How to communicate with clients to ensure realistic treatment expectations
With any treatment, it’s essential clients understand about any potential pain, downtime or complications. Tracey Dennison outlines her three pillars of communication for these issues to help salons avoid misunderstandings or complaints.
While we all want clients to receive a pain-free and transformatonal treatment, the reality is they may experience discomfort, downtime and sometimes even complications, so it’s vital for therapists and beauty business owners to be confident at communicating risk. “If we look within our businesses at where the complaints have cropped up, probably 95% of the time it comes down to communication around expectations,” says Tracey Dennison, aesthetic nurse, wellness specialist and nurse director of East Riding Aesthetics clinic.
Three pillars of communication
Dennison says there are three core areas you can influence when it comes to client communication – the environment, managing yourself, and manging your clients.
1. Manage the environment
Managing your environment entails creating a welcoming space, instilling trust and allowing enough time to have difficult conversations. “Think about how your environment changes the way you feel,” advises Dennison. “If your space is cluttered, it can feel very personal to you. Your client wouldn’t feel welcome because there’s nothing that makes them feel that they belong there, whereas a clean, uncluttered space is calm and welcoming.”
She references the phrase “like, know and trust” as a fundamental of marketing, adding, “There are lots of ways you can build relationships with clients before you meet them so that then when you do need to have those tricky conversations, they feel as though they already know and trust you.” For example, she suggests recording videos so clients have already seen and heard you before they even book with you.
Once they arrive at the clinic, looking professional is also vital, as is an appropriate demeanour. “You may know some clients outside of your professional life but it really is important to recognise boundaries. Professional behaviour and language help people feel safe, especially if you’re going to do things to them that hurt or might have some sort of side effect,” she says. Having an excellent knowledge base and communicating that well is also important in making people feel safe.
Above all, allowing enough time to listen will make your client feel looked after. “We need our people to feel as though we’re really listening to them, giving eye contact and having meaningful conversations so that if there is a problem or if they are anxious, we’re taking that on board and will be really understanding in managing that as part of their treatment,” says Dennison. Being competent at treatments and being honest if you need a more expert opinion is also key, she adds. “It’s OK to say, ‘I understand where it is we want to get to, but I need to go away and talk to a senior colleague or mentor because actually this case is more complicated than I can manage on my own’. Patients appreciate that honesty and think ‘now I’ve got two professional sets of eyes on me and I know I’m going to get looked after’,” she says.
2. Manage yourself
As well as looking smart and using professional but approachable language, managing nerves and stress is a vital part of the impression you put acrosss, so “raising your vibration” is key, says Dennison. “We’ve all stood next to someone in a queue and felt waves of animosity coming off them. You don’t know what’s happened but you sense that person is not happy – that’s what I mean by vibration,” explains Dennison.
“So, if we’re in a situation ourselves where we are feeling angry, rushed, tired or stressed, that’s what the client will pick up on – and if we’re seeing them for a difficult conversation, they are likely to respond in kind. We need to manage the stress in ourselves first before we meet with people and have those conversations.”
She advises adopting a pre-appointment “feel-good strategy”, which may be something as simple as a two-minute meditation to calm the mind. “If that’s not your thing, lock yourself in the loo, put on your favourite tunes and have a little dance. If you can do something that lifts you up, you will generally get a positive response from your client in return,” she adds.
An equally important consideration in self-management is honesty. “I have some very honest conversations with my patients. Some of the treatments I offer can have the effect of causing a patient to go blind. It’s incredibly rare but it would be negligent of me as a nurse not to have that conversation,” explains Dennison. “It’s a very honest conversation to have though, and my patients appreciate it. Your clients will feel the same, so if there are things they need to know, don’t be scared to tell them.”
3. Manage your client
While you can’t manage other people’s behaviours, you can manage the communication around them. “Closed loop communication is a tool we use a lot in the NHS and it’s about getting people to communicate back to you that they have heard you and understood you,” says Dennison. “If you say, ‘I’m going to do this treatment; there is a chance you might feel some pins and needles and you might get some inflammation that could last a little while’, then once you’ve been through all of that, get them to repeat it back. It doesn’t need to feel condescending, just ask them to explain it back so that you can be sure you both have the same expectations.”
Once people verbalise something, it makes different connections in the brain and cements expectations, Dennison explains. Similarly, it’s valuable to repeat back to the client what you understand their expectations to be. “This is a standard part of my consultations. At the end I say, ‘Just so we’re on the same page, what I’m hearing you tell me is X’. They then tell me whether that’s correct; it’s another part of closed-loop communication.”
Dennison also advises clear messaging around the process if a reaction does occur, both verbally and in writing. “If you’re obtaining consent, read through that with the client and answer their questions. Providing literature isn’t a failsafe. If a patient can’t read and something goes wrong then you don’t have a leg to stand on if you’ve not gone through it all verbally with them,” she warns.
Ultimately, Dennison believes it is best to under promise and over deliver. “I do tend to labour the point about what could go wrong. I also tell people what I’m going to do to make things safe so those complications shouldn’t happen, but I want my patients to be delighted with their treatments, so it’s about slightly underselling what we’re going to be able to do for them in the hope that we can exceed their expectations.
Tracey Dennison is nurse director of East Riding Aesthetics, which offers a full range of aesthetic treatments. She is also an aesthetics trainer, coach and mentor, as well as a specialist in wellness.