Why you need to put yourself in the customer's shoes

Mystery shopping competitor salons can give you ideas but, more importantly, it will alert you to the little issues you may be overlooking in your own business, writes Hellen Ward. 

One thing we are really bad at in this business is being customers of hair and beauty salons. I mean, when was the last time you went to a salon as a paying client? This simply wouldn’t happen in other industries. Can you imagine a top chef not trying out a new restaurant? Of course they’d check out the competition. Not to steal ideas, just to keep an eye on what’s out there, because not knowing what’s going on in your market can be devastating to any business.

I used to be dreadful at visiting spas and salons but in the past 10 years I’ve realised it’s vital. I need to be aware of the standards and levels of service customers have available to them to see how I compare. And if you’re thinking that it would be hard for you to be a mystery shopper, imagine how difficult it is when you have your face in our industry magazine every month. Some therapists recognise me, and if they don’t they soon smell a rat when I start asking technical questions.

The real value of mystery shopping is that you start to see things through a customer’s eyes. That’s invaluable to me, the team, the business and, ultimately, to my own customers. Recently I’ve had two experiences as a paying customer at different businesses and I thought it might be interesting to share the notes I made.

1. Little things get noticed
After an excellent massage at the first salon, I went into the relaxation room and I was just dozing off when a gaggle of women on a hen weekend came in, nattering. The sign on the door clearly said “quiet” but no member of staff looked in to check it really was. If I was the salon owner I might think a client was being a bit precious if she complained, but I was only there for the day and I had no other chance to get some peace and quiet. I was miffed. It’s a little thing but it mattered.

2. Clients want your expertise
I didn’t get told about any product during the massage. Fair enough, it was only a massage, but even so, I might have bought the oil used had I been given any information. How can we seriously complain about the internet cannibalising our retail sales when our staff don’t even bother to have the conversation with clients?

3. They also need your attention
When I came out of the second treatment, the retail area was unmanned. My husband Richard says I could find something to buy at the South Pole, but how long can you stand around in a robe with hairy men walking about in sports gear before you retreat back to your room? Shame. I would have bought that lovely polish I saw and maybe a new swimming cossie, and, and, and…

4. It’s not just about a great therapist
Sadly, as fab as my therapist was – and she really was – the welcome from the hotel spa reception could hardly have been described as warm. It felt as if the receptionist was going through the motions showing me around. She hardly made eye contact and certainly didn’t engage with me. How disappointing, especially when the treatment itself was so good. But...

5. There are some great treatments out there
My Guinot TechniSpa treatment results were still visible weeks later… and if I’m hooked (cynical old hag that I am), there’s every reason to believe that results-driven treatments, coupled with a skilled, knowledgeable therapist, give other clients cause to rebook. Overall, my experience was fab both times, but it does demonstrate that putting yourself into the client’s shoes can help you pick up on things that might normally go over your head.

I urge you to visit a salon, even if it’s just for a manicure, to remember what it’s like to be the customer, and then get your team to do it too. At worst it will confirm that there is nothing you and your team could do better to deliver the client experience (doubtful, whoever you are). What we can be sure of is that the customer notices everything. We just need to remember to notice it first.

Hellen Ward is managing director of Richard Ward Hair & Metrospa in London’s Sloane Square, and also chairman of the Fellowship for British Hairdressing.