by Annie Kile
OK – for all you fella’s out there who might think there’s nothing it for you to read this post just think about the last time your wife or girlfriend came home with a haircut or hair color she wasn’t happy with. I’m going to bet you either said (or were at least thinking) “Why didn’t you just let the stylist know what you wanted?” Maybe they did let the stylist know. Maybe the stylist didn’t listen. Maybe the stylist didn’t ask.
Great hairstylists provide their clients with great consultations. They know that’s the only way to discover their client’s wants, needs, problems, and preferences.
Every small business owner (male or female) needs to discover their customer’s or client’s wants, needs, problems, and preferences.
And that, my friends, is what this post is all about.
Expert versus Know it All
I’ve suffered through a few pretty awful haircuts but I’ve come to learn I know when I’m in trouble.
Scenario #1: The stylist washes my hair, walks me back to her chair, pulls out a comb and scissors and is ready to start chopping after asking a few superficial questions such as “So, how much do want me to cut off?”
Scenario #2: After letting a stylist know what I wanted, looking in the mirror, I’m thinking this doesn’t look like what I asked for. Upon questioning, the stylist says “Don’t worry, I know what I’m doing.”
Unfortunately, sometimes it appears to our customers and clients that we aren’t listening, or even all that interested, in what they have to say. After all, we’re the experts, we know what we’re doing, and we’re here to serve our customer’s best interests. That’s rather hard to do unless you are completely clear as to exactly what your customer’s “best interests” are.
You might be thinking “I don’t do that!” But you just might have fallen into a rut where you ask the usual suspect questions – which may, or may not, serve to identify your client or customer’s wants, needs, problems, or preferences. And this can translate into a new customer going elsewhere, or losing a customer whose wants, needs, problems, or preferences have changed.
Take a Seat
Style Seat is an online service “to discover and book a salon, spa or professional online.” They posted a piece on their blog : “Tips on How to Give an Amazing Client Consultation.” The tips they’ve included are as true in a hair salon as they are at any small business.
The first point they make is a critical factor in small business success:
“Consultations are crucial to making your client feel like you’re listening to them and that they’re being taken care of. The better you can do this, the more they’ll return and refer you to their friends.”
Every savvy business owner knows that keeping an existing customer is less expensive than finding new customers. Additionally, a general rule of thumb is that 80% of your business should come from referrals – again, having an existing customer refer new business to you is less expensive than finding new customers on your own.
The second point they make is equally critical:
“Consults can get tricky because a client may not speak up if they have questions or concerns.”
It’s really easy to think when a customer or client doesn’t express any concerns or has few (if any) questions during our presentation or consultation that we’ve hit the nail on the head and are certain to make a sale. Actually, there’s a pretty good chance that we’ve missed the target completely.
One of the worst haircuts I ever got in my life occurred when I was too timid to ask questions or voice my concerns – and this was done by a stylist I’d been going to for over a year! It will come as no surprise that I never returned and certainly didn’t refer anybody to her ever again. You think I would have learned, but this same train wreck of an experience happened again with a stylist I’d never used before when, once again, I didn’t speak up. Never went back or referred to that stylist either.
Neither one of these hairstyles were so bad that I couldn’t be seen in public. But they weren’t want I wanted, didn’t meet my needs, and certainly weren’t styles I preferred.
How to Give and Amazing Consult
So far we’ve been talking about what can happen when we fall into the trap of thinking we “know what’s best” when, in fact, we don’t have enough information. However, while I’ve gotten butchered enough to know when I need to get out of a stylist’s chair – I’ve also come to know when I am in good hands. Again, the tips Style Seat provides for giving an amazing style consultation hold true for any business. Here’s my interpretation of those tips from a perspective that holds true for any small business:
Communication is key. If you’re working with a new customer or client it is useful to first establish some common ground. While people’s time is important and they don’t necessarily want to “chat” – a few pleasantries exchanged can be essential as this helps gain your customer’s trust and they will also tend to be more comfortable about asking questions and sharing concerns with you.
You don’t know if you don’t ask. The key to asking the “right” questions during a consultation is to be sure you are asking open-ended questions. What are open ended questions? The simplest definition of an open ended question is a question that is impossible to respond to with a “yes” or a “no.” Instead, they are questions that are designed for a response that will provide you with information and insight into your customer.
Show and tell. Even though you’ve asked the right questions, it is still possible to misinterpret your customer’s response. Neither you, nor your customer, necessarily sees the world or interprets what’s been said in the same way. Not to mention that your customer or client might not be exactly sure what it is, or how to express, what will meet their wants, needs, problems, and preferences.
What will solve this problem is a good old demonstration. No, I’m not suggesting that you present some kind of “infomercial” – demonstrating comes in many forms.
Provide an example. An obvious example when selling a product is the product itself – but when you include examples of how the product has worked for others this can lead to the customer clarifying or declaring a concern. This also works when working with clients for those of us running service-based small businesses. Rather than demonstrating a product, creating charts, graphs, infographics and the like will provide the same opportunity to receive clarification and uncovering concerns from clients.
And I would be remiss if I failed to point out that stories are perhaps the most powerful way to give your client a “real world” example. For one, a story “shows” the value of your product and/or service. And, even if the story doesn’t resonate – when you tell a story during a consultation (such as how your service helped another business or customer successfully) if the client you’re in front of doesn’t relate to your story, they are apt to tell you why (giving you more information.) It is also important to note that stories are a two-way street. Encouraging your customer to “tell you their stories” can provide you with information they may not have shared via those open ended questions you’ve asked.
Don’t tell – educate. While we don’t want to come off as a “know it all” and while we’ve established how important communication, demonstration, and examples are for gleaning the information we need in order to best serve our customer’s best interests – there is still a need to educate customers and clients.
This is true even though today’s consumers are perhaps the best informed consumers in history. The Internet literally places information at the fingertips of your customer, and it is a rare consumer who has not done at least preliminary research online before heading out to buy a product or service.
However, this doesn’t mean your customer or client is an expert or has a complete handle on what is, in fact, best for them. If this is the case, rather than telling a client what they need, educate the client. Educating the client involves “who, what, where, how and why.” For example, the “who” might involve educating a client about why they need to outsource because they simply don’t have the time or the people on board in their business.
You may need to educate about “what and how” by explaining a process step-by-step. You may need to inform a customer as to where a product comes from and/or how it is produced. And, it almost goes without saying that customers who understand “why they should buy from you” are customers that do, in fact, buy from you.
Listen – don’t lead. Listening is a completely different process than hearing. You hear what someone is saying simply because they are speaking out loud. Listening requires attaching meaning to what is being said. Too often we’re thinking more about what we’re going to say before we’ve really listened to what our customer is saying. Which isn’t listening, instead this kind of “listening” usually results in leading or prompting a customer to “say what we want.” It also contributes to our interrupting a customer before they’ve finished – both of which often result in our not hearing important information from the customer.
The goal of a truly expert hairstylist is to know that every time their client looks in a mirror they think “Wow! I love my hair!” and they know the first step to achieving that goal is an amazing consultation. Our clients and customers may not literally be looking in a mirror, but we can think of our services and/or products as mirrors – and when our customers take a look in that mirror we want them to think “Wow!” We want them to be completely satisfied and happy with their decision to buy from us. And we know that the first step to achieving that goal is an amazing consultation.
Content is definitely King. If you’re business isn’t providing dynamic, meaningful content to your customers and prospects that develops their trust in your business, you are losing business. Not enough time to do that? That’s where I come in.