Customer Service

The First Impression [Really Does Count]

Often overlooked, the front desk position in every salon has the power to make (or break) the first (and last) impression a client has of your establishment. Here we show you how to turn your front desk from asupport position into a profit center and customer service gateway.

I am pretty sure that a lot of thought went into the planning of your salon. From the products and services you will offer to the salon's decor and hours you will be open, you can envision the entire experience in your mind. You know exactly what impression you want customers to have of your salon.

Everything contributes to the feeling a client gets when she walks into the salon — from the furniture and decor to the sounds and smells. But ultimately, the first impression is created the second someone steps inside or calls on the phone. So assuming your salon has the look and feel that you were going for, all that is left is the greeting.

And once again, you know exactly how you would like your customers to be greeted. The only problem is when customers walk into your salon, you can't always be at the front desk to meet them. When the phone rings with a potential customer on the other end, you can't always be the one who answers. So how are you making sure that your salon is being portrayed the way you envision it from the minute that customer comes inside?

It is the job of the front desk — whether that is one person or many— to create the atmosphere that you are striving for in your salon.

Let me give you two scenarios. 1 need a manicure at the last minute and I call two salons that are close to my house to see if they have any open appointments. The dialog goes like this:

Salon #1

Front desk: "Hello, can you please hold?" (After being put on hold for five minutes.) "What do you want?"

Potential client: "I was wondering if you have any openings for a manicure today."

Front desk: "No, we are all booked up." Click.

Salon #2

Front desk: "Hello, welcome to Nail Salon X, how can I help you?"

Potential client: "I was wondering if you have any openings for a manicure today."

Front desk: "Actually, all of our technicians have full books today, but I can check to see if anyone is available tomorrow if that works for you."

Potential client: "I really need to see someone today if at all possible."

Front desk: "Let me take your name and number down and I will call you if we have any cancellations. Thank you for calling Nail Salon X, hopefully we'll see you later today."

Just the little bit of difference at the second salon would make me, as a consumer, want to call that salon again -- even if they can't get me in for an appointment that day. The difference is the first person was just answering the phone, while the second person was actually interested in helping me get an appointment.

According to Terri Cowan of Professional Salon Concepts in Joliet, Ill., what you want to do is "WOW" your guests. Cowan and her husband, Steve, have set up a training program to help salons create this "WOW" experience for their guests (or clients, as many of us still call them). And one of the first things that they preach is the importance of the front desk staff. A well-trained front desk staff has the ability to create a wow right when the client walks through the front door. By offering more than your guests expect, you create a wow experience, according to the Cowans. And once you do that, those guests will tell their friends and family how great their experience was and before you know it, you will have increased traffic and revenue in your salon.

Most salons don't think they can afford a front desk person for any number of reasons — they think they're too small, they cannot afford it, they can handle those responsibilities themselves, etc. But this person can do much more than answer the phones, accept payments, and book appointments. Think of this person as the "customer service gateway" to your salon. Chances are she is the first and last person your customers will interact with in the salon and the only one who will have the time to answer questions and suggest retail products. She can also set up and move around displays, book appointments and suggest add-on services, cross-market services, and make reminder calls. Remember this is your salon and you can turn this position into anything you want.

According to Margo Blue, owner of The Spa at Margo Blue in Charlotte, N.C., the front desk is the "most crucial point of contact" at any salon. "The front desk staff begins the appointment, and ends the appointment," says Blue. "They have the power to create an amazing experience just by how she communicates with the guests."

Empowerment Is Just the Beginning

As a salon owner, you need to realize the importance of the front desk position. You can start changing the perception of your front desk employee by changing her title. Instead of calling her a receptionist, why not try concierge, salon coordinator, or guest service coordinator? You can come up with your own title that best fits your salon, but make sure that it reflects all of the jobs that she will be holding. And you want to empower her to act on this higher level.

You have to create a passion for the front desk position. Don't just hire someone and tell her to answer the phone. This person needs to be given real responsibilities and she needs to be taken seriously by you if she is going to be taken seriously by customers. The first step after changing her title is to implement a training program for your salon coordinator.

This person needs to know how your salon operates. She needs to know how long it takes each tech to perform each service and she needs to understand what those services are so she can speak intelligently about them. By experiencing each service personally, she will be an expert on what you offer. Just think of the service up-selling that your salon coordinator can do just by understanding the services that you offer.

"In addition to knowing the entire menu, our front desk staff must be knowledgeable about every person who works in the company," stresses Blue. "They have to know the techs' and stylists' strengths and weaknesses. We actually encourage the front desk staff to have complimentary services so they can explain to clients what each service really feels like.

Rosemary Weiner, owner of The Brass Rose Spa & Salon in Blairstown, N.J., trains her front desk employees on policies and procedures, as well as services. They even have to take a "service comprehension exam" after studying the manual that describes the salon's many services. "The check-in and check-out positions, as well as the booking staff must be able to speak articulately on the services we provide. And they must be able to talk on subjects such as MMA and answer clients' questions," says Weiner, who runs her front desk a bit differently than other salons.

The Brass Rose has a check-in and check-out desk much like that of a hold. The check-in employees greet clients, pull their appointment itineraries, and bring them refreshments while they are waiting. After the service, the check-out employees take the client's payment and book future services. Since no phones ling upstairs in the salon and spa area, there is a separate booking room where the phones ring. These employees work the phones, answering service-related questions and booking appointments. They can speak intelligently on all of the services offered at The Brass Rose and they can also "prescribe" and suggest additional services to clients.

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