Make Your Clients Love You

by Annet King (as Seen in Dermascope Magazine)

Our world is brimming over with superb products. In far shorter supply: professional representatives of those products who win us over with their personalized niche approach. When you skillfully combine both - great products, offered and supported by great service to enhance your enjoyment of the product - you have the formula for the passionate customer loyalty needed to succeed in today's overcrowded marketplace.

This formula sounds so easy, yet few businesses get it right all the time, or even most of the time. When we ponder the success of our business competitors, we may wonder: Is it the products they carry? Is it the location? Is it the space? Is it the service? In fact, it is probably all of these things in combination. But here is the bottom-line for success in virtually any business: Great products or services alone are not enough. Especially in high-contact professions like the spa, skin care, hair, and nail industries; employees with great attitude and great people-skills, in addition to technical skills, are more important than the products. Products, after all, are inanimate objects but when they are prescribed for your needs and you are guided on how to use them by a passionate, knowledgeable professional, suddenly the experience takes on a whole new meaning.

New Tech and a New Economy Call For Greater-Than-Ever Customer Service

We do not need reminding that is it is a "new economy" in 2011. We are all much more selective about where we want to spend our time and our hard-earned dollars. When considering our particular trade, the client has a level of expectation; these expectations not only have to be met but we have to go above and beyond to exceed them. The level of customer service must be above par; our skills in the treatment room and the results on our clients' skin have to deliver in a big way, or clients will simply find another business to go to, or just forgo services altogether.

Sales and customer service versus simply the value or quality of the merchandise have been part of the American business landscape for a century or more. But much has changed since the era of Dale Carnegie, most drastically with the revolution in online shopping, appointment-booking, DIY-access to consumer information, and consumer feedback media. Today, we may spot a cute pair of shoes in a magazine, search for them on our smart phone, shop around for price, buy them, receive them, and return them - all without hearing a human voice or seeing a human face attached to the process (much less having a stranger handle your feet!). Afterward, you can post your thoughts online in an array of personal and public media, where potentially billions of people can read about your experience. Is it not the worst nightmare of every company, especially one in the service sector, to rack up one or more unfavorable "Yelps?"

The convenience of the digital world, including its service aspect, cannot be minimized. Sometimes, conducting business online is undeniably superior to face-to-face, especially if you need a flight to Vegas ASAP or you have got a weakness for 2:00 a.m. shoe shopping and just need a new pair of killer stilettos!

That said, the loss of personal contact in so many areas of our lives creates a huge opportunity for those of us who do work hands-on, eye to eye, face to face. The fact is, our society is becoming touch-starved. We avoid making physical contact and literally try to shrink our BMI whenever we enter an elevator. When we do casually brush against someone, we say, "I'm sorry."

The current economic climate only adds to the widespread sense of alienation. People are hurting everywhere and in every way.

When people come into your space, whether you are a skin therapist, a massage therapist, a spa professional, a makeup artist, a hairdresser or a nail technician, they want to interact and tacitly give you permission to touch them appropriately. The fact is, many times, that is the primary reason that they are there at all. In this sense, the customer has come to see you. To make contact and feel connected to you and perhaps to the gathered group of clients who may chat socially, even for a brief moment.

Redefining Value

Never take your clients for granted. Remember that your clients have arranged their schedule, taken the bus, jumped on a train, or driven from somewhere else to come and see you and receive their service. They have allocated time to make for you. They have put gas in the car, parked, and shown up. This represents a huge motivation. Are you equally motivated to serve them and deliver one "WOW" experience after another from the moment that they arrive, through into the next day when you call them to follow up?

The way you shape the experience of the guest is what determines value, even more than the professional grade products that you use in the treatment room and sell in the retail area. You create the value of the experience through the way you genuinely interact with the client. To echo the theme-song of a popular American television series which continues to live on in syndication, sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name. And if you do not happen to know the client's name, it is your job to learn it, repeat it three times within the first 10 minutes of your introduction, and remember it for next time. Up the ante by bringing up some personal details from their last visit like their daughter's wedding or their getaway weekend in Napa!

Be the Brand

Gandhi said, "Be the change you want to see in the world." So right. And I would add, for any professional, "Be the brand." Not necessarily the brand of a manufacturer who supplies you, although this identification is ideal. This is the reason, for example, that I counsel skin care centers to carry one main skin care brand only, because it creates a solidly unified identity for the location and the employees.

But, even if your business carries multiple brands, you and your team must think of yourself as a brand. Never mind about the names of the companies on the tubes and cartons. Your business is its own brand and must operate like its own nation of excellence in customer service, raising its flag against the onslaught of indifference, inconsistency, and apathy which too often accompanies the consumer experience. Sounds a little harsh? The reality is that 67 percent of customers do not return due to an attitude of indifference from an employee and even worse you will never hear if they were unhappy, since 94 percent will never tell you! So whether you are an owner or employee, it is in your interest to provide outstanding customer service. This creates customer loyalty and retention, encourages word of mouth referrals (critical in our trade), makes your business stand out from the competition, and ultimately creates success.

Successful branding means that you and your team are there to represent the brand-values. Hopefully, these brand-values are built around what you are going to do for the customer, are expressed in your company mission statement, influence your hiring process, are part of your culture and are written down in your customer "Golden Rule" playbook. Last but not least, my personal area of obsession: training and practice. Your customer service culture does not happen by osmosis. You have to train your employees specifically regarding how you want clients to be treated. Then it becomes part of your daily practice and culture.

