The term for technology that gets continuously smarter may be “artificial intelligence,” but the benefits of AI for salons are very real. Salon owners who have been incorporating AI into the workplace are enthusiastic about the potential of this software to recruit clients, enhance the client experience and train employees. And in this time of staff shortages, AI has a big draw: humans need not apply.
Chatbot on Staff
We think of personalized AI help as coming from Siri or Alexa, or we recall that phone conversation with a company voice asking us to repeat our question. But the AI surge in the salon has come less through voice and more in the form of texting and live chat.
“Sometimes people don’t want to talk to a human,” says salon owner Amy Murphy, who has begun using Valise Suite to handle live chat questions coming into Entourage Salon in Flanders, New Jersey. Just as well—the front desk staff doesn’t always have time to talk to callers anyway. By eliminating human interaction, AI keeps both parties happy.
“As many as 80 percent of people will not leave a voicemail but will respond to text,” reports Sheila Kloefkorn, Fractional CMO at TrueLark, which positions itself as an "AI-led customer service platform." She adds that Millennial and Gen Z generations especially expect something like booking to be available by text 24/7. TrueLark’s AI fulfills that expectation.
“This makes a salon relevant to buyers who are younger,” Kloefkorn notes.
Many questions coming into a salon are simply about price and services offered, which AI can easily answer whether it’s by text or in a chatbox. If the question is about how to make an appointment, AI provides a link for online booking. And now these programs are able to learn how to answer more complicated questions, such as whether it’s possible to book specific multiple services on the same day.
“Out of the last 928 messages that came in to our website, only six of them needed human intervention,” says Christie Karwell, a junior stylist and colorist at New York City’s Takamichi Hair, which uses Messenger[ai] from Mindbody. “If that’s not a time-saver, then what is?”
While Messenger[ai] can forward the conversation to a live chat with staff, Takamichi reports that’s almost never necessary. Valise AI similarly alerts the front desk when it needs a human helping hand.
“If they ask a question that the AI can’t answer,” Murphy explains, “it says, ‘That’s a good question. Let me get back to you.’ Then it gets the front desk to input the response, and the AI adds the response to its information base. In that way, it learns how to respond the way Pandora learns which music you like.”
Kloefkorn says she saw TrueLark book expertly in response to a text asking for an appointment for two people on two different days at a particular time of day. This is the type of request that a salon is now able to immediately satisfy even it comes in when the salon is closed—or just the opposite, when the front desk is too busy to answer the phone.
One way to look at your business is that you’re selling time slots. The goal is to have every slot of every day filled, but even the busiest salons have holes caused by no-shows and last-minute cancellations. That’s a problem AI, with its instant data analysis, can solve.
When a last-minute appointment is available, REACH.ai integrates with the salon’s software program and reviews all of the data generated through booking and other recordkeeping. After finding clients best suited for the open appointment because of factors like last appointment interval, preferred time and day, and past stylist choice, it texts or emails them to let them know that a time just opened up. According to the company, salons using REACH.ai average $2,000 to $4,000 more in sales per month, with some salon companies seeing as much as $50,000 additional monthly income.
“REACH AI is able to fill appointment books automatically and with no manual intervention or upkeep required by the business itself,” says REACH.ai CEO Patrick Blickman.
“Every client is different,” adds Bryan Saba, the company’s head of product. “Traditional marketing tools have a difficult time identifying what will best engage each of those clients and bring their business back. REACH.ai is designed to ensure that when clients drop out of their patterns they can be won back, all without you picking up the phone or sending mass marketing messages.”
Timing is a critical component of this reach-out, notes Reach.ai Vice President David Wood. “The AI works to average about one send per month per customer,” he says.
“REACH reached out to me—no pun intended,” laughs Samantha Diedrick, owner of Blo Blow Dry Bar, Wilmington, Delaware. After hearing from a few other Blo Blow Dry franchisees on the company’s Facebook page that REACH.ai was working successfully for them, Diedrick agreed to talk. Now she’s the one on Facebook encouraging other owners to give it a shot.
It was late winter when she launched it, which is not as busy as fall nor as light as summer for her 15 employees. For the first two months, REACH’s efforts added more than $1,200 in income, and the third month topped $2,000. “I was all excited,” Diedrick recalls. “I’d log in and see these huge numbers."
