The art of communication

Building a rapport with clients is key to both consultation and retail sales, as Amanda Pauley found out when she visited Elemis’s first training academy in Birmingham.

COURSE ONE: Consulting for Success

As important as it is to have your treatment skills in shape, all good therapists know it’s equally vital to work on your consultation techniques, as this is where you begin your relationship with the client. So, I headed to Elemis’s Academy of Excellence in Birmingham to refresh my skills in the brand’s business course, Consulting for Success. My trainer for the day was Charlotte Dermott, who has worked for the brand for more than three years. Dermott explained that the theory behind the course is based on the customer journey as a whole – “the consultation is your starting point, which leads to a well-conducted treatment, with retail purchases as your end goal.” The course is open to spa managers, owners, therapists and receptionists, who Dermott explained are most clients’ first point of contact when they enquire or book an appointment, so it’s beneficial for them to know which treatments work well for which concerns.

Common barriers

The course started with a quiz on what makes a great consultation, with delegates scoring themselves honestly on the areas they thought they were good and not so good in. Dermott explained that not satisfying the client in consultation creates a barrier, which is why they may not be investing in your prescription at the end of their journey. Common barriers included bad body language (crossing your arms or pursing your mouth), clock watching, a bored tone of voice and, most importantly, not listening. Dermott said we should use open body language during consultation to encourage clients to open up. For example, sit facing them with arms unfolded and a warm facial expression. “It’s about relationship building. You have to listen, maintain eye contact, have sympathetic understanding, and express your knowledge and expertise,” she said. She also insisted that we never assume we know what their concerns are – “let the client finish speaking before offering your input,” she added. She then addressed the issue of language, stating that open-ended questions should be asked in consultation, with closed questions reserved for point of sale. “Openended questions – such as “How are you feeling today?” – encourage people to open up and talk, whereas closedended questions only require a yes or no answer, so they work better when trying to retail,” said Dermott.

A tailored approach

For me, the best tip of the day was regarding forms. Dermott suggested having an in-depth consultation form for first-timers, which includes questions about lifestyle, diet, skin type and medical conditions, so you can get to know them in more detail, while having an express one for regulars with only eight questions, such as “How are you feeling?” and “How has your skin changed since your last appointment?”. “You already have a lot of their core information on file, which you can refer to, plus your regulars want to feel like you remember them. This system will help you listen and quickly identify their needs so you can match up the correct skincare,” Dermott explained. The day concluded with lots of roleplay to help delegates refine their approach and put what they learned into practice. Everyone felt a bit shy at first, but with Dermott’s encouragement we got into the swing of it pretty quickly and felt much more confident in our abilities.

COURSE TWO: Retailing for Success

Retailing is a fundamental part of any successful spa but for many therapists it’s one of the toughest aspects of the job, which is why Elemis created the Retailing for Success course, which Dermott also teaches. “We want to build therapists’ confidence in terms of their selling abilities and help them understand, on a much deeper level, why people buy,” she said. The course began with a group discussion on what makes a good or bad shopping experience, with many of us providing anecdotes about times when our needs had or hadn’t been met. Common obstacles that led to a negative retailing experience included products not being easy to find or pay for, branding and messaging not being clearly visible, and a lack of tester products available to play with. This gave us time to reflect on our own retail areas – “our silent sales person” as Dermott called them – and why putting key product features on display and having a lively demonstration area could make all the difference in terms of making a sale.

Building a rapport

Dermott then addressed the hardest part of retailing – closing the sale. Many delegates expressed concerns about seeming too pushy, so Dermott taught us a threepronged “benefit sandwich” technique to use when presenting a prescription to a client: 

1. Start with the benefit – explain what each of the products you’ve suggested is and how to use it, from key ingredients and application to how it links to the client’s skin concerns

2. Tell them the price – this keeps them informed while they are assessing the value of your prescription

3. Close with the benefit – round up the conversation by relating your recommended homecare regime back to their concerns, explaining the positive effect the products will have on their skin.

“When closing the sale, you have to explain the value of the product first, not the price, as you want to link it to the client’s needs,” explained Dermott. “While doing this, you should also be mirroring their behaviour, responding to their body language and matching the way they’re talking. For example, if the client says ‘I have a lot of spots’ you wouldn’t then say ‘congestion is your main issue’. Talk to them on their level.”

Vote of confidence

We spent the rest of the afternoon discussing common retailing pitfalls, including taking the client’s uncertainty as a “no” or only focusing on the product we think they are likely to buy. Dermott advised presenting the whole product prescription “as if time and money were no object – never pre-judging the client”. She also told us that an objection isn’t a no but a chance for us to ease their concerns or put their queries to bed so the client can make an informed decision on the products. The last hour was spent in the retail area of the academy, putting the benefit sandwich and mirroring techniques to use. Dermott was a great teacher, full of knowledge, praise and understanding that retailing can be a daunting process. The two courses really complemented each other, so I would highly recommend trying to do both back to back.