A client experiences your salon for the first time. She receives perfect customer service, a beautiful cut and gorgeous finish, and she even replenishes her shampoo and conditioner upon check out.
But neither her stylist nor the front desk staff asked her about booking her next appointment. And, her stylist forgot to tell her about the salon’s referral program, so she doesn’t know she could get $20 off her next service if she referred her husband or best friend. The front desk was also slammed that day and failed to give the client her new-client gift bag.
Does this client return for a second visit? Anyone’s best guess is a resounding, “Maybe.”
The customer service and great hair cut might be enough a lure for a second appointment. But, they might not. Retention-savvy salon owners put many steps in place to turn new clients into loyal guests, and every owner executes different systems. But they all agree the first and most important step to healthy client retention is prebooking.
Prebooking = Productivity
Heather Yurko, owner of Neatbeat in Louisville, Kentucky, makes prebooking a number-one priority for her Guest Happiness Team (also known as the front desk staff). The team is responsible for making sure every guest is prebooked out at least three visits before they leave the chair.
“When we first opened, I didn’t grasp the importance of being consistent with prebooking,” Yurko says. “But once we did, our artists’ retention and productivity percentages more than doubled.”
Yurko insists the prebooking must happen before the client leaves the chair.
“Psychology says once the guest’s cape is off and she moves to the front desk to check out, her mind is already onto the next thing,” she says.
So while Neatbeat guests are processing or getting their hair blown out, someone from the Guest Happiness Team is responsible for confirming and making future appointments.
“Our whole salon is branded around music, and we have clipboards on every station with ‘beat pads,’” Yurko explains. “When an artist is finished filling out a beat pad, which includes the guest’s prebooking date preferences, it goes on a shelf at the station.
“A Guest Happiness Team member sees the pad on the shelf, brings it to the computer, figures out which days are best for the guest’s prebooking request and then returns to the chair to have a conversation with the guest about availability.
“Once they have agreed upon a date, the team member books it and fills out a card for the guest, so at the end of the service experience, prebooking is taken care of.”
Before implementing this system, the salon’s prebooking rate was at 56 percent. It’s now 78-82 percent as a team. Systems and consistency have been the key to boosting that number.
“The staff follows specific scripts,” Yurko says. “And we also have recommended prebooking dates as a reminder on every mirror so they can see where four, five and six weeks out is on the calendar at a glance.”
Matthew Khodayari, who owns Aria Salon Spa Shoppes in Alpharetta and Cumming, Georgia, with wife Mechelle, also utilizes cards at each station to remind clients to prebook.
“The first day of the week, we change up the dates on the mirror so clients can see at a glance what dates are four weeks out, five weeks out, etc,” Khodayari says. “It’s helpful for stylists, too, because they know when they’re going to be on vacation and can let the guest know.”
During the holiday season, Neatbeat entices guests to prebook for the upcoming year with creative incentives.
Yurko explains, “Last year our incentive was if a client prebooked her appointments for the whole year, she received a 10-percent discount on product purchases for the year.”
The incentive ended up being a win-win for stylists and certain clients who preferred a specific day and time for their appointments.
At Hollywood Hair Salon and Spa in Centralia, Illinois, a concierge program has helped the salon hit prebooking goals.
“We came up with the concierge program because it seemed like guests were always done at same time, and front desk would get overwhelmed,” owner Sonya Gettinger says. “So we thought it would be more efficient to reschedule at the chair.”
The concierge is a member of the front desk who brings an iPad to the guest during the end of the service to prebook and retrieve products for take-home to speed up the checkout.
Gettinger says a scripted dialogue ensures the concierge and guest are comfortable with the process:
“My name is Alexis and I will be your concierge today. I know your time is very valuable, so I want to maximize your time in the chair and minimize your checkout time. I see you normally return in eight weeks. How does this (day/time) fit with your schedule?”
Once the appointment is made, the guest receives an appointment card and the salon’s signature Hershey Kiss before the concierge asks if there are any products she can prepare for the guest.
“Since starting our concierge service, we’ve seen our prebooking percentage go from 75-80 percent for the month to 85-90 percent with some days reaching 98-99 percent,” Gettinger says.
The opportunity for monthly bonuses based on prebooking and upsells for the front desk also helps increase the prebooking percentage.
The concierge program has been so successful, that Gettinger and her co-owners are gearing up to have a separate concierge desk at their new location, which will be in a more urban area.
“When a guest checks in, we can help them book dinner reservations if that’s what they need, or order in food for them while they have their service,” Ally Deering, co-owner (along with Abbey Jones and Jessica Freels) of Hollywood Hair, says.
At Aria, prebooking is part of the culture, with senior staff hovering around 70-80 percent, depending on the season. Stylists make their recommendation for prebooking, and the front desk staff follows up at check out.
