You’ve heard it before and it’s a wonderful ego stroke; your clients praising your genius and telling you they will follow you to the ends of the Earth.
“I can’t live without you, I will follow you anywhere.” “Nobody has ever done my hair as well as you.” “I need you to come live with me and do this every morning.”
And then suddenly you realize it’s been months since her last visit and she isn’t booked for anything upcoming. You stalk her Facebook page and see she doesn’t have roots. Maybe she even unfriended you.
You did her wedding hair, you were with her through the tough times, supported her through the break-ups, did her baby’s first haircut. You were a part of all her major milestones. She was more than just a client. What happened?
There are a lot of reasons clients move on. And it is usually something small that we aren’t even aware of. But often it comes down to a couple of things:
If you are always running 10 minutes behind, she eventually got sick of it and started walking in already expecting to be frustrated with your lateness. And you probably delivered.
Someone somewhere along the line didn’t treat her like the valued customer that she deserved to be treated as.
The parking became more trouble than it was worth.
You were too hard to get in with or your schedule changed.
You were no longer delivering on the hair.
But there is a common issue that confuses most of us, given the relationship we thought we had established; you became too familiar and too casual with your service.
Maybe it started with you telling her to help herself to coffee, or making a small crack about something you thought would be OK but for her was off-limits. It didn’t happen right away, it had built up to a point where once you could do no wrong, now you could barely do anything right. In her mind. It might have been that she was just having a bad day and there was one tiny thing that set her off.
Here is a list of things you can do to try to retain your clients for as long as you can:
Never become too familiar. Always treat them like a VIP. You may make jokes but be incredibly protective of their experience with the salon.
Pre-book your clients. It protects you from her co-workers and friends trying to lure her to their stylist.
Have a plan for her hair. For the same reason as above. But even more importantly, a plan means you are always making her hair priority number 1 during visits. And this is where we often fail with longer-term clients.
Sit down each visit and have a consultation. Shut up and LISTEN.
Good hair is not enough. Everyone expects good hair or else they wouldn’t go to you. To make someone a raving fan, you have to go way above and beyond a good haircut or colour.
Be enthusiastic about her appointment. When you see certain names on your book you get excited to see that person. Tell them.
Mirror their energy. If your client is up, be up. If she is quieter, be quieter.
Always finish her hair. Even if the assistant or another stylist does 99% of the blow-out, get in there and apply some product, tweak the look, fix the bangs up and do a little dry cutting.
Try to stay on schedule at all times. If you are always late, fix it.
Raise your prices. Yes, raise your prices. For me, it makes sure I am always performing at the highest levels. You can’t raise your price without improving service. So set yourself up for a few months by performing at the highest level you can. And then raise your price. And understand that for a client to see value at your $70 haircut price, you have to give a $100 service. For this, if you don’t know what that looks like, go to the Four Seasons and have lunch or dinner. You will see the difference. But raise your prices for new clients even more, so that your older clients are still rewarded for their loyalty.
I have lost clients I have gone way above and beyond for, who have begged for favours and to be squeezed in repeatedly. My wife has lost an entire family she adored and thought she was very close with because they found someone a little closer to home a $5 cheaper.
We are therapists, shoulders to cry on, part of a select few they share their darkest secrets with, yes. But ultimately we are their hairdressers. They have a lot of options out there and eventually will find themselves in someone else’s chair. Maybe they will come back, maybe they won’t. So we keep giving great hair and being whoever they need us to be at that time. And it’s OK to love them. I currently have several clients I feel so strongly about. I absolutely love them. But I know at some point I will likely lose them for some reason or another.
Never forget, clients are where your living comes from and we are where their professional hair services come from.
Addendum: A quick story about how I lost a long-term client.
2 years ago my father was in the hospital and given 6 days to live. Leukemia. He had battled cancer and had been in remission for the 3 months prior to this so it caught us off guard.
I was visiting him every night after work but never missed a day. I never miss a day.
My long-term client “Brenda” had been incredibly high maintenance for years. She was funny and dramatic and always needed to be squeezed in because she always had an “event.” She was shallow, exhausting and kind of awful but fun for a visit every month.
On Tuesday my wife calls me while I am doing highlights on another client. She has been in a car accident with my 2 young boys. She’s about 2 miles away. I pass off the client to another stylist and go straight there. It’s a bad accident but thankfully nobody is badly hurt and the kids are fine but scared.
We deal with the paramedics and police etc and I take my family home in my car, about 45 minutes away. I had decided to cancel the rest of my day as it would have been another 45 minutes back to the city and I was kind of emotionally drained at this point. And it was only 2 clients and I would squeeze them in throughout the rest of the week. One of those clients was Brenda.
Later that night my wife told me I should go see my dad. I didn’t want to but decided to. I spent an hour with him and he was in completely different condition than he was the day before. He died a few hours after I left.
I had to cancel my week for obvious reasons. I was suddenly in charge of setting up a funeral, dealing with things I had never done before.
Brenda was now angry. “I don’t want to sound like a bitch, but I have an event.” I made sure she was set up with a stylist she had been with several times for blow-outs and that I would take care of her the following week for her roots. Or she could see the other stylist. I was dealing with these calls from the funeral home.
Brenda never came back. She cancelled her upcoming appointments and said she had found someone else and she was happy with them.
I had put up with more drama from this one person than any other client ever. I am glad she is out of my life, but am still insulted and hurt that after 8 years she would leave me because she was inconvenienced..