Brushing Off: What Hair Salons Taught Me About Client Services

My mother is a retired hairdresser. During her career of thirty-plus yearsshe styled tens ofthousandsof heads, from teaching hairstyling in the Philippines to eventually running her own salon in Canada.As her son,I've been treated to many different but socially acceptable hairstyles growing up. I've had perms, streaks, I even had Dragonball Z hair at one point.It's a luxuryI've grown up with, andfriends have also enjoyed the perk of free haircuts from time to time.When I moved away from my hometown, Iwasleft to fend for myself, and it took a while to find the right stylist.Listening to all the storiesmy mother gainedalong the way–from racism, to legal threats, to personal connections that last a lifetime–I fully appreciatethe designer/client relationship that is hairdressing, and sitting in herchair hastaught me more than just how to be picky.

Styling Hair is Hard

Being a hairdresser is a difficult profession.It's hard to stand on your feet all day and make people beautiful. It's a service that most people takefor granted, and it typically doesn't pay well.But given how commodotizedit is, there is still opportunity for differentiationamong service. Some stylists areclearlybetter than others, and they become invaluable to their clients. That's why they're always booked.There's a human bond that materializes during a successful hairdo. This bond beginswhen you –the client –look at yourselfin the mirror, yourstylist standing proudly behind you with another, smaller mirror. This two-way bond is made permanentwhen the customerreceives apassing compliment the next day. Eventually, the stylist and customer learn each other.Styling hair is a good analog for design services. Besides tattoos, it's one of the only designer-of-you/client relationships that exist in modern everyday life. Unless you're an expert, it's hard to know what works and what doesn't.It's also really hard to cut your own hair. And the flowbeenever really took off.

A good Hairdresser is a good salesman

Like any subset of design, a haircut doesn't sellitself. Not everyone can be the Zohan.Selling is a bigpart of the job. If the customer doesn't understand why ahairdo is right, it's wrong.The value has to be communicated to you, or else yourinsecurities will get the better of you. Youhave to be convinced before you walk out the door, or thestylist isrisking you not coming back.It's also important thatyoufeel comfortable throughout the process, so they hide the details along the waythat stress youout. If the stylist accidentally takes a chunk of yourhair in the back, theydon't blurt out, "oops." Theyfix it by blending in the surrounding hair and sell you the result.You never realise they made a mistake, and it doesn't matter, because they're the experts.You trust them. It's part of the service.

A good hairdresser leads the client

Being at a salon is a luxurious experience. That's why good hairdressers have to present both themselves and their finished work to a high-level. They exist tomake life easier, to lead people to happiness through beauty.Sometimes a client will know exactly what they want. Sometimes, they have no idea.Sometimes, they walk in with a picture of Rachel from Friends and expect to leave looking like Jennifer Anniston. It's upto the stylist to expertlyreel back their expectations into reality.Now that my headis generally out of my mother's care, when I'm sitting in that salon chair looking at myselfin the mirror, it's not easy for meto know whata successful changeis going to look like, or how it will be managed long-term.At times, Imight sound like apicky person, but I just want to give good them good feedback before they continue. Itdoesn't mean I'm abad client. While some clients are truly bad,most ofthe droll feedback seen on Clients from Hell is the result of baddesigners who can't steera client.It's not about me picking apart what the hairdresser did wrong, or trying to convince them I'll look good with a pink mohawk (I would). It's about them interpretingmy feedback and educating me before the clippers come out. Both the hairstylist and the client justwant to be happy. We're all human after all.Over the years in my career, my mother's craft has influenced me more than I could have ever known back when I wasthatAsian kid with a perm in elementary school.Most of all, she encouraged me to be creative and to embrace change. Life goes on. Sometimes, what's done is done.The new you is the best you.