If you think it’s easy for your clients to change their dentist, try changing your hairdresser!

I’ve been going to the same hairdresser, Sarah, for more than 20 years. She runs a contemporary salon in the small Devon town we call home, having escaped from a hectic London lifestyle a few years ago.

She’s in demand, works chair-side for just 3 days a week and so inevitably, has a very full appointment book (despite repeatedly putting her fees up). Over the last 3 weeks, her salon rescheduled my booked appointment twice and on both occasions tried to rebook it for a day I couldn’t attend. When I phoned to find a more convenient appointment, the available appointments stretched many weeks into the future.

Now, I know I’m a difficult client, my diary changes at short notice (clients eh!) and I have to move my haircuts to suit. However, I’m also fiercely loyal and a great referrer. In the past, this has earned me the opportunity of an early or late appointment with Sarah who adjusts her start or finish time. This occasion, no such appointment was on offer. So, with a heavy heart, I started looking around for an alternative salon. Knowing I would be in London for a few days the following week, I set about finding a haircut in Marylebone (where I would be based for a few days). I started my search online and looked at 3 or 4 websites eventually choosing a salon to call and see if they had an appointment available to suit me (early morning). So far, so good. Well, the receptionist was helpful and nice enough and at 0830 one morning last week, I found myself crossing the threshold of a new hairdressing salon for the first time this millennium.

The salon was empty of clients and empty of a receptionist. As I cautiously ventured inside, I found two guys talking, one of whom turned out to be my man. A teenager washed my hair (clearly at the point in his training where he had been told to make conversation with the clients and I helped him out by telling him that yes, I did have a busy day and yes, the weather was great for the time of year). When I sat in my stylist’s chair, he asked me a little about what I wanted and then for most of the next 30 minutes, continued to talk to the same colleague he was talking to when I arrived. Apparently, his colleague was booking a trip to Australia and my man had lots of advice to offer. In the gaps, I was also able to reassure him that I did indeed have a busy day and that the weather was great for the time of year. As I sat watching my hair being cut, several staff arrived in dribs and drabs, through the front door, in outdoor gear and stopped for a quick gossip with my man who didn’t feel the need to include me in any of these conversations either.

50 minutes after arriving I paid (£62) at the desk (now manned) and one of the receptionists said, “Have a nice day Simon!” It only occurred to me then that this was the first time anyone in this business had used my name. Oh, and the haircut? Fine! Not great but fine. Would I go back? Maybe, but I hope not to. Will I go back to Sarah’s salon? Probably…

Now, some hairdressers have coaches too. I’ve long admired Hairdressing Coach, Alan Austin-Smith and I use his books with some Dental clients (particularly, “The Fantastic Hairdresser”  which has some useful tactics for motivating and managing support teams. (And don’t shoot the messenger, I know Dentistry is a serious business and has higher stakes than hairdressing, but both dentists and hairdressers are appealing to clients’ disposable incomes and both have to create some sort of functional – or even unique – client journey within their businesses in order to express the value of what they do to their clients.) Just like good hairdressing salons, successful dental practice owners know that the best way to keep their clients and differentiate their practices from their competitors, is to have their team implement a memorable and reliable client journey.

So how was my client journey? Well, you can tell from my account that it was pretty patchy. And like any other hairdressing (or dental) client, the quality of my experience will be just as important a factor as the haircut (or filling).

So what can dental practice owners learn from this?

  1. Your reception staff need a little flexibility so as to offer difficult but loyal, profitable, referring clients (like me) an appointment that may not suit the practice, but will keep folk like me as clients (and referrers).
  2. If your practice website doesn’t come up on Google page 1 top 5, in your locale, for common search terms (try it with a cached computer), you are simply not on the radar of a new client.
  3. Your Web Site has to match your target clients’ expectations. Not fancy, but to meet their expectations and easy to navigate.
  4. Your reception staff need to be at their desk before the first patient arrives (and after the last one leaves).
  5. A new client needs instant affirmation that they are in the right place and that they made a good choice in booking this appointment.
  6. A new client needs a warm welcome and to be introduced to their treatment team.
  7. All of your team need to focus on the client, not on each other.
  8. Gossip in any client space is simply inappropriate and clients will judge your team badly if they hear/see it going on.
  9. Don’t let the team arrive or leave through the front door (if you have an option).
  10. Don’t make banal conversation with clients, make good conversation with clients. It’s easy to do, just be genuinely interested in their lives beyond the weather and their holiday plans.
  11. Use the client’s name a lot in conversation, it is the sweetest word in their personal vocabulary!
  12. The fee is only an issue for your clients if they doubt the value of what they have just had provided.
  13. Ask your clients for feedback. (As Muhammed Ali said, “It’s the breakfast of champions!”)

And at £62, my London hair salon experience was twice the price of my usual Devon salon. It’s a shame they can’t “fit me in”.

Just in case I’m being a little opaque here, the important message I want to send to Dental Practice owners is that, although dental patients appear ever-willing to mess up their appointments and are subject to lots of your competition’s marketing messages, it is really quite difficult and stressful for them to switch to a new practice. I think it is easier to change GP than change your dentist or hairdresser. So take care of your clients, bend a little when you need to (to suit them) and be grateful that for your clients, moving to a new practice or a new salon is not as easy as it might appear.

If you would like some help with getting your client journey right every time, contact me for a chat:
e.   simon@nowbreathe.co.uk
m. 07770 430576
t.   01548 852573

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One Response to If you think it’s easy for your clients to change their dentist, try changing your hairdresser!

  1. Tayyaba says:

    Great article ‘Simon’ 🙂

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