Diedriek says an interesting mix of clients respond to the Reach messages. “Some of the people are our regulars, some are clients who haven’t been in for a while, and some have been here only once or twice,” she reports. “It’s across the board.”
Upsells and Promotions
In addition to never missing a potential booking, AI isn’t shy about trying to upsell color services to a haircut client or alerting consumers to a promotion. If you’re offering 20 percent off your best-selling shampoo and conditioner, AI will bring it to the attention of the person on chat or text—every person, every time. If the person expresses interest, the sale goes forward.
“The payment account can be connected, and TrueLark can complete the transaction over text or online without anybody at the salon having to facilitate that sale,” Kloefkorn says.
Another franchise location of Blo Blow Dry Bar tried email marketing and Facebook ads with disappointing results. When switching to TrueLark to text clients to ask how they’re doing and let them know about current retail promotions, the salon group made sales totaling $1,250 from just 1,000 texts in four test campaigns.
And unlike people with their broader range of knowledge, the chatbot or virtual texter knows only what you tell it. That means texters who ask the same question will receive the same response.
“If we have five front desk staff, they’ll each answer the question in their own way,” Murphy notes. “The AI answers in the way I want that question answered.”
AI Trains People, Too
But what if your staffers, with their human brains, could learn to answer questions as precisely and consistently as their chatbot counterparts? Once they’re freed from all the texting and chatting, they’re even more valuable in face-to-face interaction with clients in the salon.
While you cannot program employees, you can use AI to train them. That’s exactly what SalonScripts.AI, developed by industry icons Frank Gambuzza and Van Council, sets out to accomplish.
From handling check-in and check-out to recommending take-home products and the complex process of conducting consultations, SalonScripts trains the staff in communicating exactly what the owner intends. It reviews and scores staffers on their communication, whether over the phone or in person.
With 60 employees at three Roots Salon Milwaukee-area locations, General Manager Marcella Reed implemented SalonScripts to update the process of training through rote practice and feedback. So far, it’s made onboarding easier and has boosted sales of the business’s loyalty program.
“This gives staff the opportunity to practice on their own,” Reed says. “They can practice and practice until they feel ready to give it a try in a real situation with a guest. Then we play back the interaction and talk through it. The SIMs grades them on how well they use our key words when they’re talking to the guest, so the coaching is easier.”
Reed says the management team customized the scripts, so all of the information stays true to the Roots brand. Still, there’s room for personality.
“Everyone has a different style,” Reed explains. “They don’t have to repeat the script verbatim as long as they’re getting the message across. I have one front desk person who is very vibrant and excited. She will say it her way.”
Newer hires especially like this process. They find security in getting a passing score from the AI judge, because then they know exactly how to promote a retail product or handle a guest complaint.
“At one location, a new front desk person has been selling memberships to our Roots Rewards program like crazy,” Reed says. “SalonScripts has really helped her. To sign people up, you really have to sell it. You have to explain how to earn and redeem points. We keep a cheat sheet that they can refer to, but the practice and scoring have made a difference.”
A Manufacturer’s Experience
Hairdreams USA, a hair extensions brand, helped Valise AI build a customized program to manage the unique questions consumers ask about hair extensions and the complex responses that address the different systems the brand has available. Hairdreams USA Managing Director Dorian Thomas says that this is a bigger challenge than responding to salon inquiries.
“We have all these different products, and some are sold globally but not in the United States,” Thomas explains. “We had to take all of that into consideration. Product companies get very technical questions. Most salons won’t be up against that.”
Thomas says this benefits salons that carry Hairdreams because they will more easily sell the systems to consumers already educated in the brand. Eventually, the company will program the AI to recommend a local salon carrying the extensions, which will further help salons make the sale.
Here to Stay
According to Mindbody, 85 percent of potential clients who call and don’t reach you won’t call back. Moreover, research shows that texting is the #1 most desired form of communication, with 89 percent of customers wanting to text.
The current market intelligence research report by InsightAce Analytic concludes that AI is the natural solution for the beauty industry, described as a personalized and engaging market that generates a large amount of data. AI can help salons and companies to develop data-driven business strategies.
“As much as I can be resistant to technology, I know it has its place,” Amy Murphy says. “For the client who likes the concept, they’ll think it’s cool. You have to keep things changing. ‘Oh, now I can chat online.’ People get bored. They always want something new, and it makes us stand out.”
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