Should we wait for clients to mention concerns before offering advice?
Perhaps it’s time we started telling, rather than asking, our clients which treatments and products they need, suggests Hellen Ward
The late Steve Jobs famously said that people don’t know what they want until you give it to them. As the man who pioneered a revolution in technology, the Apple co-founder learned from his early focus groups with gadgets such as the iPod that people’s perception of a concept (one dial, no separate controls) can change the minute they see it for real.
This got me thinking about the possibility of creating a new, more strategic approach to our prescriptive and bespoke beauty services. Sometimes, as therapists and experts, we pussyfoot around in the consultation waiting for the client to raise their (obvious) concerns before we do, for fear of causing offence. Is this how other experts would behave? Would a brain surgeon look at a scan and ask the patient to point out a tumour before they did? A client recently told me that she’d be very happy for a therapist to cut the “fluff” and tell her what was wrong with her skin, rather than fishing around asking delicate questions. A direct, authorative approach is sometimes just what people need.
I for one follow this school of thought. I’d far rather be told that someone can do something about my dark circles, fine lines and split ends than spend 40 minutes with them asking probing questions to get to me to list the issues. We have a saying in the salon: “act like the expert you are”. Gavin, our salon manager, and Gina, our spa director, continually encourage their teams to advise, prescribe and diagnose without prompt, and to ensure the client knows we have solutions to their concerns.
This “don’t ask, tell” philosophy needs a subtle approach, of course. The typical UK customer has a very British sensibility and doesn’t want to be criticised or made to feel neglectful or unkempt. But the approach does pay dividends in increasing our professionalism and expertise and we know now, more than ever, that customers will pay for expertise.
Going back to the surgeon analogy, nobody is just a surgeon. As I wrote in my January column, they might be an orthopedic surgeon or a brain surgeon but they’re never just a surgeon – and if they were, who on earth would want to see them? Not me, that’s for sure. This approach to diagnosis takes that ethos of expertise to another level, but we need to keep differentiating because the beauty industry is a different animal these days. The customer, and the way they use our services, has changed. The price they pay us for certain treatments has been severely impacted too.
Recently we’ve come to realise the impact of the cheap nail bar and sadly it seems as if it’s here to stay. So we all need to do more to ensure we offer expertise and that it becomes the point of difference that helps us maintain a standard and a price point. Great therapists may be hard to come by, but when you do find them, and if they really deliver, you can charge a premium for their services.
Developing the next generation has never been so important and it’s up to all of us who stand by good practice to ensure we continue to train, nurture, mentor and educate those future great therapists to ensure they can deliver that point of difference when the sub-standard salons that are damaging all of us get closed down for non-compliance or failure to pay taxes. I will certainly be celebrating when that happens. But until that day, changing customer perception with upfront expertise and diagnoses might just be the way forward for all of us.
Hellen Ward is managing director of Richard Ward Hair & Metrospa in London's Sloane Square, and also chairman of the Fellowship for British Hairdressing.