a new location a year ago, she knew there was one crucial element she needed to take along---the salon’s clientele. To find out what was important about the new location to her clients, she asked them.

 “Our clients indicated that as long as there was ample transportation and parking at the new location, they would work with us,” says Randolph.

Although she was ultimately unable to move, today Randolph is again looking for a new site for her salon, but this time her client surveying efforts will be more sophisticated. Now she is planning a visual survey organized by zip codes.

 “First, using the computer and dividing clients by zip code, I will plot on a map where they live and where they work to determine where the greatest concentration of each is. Then, I’ll ask clients if they prefer to come to the salon from home or from work,” says Randolph. The next step is visual survey.

 “I’m taking a map of the metro system and dividing the city into five quadrants, numbered 1 through 5 on the map,” she explains. “Then, I’ll ask clients to choose which quadrants they prefer for the salon, using the map.”


Kenneth Anders, owner of Kenneth’s Designgroup full-service salons in Columbus, Ohio, poses just two questions on a three-by-five card to all clients on their first visit: 1.  Tell us how you enjoyed your first visit. 2. What can we do to improve our service?

Asking just those two questions, Anders discovers everything he needs to know to ensure that a client’s next visit is even better than the first, no matter how much they enjoyed their first experience.

In addition to surveying first timers, Ander’s salons all have a suggestion box and welcome client comments.

Following his belief in keeping surveys simple, Anders asks just three questions of his regulars. 1. What can we start doing to make your experience better? 2. What can we stop doing to make your experience better? 3. What can we continue doing to make your experience better? The answers to those three questions tell him all he needs to know to offer what he calls “outrageous service.”


When Anders initiated his client surveys several years ago, he wasn’t sure what the initial response would be, even though he was confident that his staff offered excellent service. His clients told him he was right. In fact, the three top requests from clients were more magazines, decaffeinated coffee, and less time on hold when they called the salon. Anders and his staff were able to respond easily, and clients were impressed that they took action so quickly.

 “The results also show us how to make what’s good even better, and that really impresses clients,” says Anders. “For example, when they told us that they really liked our coffee service, we went out of our way to upgrade that service by offering fresher coffee, faster service, and keeping the area even cleaner.

 “At first our clients thought we were asking their opinion so we could raise our prices.” Says Anders. “Many wrote very positive comments, then added, ‘just because you are so good, please don’t raise your prices.’ “The moral of the story is, don’t raise your prices right after a survey because clients will permanently link the two together and not be too excited the next time you ask for their input.


Jerry Gordon, owner of J. Gordon Designs Ltd. in Chicago, takes a slightly different approach but gets similar results. His staff frequently conducts verbal surveys, and even when they do use written surveys, they ask questions that can be answered yes or no, good or bad. Two of the primary questions are: Did you like the salon’s ambiance? and Was your service performed to your expectations?

 “You want to hear a yes response from more than 80% of your clients,” says Gordon. “If you don’t, a red flag should go up immediately that there’s a problem.”

Gordon’s advice: Ask about the quality of the service, keep it very simple, and ask only for information that you actually need. For example, if your salon is not going to send out birthday cards, don’t ask new clients when their birthday is on your new client profile.

 “Never ask for private information and never ask about your prices because no matter what, clients will always tell you they’re too high,” he adds.


When John Hickox, owner of Hickox and Friends in Portland, Ore., launched a major survey, he considered all angles of the project before forging ahead.

 “Surveys are everywhere and can be a real nuisance,” says Hickox, “but we used our close personal relationship with our clients to let them know that our sole purpose in asking for their assistance was to give them the very best service possible.

 “As a model, we’re using a small luxury cruise ship, which has some of the best service in the world in every area. At the end of the cruise, they pass out a survey that takes about a half-hour to fill out and ask their customer’s assistance by ratting every area of the ship from 1 to 10, 10 being the very best.

 “They tell you that any rating below an 8 is considered unacceptable and that changes will be made immediately in the case of such a rating. Because of their serious approach and the fact that this survey is simply part of the experience, everyone is willing to participate. We want that same attitude for our salon survey,” says Hickox.

Instead of waiting for survey results to pinpoint areas that need improvements, however, Hickox took the initiative by instituting customer service training for all salon employees.

 “We had an initial four-hour staff meeting during which we reviewed slides and marketing tapes on customer service,” he explains. “Now we’re in the process of trying to be our very best in every aspect of service, from making sure the bathroom is kept impeccably clean throughout the entire day to painting and sprucing up our physical surroundings.

 “Then, we’ll have our clients rate us and we will do our best to respond immediately to their comments.” Says Hickox.

Current clients will be asked to fill out the survey before their appointment and new clients will be provided a stamped envelope in which to return their forms.

 “Our goal is to encourage communication, not criticism,” he adds.




Chances are, your clients already have all the answers to help you make better informed marketing decisions for your salon. All you have to do is ask.


  1. At the end of a new client’s first visit
  2. Before/after you add a new service
  3. Any time you subtly change an existing service (for example, if you make the massage during the manicure five minutes longer without telling the clients)
  4. During your busiest times (to find out why)
  5. During your slowest times (to find out why)
  6. Right before the busy holiday season to ensure that everything is ship-shape
  7. On an ongoing basis(just to let your clients know what they matters)
  8. When you’re moving to a new location
  9. When you have client retention problems you need to solve
  10. Anytime you want to offer the best service possible


Informal Surveys Do Work


                These questions are best discussed one-on-one with a client during the manicure. That way, you keep the conversation on the service. Try asking these two questions of all new clients:

  • How did you enjoy your first visit here?
  • What can we do to improve our service to you on your next visit?


                For an ongoing suggestion box, the answers to these three questions will tell you all you need to know.

  • What can we start doing to make your experience better?
  • What can we stop doing to make your experience better?
  • What can we continue doing that will make your experience better?

                Leave several lines for them to answer completely and have a client comment box in plain view so they can anonymously turn in their answers.


                Use the following survey or one that’s similar when you are opening a new salon, revamping your nail department, or just trying to build your clientele.

  • Do you currently have a nail technician?
  • What do you like about the service she provides?
  • What don’t you like about the service she provides?
  • What nail care services and products would you like to try in the future?
  • How do you feel about the entire manicure you just experienced? (Was the salon too noisy? Did you feel rushed? Was the massage long enough?)

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