What do you call it? A consultation. A new client sesh. An assessment. Or something else?
Whatever you call it, the first time you meet with a new client, the outcome can make or break your business.
Maybe that sounds overly dramatic. But the truth is if you don’t crush your consultations with your new clients, you won’t be able to grow your business because they won’t rebook.
Even if you’re completely booked now – things change. People move. Or they have a change of heart or circumstances and they bounce. Life happens and suddenly you find your books…well, not booked!
The Best Way To Handle Change Is To Prepare For It
The most important thing to do when you’re building or re-building your business is to master a great client consultation.
You’ll need these skills for new clients as well as when an existing client asks for a drastically different hairstyle or if they’re going through an illness, taking new medication, or a hormonal change such as pregnancy or menopause.
All of those scenarios should prompt you to perform a consultation because they all involve change. You don’t want to make assumptions that could end badly.
In a past blog, I went into further detail about doing the physical assessment of a client’s hair but this blog is going to take a deeper dive into the communication aspect of the consultation.
Clear Communication Is Key
These days we do much of our communicating through a quick text or DM. A couple of clicks (throw in an emoji or two) and we’re good!
But the actual face-to-face communication can be a bit more challenging. And if you’re shy or unsure of yourself, it can be a LOT more challenging.
No need to worry! With these tips and some practice, you’ll have the confidence to slay the communication part of your consultations in no time.
Here are my top communication tips to help you succeed:
1. Listen & Observe
We’ve often heard that the most important part of good communication is listening. While that’s true, I argue that it’s equally important to observe while listening. When you ask a new client what you can do for them, if you listen and observe, you’ll be able to learn so much more by not just what they say, but also by how they say it. What’s their tone of voice? What are their facial expressions while they talk? Do their words and actions match? Do they appear confident in the look they want or are they unsure? Do they make eye contact with you? Are their arms crossed in front of them? Or do they seem relaxed? Or are they just scrolling their phone and not really giving you any information at all? There are so many important clues you can gather during this part of the consultation when you look and listen.
Be prepared with your common questions so you have the information you need to provide the best service for your new client. It’s a good idea to prepare a cheat sheet of questions when you’re new and still learning what questions to ask. Another idea is to create a form with questions for each new client to fill out before or at the first appointment so you are prepared. The goal is to get the client engaged, and the best way to do that is by asking open-ended questions. You know, questions that can’t be answered merely with a yes or no response. Questions that start with “What,” “How” or “Do” are great for gathering information. “What can I do for you today?” “How much time do you usually spend styling your hair?” “Do you use products on your hair?” Questions that start with “Why” can sometimes result in a defensive answer so it’s best not to ask “Why” questions. Or at least think through how they sound before you ask them. As an example, if someone came in with hair that was super unhealthy and clearly needed a deep conditioning and a cut weeks ago, and you asked them, “Why did you wait so long to get a haircut?” – they could interpret that question as an accusation and become defensive. But if instead, you asked, “How often do you usually get your haircut?” – that is more neutral and wouldn’t result in a defensive response. Then you can recommend a deep conditioning and suggest they get a haircut every 6 to 8 weeks instead of waiting so long to maintain the health of their hair.
Once your client has answered your questions and you feel confident that you have enough information to proceed with the service, you should first double check to make sure your understanding of the style they want is actually what they really want. And not just how their hair will look but also about their investment in time for styling and money for products to maintain the style. This is when you’ll repeat back what you think they are expecting so you don’t have misunderstandings after you’ve already started cutting their hair. To you, a one-inch trim might mean something very different to them. There’s no way to 100% alleviate all misunderstandings but you will drastically minimize the misunderstandings by simply clarifying that you both have the same expectations.
After you’ve listened, observed, asked and clarified, what do you do if you realize the style they want isn’t a good match for them? Do you proceed with the style so you won’t disappoint them?
Or are you honest with them and tell them in a gentle but confident manner why, in your professional opinion, the style isn’t a favorable choice.
Trust me when I say, I know how hard it is to disappoint someone. You’re afraid they might think you aren’t a very good hairstylist if you can’t give them the style they want. But when you confidently explain your reasons why the style isn’t a good fit for them, you are actually doing both of a you a HUGE favor. And you are avoiding an upset client at the end of the service when the look is all wrong for them or the styling time is way more intense than they wanted.
You are the professional and they need you to guide them to find a style that will work with their hair and their lifestyle.
There are so many distractions in the salon. Music is playing, people are talking, blow dryers are blowing, phones are ringing - that’s a lot happening all at the same time. And sometimes it’s hard to be focused on the client sitting in your chair with all that activity going on.
But when it’s a new client or one of your regular clients who needs special attention, it’s imperative that you drown out the distractions and focus solely on your client and their needs.
This form of communication lets them know that you’ve got them. They are important to you. And your focus will help them feel valued.
Remember, it’s about how you make your clients feel!
No matter what’s going on in your life, remind yourself that the client who is sitting in your chair is your only priority. They are paying you for your service. So it makes sense to bring your best attitude and show your appreciation that they trust you with their hair! But what about the days when everything is going wrong and you feel completely stressed out? Find a way to compartmentalize your stress. That means putting the stressful thoughts that are spinning around in your head on hold during your work day. As an example, have you ever encountered a food server who was having a bad day? They had a bad attitude and they got your order wrong because they weren’t focused on you when you ordered your food. And they were complaining about a fight they had with their spouse! It just made the entire meal an awful experience. Would you leave a big tip when the service was miserable? Would you ever want to go back or recommend it to your friends? I know you don’t want your client feeling that way towards you. I am not suggesting that you ignore your feelings and put on a phony smile. But you can at least remain neutral, professional, and focused on your client. It’s simply a strategy to move the day-to-day stress to the edges of your mind while you work so you can create a pleasant atmosphere and focus on making your clients look their best. Who knows, you might just find that by helping your client look their best, their joy might wear off on you!
The bottom line is that you are the professional. So take charge of your consultations with confidence. When you radiate confidence, it will help your new client relax and put their trust in you. Be aware that there are times when the lines can be blurred between arrogance and confidence. They both express the fact that you know what you’re doing. But they are very different in the way they are received. Arrogance can come across as exaggerating one’s own worth and it makes others feel intimidated or defensive. While confidence is a quiet inner strength and assurance that you know what you’re capable of because you trust in your abilities. Your confidence will shine the spotlight on your client making them feel that they are in good hands and that they made the right choice by booking with you.
Communication can be tricky. We all have different ways we see things and different ways we express ourselves. As you continue to grow in your business and practice sound communication skills like the tips I shared in this blog, you’ll have the poise and confidence to handle just about any situation. And as you continue to strengthen your hairstyling skills, including confident communication, you’ll watch your business soar! What’s your greatest communication challenge?
On Point Hair Academy and my Own Your Chair program were created for stylists like you who need just a little help (or a lot of help) in different areas of their hairstyling business. You don’t have to take this hairstyling journey alone.
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Remember, your work is not about you. Your work is about how you make your clients feel.