“A revolving door of walk-ins does not a business make,” says nail artist and salon owner Elizabeth Morris in a recent episode of her podcast, The Nail Hub. To transform clientele from inconsistent customers to a core of loyal clients, Morris says salon professionals must grow into a more mature business model that offers incentives for prebooking and other good client behavior. And fortunately, Morris provides the dialogue to achieve this with new clients.
When to Bring Up the Topic of Prebooking
Hint: It’s not when a client is being walked to the reception desk to leave.
At the start of Morris’ recent podcast episode, “Incentivize the Good, Don’t Just Punish the Bad,” she described her recent cut and color appointment with a booth renter in a large salon. They got to talking about the industry and the stylist opened up about not having as many clients as she would like. Morris noted that she was happy with the quality of her service, so nothing stood out as a red flag in that sense. Then Morris questioned when the stylist asked her clients to rebook. Turns out she doesn’t. She walks clients to the front desk and leaves it to the receptionist to set up their next appointment.
Waiting until the end of the appointment to discuss prebooking someone is the worst time, according to Morris. Stylists are already in the mindset of getting to the next client, and clients are thinking about paying and getting on to the next part of their day.
The most opportune moment to explain to someone who you are, how your business operates and why you want this person to come back is not at the end of the appointment, but in the middle.
“In my experience, in every type of beauty service, there’s some moment in the middle where there’s a lull,” Morris says. “The client’s color is processing or maybe you’re removing artificial nails or gel so they’re just sitting there for 15 minutes while you’re soaking off the product. There are these opportunities to talk to your clients, and it’s important to share with them who you are and why you want to keep them.”
Incentivize Clients to Practice Good Salon Habits
When there are no perks for rebooking, clients are likely to say, “I don’t know my schedule, I’ll just call in.” Now, an appointment that should have been in, say, three months has been left open-ended and chances are that client isn’t going to come back on a regular schedule.
Morris stresses the importance of training new clients so that their visit to the salon becomes a habit. For those stylists that don’t prebook, but rather just hope that a quality service will make clients come back, Morris says this is likely not enough. Clients should be incentivized so that they want to come back and are rewarded for good behavior, like staying committed to the appointment and not cancelling or being a no-show.
To give new clients a reason to want to prebook their next appointment, offer small incentives such as $10 or even $5 off their next service. It could also be a free add-on service, like a deep conditioning treatment for hair or an IBX treatment on nails. Salon owners and stylists can choose the type and size of the incentive that works best for their business.
What about cancellation fees? In addition to offering incentives for good habits, salons are known to also penalize bad behavior. While Morris says that she certainly understands cancellations fees as a way of showing clients who do not respect appointments that their service provider is very serious about his or her business, it ultimately does not work well as a growth strategy. Even if the cancellation fee covers the money that could have been made from that appointment, that person is unlikely to ever come back because they will be upset at having been charged a fee—even if it was warranted. Morris recommends focusing on rewarding good behavior, not only on punishing bad behavior.
Morris also points out that perks cannot only be limited to new clients; there should be benefits offered to long term clients, as well, to show appreciation for their loyalty. Offering discounts and perks to many clients may require that changes be made to a business so it can continue to grow.
“This is going to evolve your business and it may require you to raise prices since you’re including all of these extra incentives,” Morris says. “If you have your eyes set on the horizon of long-term business goals, you need to get new clients, retain clients, grow your business, evolve your business and become a more mature business that offers all of these amazing things.”
Morris stresses that salon professionals should not rely on the front desk or just hope that a client will come back. She outlines the dialogue below as a way to make sure the clients know why they should prebook, what they will receive for scheduling ahead, and why they are valued.
I’m so glad you came in, I love getting new clients. Here’s how I operate: I schedule appointments in advance. For the type of service I will do for you, I schedule appointments every [two weeks, three months – fill in the blank]. I’m very focused on providing excellent customer service and excellent quality, so my goal for you as a new client is to keep you.
In order to keep your business with me, I like to offer small incentives to be able to create the habit of you coming back to me for your services regularly. So as an incentive I’m going to offer you [$10 off your next appointment or a deep conditioning treatment – choose the incentive that works for your business]. I would like to offer you this on your next appointment, as long as you keep your appointment and don’t reschedule last minute or cancel.
I will also remind you of your appointment with a phone call 72 hours before. Does that sound good to you? I’d really like to book an appointment with you so we can both get in the habit of you coming back and I can provide this extra incentive because I really want to keep you as a client.
"As a client, I’d think this is freaking awesome,"” Morris says. "I would know I have someone who is savvy about business, who’s dedicated to high quality, who recognizes that I am an asset to their business, that wants to keep me, wants to take care of me, and on top of that they are going to offer me an incentive to book right now."
Finish by writing the appointment information down for the client or having them get out their phone and put it in their calendar. Service providers should write it down for themselves, too, and can check with the front desk at the end of the day to be sure that it was entered accurately.
"At the end of the day, all beauty professionals truly run their own business," Morris says. "Don’t miss out on opportunities by not following through, booking and communicating."