“We also reward the client for prebooking,” Khodayari says. “They get 500 points ($5) the first time, and 200 points ($2) each time thereafter. When they reach 2,000 points, they receive $20 off services. We use that number because most of our upgrades are $20, and clients can see the act of prebooking rewards them and costs them nothing.”
Hitting Retention Benchmarks
Points for prebooking isn’t the only way Aria rewards its clients. After examining his new-client retention past the second visit to the salon, Khodayari decided he needed an incentive to keep those clients coming in a third, fourth and fifth visit.
“So we created a new-client passport they receive upon check out after their first visit,” he says. “The passport includes four options for guests to save in their next four visits.”
Offers include $20 off a color service, $20 off a blow out, a free deep conditioning and other $20 “freebies.”
“These gifts help ensure we see the new guest at least four more times throughout the year, because they can’t use them all at once,” Khodayari explains. “We saw our new guest retention jump up 12 percent after launching this program.”
While the program has improved retention, Khodayari says he resisted it at first.
“We’re not a discount place,” he says. “But as a consumer, I use cards that give me points, so I had to change my mindset. It’s not a discount, it’s an incentive and a point of difference for our salon.”
But ultimately, Khodayari says clients—both new and existing—return to Aria because of how they are treated.
“We work hard to make sure everyone from the management team to the stylists to the front desk notices our customers,” he says. “They are trained to acknowledge every client, greeting them by name when possible.”
Attention for retention is the name of the game at Neatbeat as well. The Guest Happiness Team is trained to deliver the ultimate customer service experience over the phone when booking an appointment—long before the client ever sets foot in the salon.
“We coach to the inflection in our voices, the questions we ask and the information we offer,” Yurko says. “They can’t see our body language over the phone, so it’s important our voices sound a certain way. We go over a short script with voice inflection over and over until it’s habitual, and we use their name a minimum of four times.”
The guest also learns what their experience will look like in the salon during the initial phone call.
“We work with ‘partners,’ not assistants,” Yurko explains. “Assistants can be known to turn guests around fast, making them feel like they’re being thrown from one person to another. We want to give a different perception, and it starts over the phone.”
The Guest Happiness Team explains to new clients that two people will be dedicated to them in the salon—one is technical and one is pampering.
“The conversation builds anticipation. The guest hears it’s going to look a little different, and that’s a good thing,” she says. “New guests also receive a fun e-mail preparing them for their first experience with us.”
The e-mail asks guests questions like, “What’s your favorite feature about your face?” and “Why did you leave your former salon?”
There’s no pressure to answer the e-mail, it’s just meant to give new clients a preview of the salon’s environment and get them excited for their first visit.
New guests are asked to arrive 15 minutes early to fill out a “What I like about you” form so the Neatbeat staff can get to know them better.
“This allows us to find out how they heard about us and thank whoever referred them,” Yurko says.
At Hollywood Hair, technology is utilized to retain clients. Guests are asked to download the salon’s app and participate in daily “scratch offs” to win prizes.
“It gives them a reason to look at it every day,” Gettinger says. “They also have a personal punch card on the app to receive punches for product purchases and a discount after they get 10 punches.”
The salon’s top 10 clients receive cookies every holiday season and the rest of the salon’s clientele enjoys an open house with giveaways and swag bags. But the number-one compliment the salon receives in reviews is how clients feel when the staff knows their name.
“We try to say the guest’s name three times in two minutes, and people notice,” Gettinger says.
Following up on retention numbers with stylists is also important to maintain and grow percentages.
“In our monthly individual meeting with each team member, we go over all numbers including overall retention, existing retention and new guest retention,” Yurko says. “This way the artist always knows where they’re at and how to continue to grow that percentage.”
Sharing the Love: Referrals
Clients also take notice of the referral program at Hollywood Hair.
“We have business cards with our faces on them,” Gettinger says. “We tell clients the biggest compliment they can give us is to refer people like them. And they get 20 percent off any take-home purchase.”
As back-up, the front desk is trained to continue the referral conversation.
Neatbeat clients learn about referrals through retail. A “Share the Love” shelf, which is highlighted during the new-client salon tour, is stocked with full-size products for guests to choose from when they refer a new client.
“Once we know who referred a new guest to us, we add that existing guest to our ‘Thanks for the Love’ e-mail, which lets them know they have earned a free product,” Yurko says.
“It’s a really good referral program because it’s instant gratification. The product is worth around $28, and it encourages clients to buy new products.”
Most importantly, the shelf of products is a visible reminder at every appointment for existing guests to refer new clients.
Aria relies on its points system for referrals, giving existing clients 700 points ($7) each time they refer a new guest.
“We also have a first-time client referral for $20 off the first visit on our website that our stylists tell new clients about,” Khodayari says. “In January and July, our slower months, we run a 20/20 referral program. So the existing client gets 700 points and $20 off.”
Whether you offer service discounts, free retail or another incentive, referrals are the lifeline of a salon business.
Training staff to make it part of the conversation, along with prebooking and retail, is integral to keeping a steady flow of new and loyal clients.