The greatest brands create a feeling of intimacy with the client. This is what moves the brand from a "trademark," there are millions of these, to a "trustmark," which is a trusted trademark, to a "lovemark;" or this is a brand which the consumer absolutely will not cheat on, because the love and loyalty are so crazy-strong! This means that, if you love icy Pepsi on the rocks and none is offered, you will sip warm tap-water rather than drink the competition. You will not be tempted by a jumbo assortment of glazed, powdered, or sprinkled donuts from another bakery if Krispy Kreme, and Krispy Kreme alone, sets your chickens free!

So what WOWs or peak experiences do you provide that will help you to gain "lovemark" status? Like wishing your client a happy birthday with a simple, small gift placed in their locker, or a fresh posy of flowers for when they check out. Calling, emailing, or texting with a "just thought of you" suggestion for a product, location for that statement necklace you knew they were searching for, or new Yoga-Pilates studio recommendation.

Establishing and maintaining this sort of feverish loyalty is increasingly difficult in an exploding marketplace, where competition has never been more sophisticated or more frenzied. Still, you have to make it happen. Every day, with every customer: random walk-in, faithful regular, intermittent bargain-hunter, annual gift-certificate recipient, favorite, or not-so-much - every time. If you do not, you are losing valuable ground. And trust me… you cannot afford to do so.

Go Team

It takes a team; one that is all buttoned up, ready for action, and equally committed to the goal, after all every member contributes to the energy in the space. Good or bad! So it might be time to say, "Buh Bye," to Gloria the grungy, grumpy front desk person. In short, the workplace is not the venue for creative self-expression. If you are an artist, great - rent yourself a studio, record your album, paint your masterpiece, even sulk, brood, and be tortured if you like, but on your own time. Does this represent a sacrifice? Yes. Because sacrifice for the larger goal is the most essential definition of a team, which is another word for a brand. Watch about five minutes of any professional team sport and you will remember what it is all about.

The atmosphere in your spa or salon contributes greatly to why a client returns, so no one can afford to slip up or the whole team goes down. Client-greetings are always consistent on the phone, and face-to-face. Everyone on the floor uses the same language, the same terms, and describes things in the same way. Policies, procedures, tours, and treatments are carried out consistently, person-to-person, day-to-day.

Everyone should be engaging with the customer and all need to be looked after equally, not just the clients that have booked with you that you think are "yours." If a colleague is running late, what can you do to help? How can you entertain the customer? What can you offer them? A seat at the skin bar and a trial of a new product perhaps? And never forget that everyone in the business is responsible for the up-keep and look, so although it might not be "your job" to unblock the toilet if it needs unblocking, pick up the plunger! Teams wear uniforms. Even if you do not happen to literally wear a uniform in your current workplace (although I think you should); your mindset must be kept in sync with that of every one on your team. This requires coordination, agreement, and constant communication throughout the team. I recommend a morning huddle, first-thing every day to discuss new clients, VIP clients, and daily goals. Some organizations even make this a prayer-circle! Whether spiritually infused or purely secular, working together cohesively does require daily devotion to keep the faith and stay on-track.

Just an aside about appearance - your appearance is a major part of your perceived professional attitude. There is a myriad of ways to interpret professional dress, but I return to my point about individual self-expression. You are not auditioning for anything. You are part of a professional service team. Your appearance already is distinctive, and I am not asking you to become a clone. No one else on earth has your DNA, so enjoy yours! But anything which distracts from the brand's DNA - here, I am specifically referring to miles of visible tattoos, piercings, and jewelry which scream "Look at me!" - weakens the team and brand-identity, which must usurp your own in all fairness when you are on the clock.

In service professions, a really bad hair-day - i.e. a sour, snappish mood that you just cannot shake - really should be claimed as a personal day. Stay home. Boyfriend gave you the sack? Raw cookie-dough hangover? Just not feeling the love? Then you should, in the interest of professionalism, keep it out of the workspace if you cannot transcend, even though this means deducting it from your personal off-time.

Better yet, learn to cope, get over yourself, it is called the service industry for a good reason: We are here to serve. Back to our earlier realization, that the client has come to see you, not the other way around, and that the client desperately wants to feel recognized, included, and connected.

You Had Me at "Hello"

From the moment another human being enters the space, drop everything. Texting your sis can wait. The bookkeeping can wait. Ordering lunch can definitely wait. The phone should not be ringing wildly - someone should be specifically assigned to answer on the first ring when possible, but not more than three and manage the flow of calls. Even better, move the phones away from arrivals so you can provide walk-in customers and clients with completely undivided five-star concierge type service.

Unless you are with another client, make immediate eye contact, smile, walk briskly to the person, and extend one or both hands. Say "Hello, good morning, welcome" (no version of "Hey" or "Yo" may pass your lips). Maintain a smile and eye-contact, and tell the new arrival your name. Ideally, this will be redundant, though friendly, since you and the entire team always wear name badges. If you remember the person's name from another visit, bravo. If not, just ask. No shame in asking. Repeat the name three times, because three is a magic marketing number, within the next few sentences.

Remember that this person really has not come to you only for cleaner, healthier skin, or whatever your specific service may be; she has come to be touched, and to relax in the deeply nurturing safety of human contact. Place your hand lightly on her elbow, or the back of the arm. Listen to what she says, and intuit what she also says through her body-language. Give this person your undivided attention, because it is the only way that you will be deserving of the same from her. And, it is the only way to earn and keep her business.

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Make Your Clients Love You