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Keep Clients Coming Back: Redesigning the Guest Experience

After you’ve managed the first hurdles to reopen, what’s your next phase? What specific steps can you take to set your salon up for the best success moving forward? What kind of planning and actions could help you even grow market share in the hard-to-foresee future?

According to client experience expert Joey Coleman, the best-selling author of “Never Lose a Customer Again” and an award-winning business speaker, there are four key points you and your team should focus on during this COVID-19 transition.

He calls his reminders a navigation guide and says the action steps will help guests, staff and even business leaders themselves wrangle through common, sometimes daily emotions of fear, uncertainty and confusion. End result? Everyone comes out on the other side feeling safer, more comfortable, ready to reengage and even grow.

Coleman spelled out the four steps and many other tips, case studies and ideas during an ISBN-sponsored webinar June 17, hosted by ISBN board members Rhoda Olsen of Great Clips and Debra Penzone of PENZONE Salon + Spa.

Coleman’s main call to action was to “focus on what we can do to take care of our clients now” as a strategy to secure and grow business for the future.

ISBN members and the professional beauty community are encouraged to view the 50-minute webinar conversation and share with team members to reinforce your own evolving business plans and decisions. Also, plan to see Coleman as a scheduled speaker at ISBN Conference 2021.

Joey Coleman, Chief Experience Composer, Design Symphony (

Highlights from Coleman’s presentation include:

Step 1: Recognize everyone is going through this. “Every client, every business, every team member is impacted. Even though it sometimes feels like we’re not all in it together, the reality is everyone’s life has been affected, regardless of the size of your business, number of employees or other demographics,” Coleman says.

There is comfort and solace knowing that in some regards, the playing field is level, he explains. Even though it is an incredibly frustrating time for businesses that depend on interacting directly with people, the opportunity will be in thinking differently and strategically about how to take care of clients in this new reality.

Step 2: Policies, procedures and pandemics. ISBN members in particular are typically buttoned up with operations, but Coleman points out that the current COVID-19 reality means it’s a critical time for every business to rethink policies and systems and to be willing to blow them up. He shared examples from three companies that acted swiftly to pivot and adjust to reassure and serve customers, elevating their leadership position as they did.

  • Delta issued a full-value two-credit for all flights and told customers they “didn’t have to do a thing.”
  • Enterprise recognized college students needed to get home and reduced their minimum age to rent a car to 18, providing relief to anxious families.
  • MGM Hotels processed immediate credits on all reservation deposits and told guests they’d look forward to seeing them again when it was safe to do so.

How do those examples apply to the salon industry? Coleman encourages salon leaders to think about what more they can do to acknowledge to clients that the landscape has changed and keep finding ways to make it more amicable for them. Already updated policies regarding cancellations, booking and timing? What else can be changed and adjusted?

Also, take into account the psychology of your clients. Some will walk into your business and feel more comfortable than others. How are you helping those who need “more” reassurance while effectively communicating the “why” behind your safety protocols (including what you are legally required to do) to those guests who are hesitant to adjust.

  • High-end, personalized station dividers are one example of the types of enhancements that help some clients feel more secure in their decision to come back to the salon, Coleman points out.
  • A challenge most salons will have to navigate, Coleman says, is managing the range of responses to wearing masks. Some see them as “musts” all the time and others as an infringement on personal freedom.

“Recognize that your clients and stylists will run the full spectrum,” he says. “You as an owner need to come up with your position as an organization and recognize you may alienate some of your clients and staff regardless of what end of the spectrum you end up on.”

He advises taking the pressure off team members by having clear language scripted and posted to explain policies to clients.

Step 3: Be in Touch. In Coleman’s “Never Lose a Customer Again,” he outlines six tools to ensure a business keeps customers, and how to leverage them:

  1. In Person
  2. Email
  3. Mail
  4. Phone
  5. Video
  6. Presents

What are you doing to translate that “special thing” that used to happen regularly in person, in the salon, across the other tools we have at our disposal, Coleman asks, meaning the feeling of self-care, calm or community.

  • “What if a stylist used the phone to call all clients who haven’t returned just to check in and see how they are doing? I recently received a video from my chiropractor saying, `Hey, we’re open again and look forward to seeing you whenever you’re ready.’ They let me know and took the pressure off.” It was effective because it was empathetic, Coleman says.
  • A salon owner or manager could shoot and send or post a little video that showed all the things you are doing in your business to keep clients and staff safe, Coleman suggests, with a tone and intentionality of, “We’ve spent the last three months thinking about how things have changed. We know you used to come here to get a little peace, some comfort along with your services. Here’s what we’ve done to help you feel safe and recapture that feeling as much as possible.”

By leading with empathy, Coleman says, guests will come back to you and faster than they otherwise would because they know you’re thinking about what they’re concerned about and need and not just about booking their appointment.

Step 4: Acknowledge reality. Coleman suggests salon leaders prepare for staff to still be wearing masks to do haircuts until this time next year.

“Whether you agree with this assessment or not, planning for it will help you navigate the situation and get your and your staff’s mindset right,” he says. “One test of a leader is the ability to acknowledge the situation you are in and pivot, adjust and reframe.”

Coleman says entrepreneurial leadership will be what pulls the salon industry out of this crisis. “Not only in terms of how businesses function but in how we get the economy moving again and the public comfortable coming out to engage with us again.”

It’s a big responsibility, Coleman admits. “Salons are now essential. Your businesses are essential to people’s comfort with getting back out in society. What are you going to do to lead as opposed to just navigate?

To that end, Coleman says it’s a fascinating time to work on “that” project, the one you’ve been too busy to do in the past.

“I checked in with a dozen salon owners, and most were running at 20-30% of pre-March capacity,” Coleman says. “Sure, there are a lot of challenges and issues, but what are you and your team doing with this extra time to take your business to the next level?

Bonus step: focus on the client journey. For those who don’t already have a project in play, Coleman recommends focusing on the overall client journey, which he outlines in his book and on the webinar as happening in eight phases.

  1. Assess: deciding if they want to patronize
  2. Admit: thinking “yes, I’d like to do business with you,” and books an appointment
  3. Affirm: still not confident about decisions, thinking “hope this going to work out”
  4. Activate: comes in for the first service
  5. Acclimate: returns more than once; gets comfortable.
  6. Accomplish: feels they have a close relationship with the salon and will keep coming back
  7. Adopt: decides going to your salon and only your salon
  8. Advocate: if they get through all the other phases, clients become raving fans, singing the salon’s praises far and wide

“Most salon leaders only focus on one or two phases of the client journey, but there has never been a more important time to consider and concentrate on all of them,” Coleman says. “As you work to build and grow your business back, you will have an opportunity to grow your market share. The sad fact is that a lot of salons are going to go out of business, and also a lot of clients are going to feel the salon they have been going to doesn’t have the same beliefs around the sanitation experience, no matter where on the spectrum of expectations they may be, so will be seeking a new salon.”

Focus and build a plan around that client journey to get more of your guests all the way through the eight phases and into becoming an advocate, which is where referrals are generated, Coleman concludes.

“Now is when we need you to say to yourself, as a leader and entrepreneur, `I am built for this moment. I have chosen to live in this state of uncertainty,’” he says. “Step back a little bit from the fear, from the confusion, and find clarity by focusing on your clients and what they are experiencing and need. Keep doing it this month, next month and through the coming months and you will come through more successful than you have ever been.”

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