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Customer Experience

The Salon Customer Experience: Ultimate Nirvana

A relaxed-looking woman with long brown hair enjoys a shampoo at a salon. The salon customer experience is key to business success.

If there is one industry where customer experience is truly indispensable, it is the soothing world of the salon.

That’s because a salon should be the ultimate refuge short of an actual vacation, a place where people go to be pampered as they shut out the world – and let their thoughts drift to their hair, nails, or whatever else they choose.

All of which makes salon customer experience far more than a nice-to-have but an absolutely must-have. In the highly competitive and growing industry, salons are responding to this imperative with a variety of enticing touches, from hot towels and candy buffets to innovative hair and makeup treatments.

Salon experts describe customer experience as a journey of ambiance, one that begins the moment customers book appointments and carries through to the warm welcome they receive, the extra attention that enhances their visit, and the personalized follow-up that invites them back.

Customer experience “is everything” for salons, said Anthony Civitano, Vice Chairman of the Board of Directors at Salon Professional Education Co. (SPEC), a national network of beauty schools for salon professionals.

“The salon is and has always been, the town square,” he said in an interview with The Experience Maker. “In many a salon and barber shop across the country, family, politics, religion, local and personal concerns are aired and debated. A person’s hairdresser is a stylist, friend, rabbi, priest, counselor, and confidant all wrapped in one.”

Salon Purveyors Take Customer Reviews To Heart

A recent analysis of more than 7,000 customer reviews from U.S. salons and spas – conducted by Clootrack and featured on the CX: See Why show – illustrated what patrons see as important. Notably, many reviews contained nothing about products or services but focused on the experience and how salon personnel made them feel.

Abby Warther has taken those feelings to heart. The owner of AW Salon in North Canton, Ohio has won praised from industry colleagues as “the reigning queen of ideal guest experiences.”

Her offerings range from a “hot towel service” – damp towels with aromatherapy scents that she wraps around clients’ heads during shampooing – to premium snacks, an espresso machine, and a client lounge “ideal for a quiet processing area away from the busy salon floor.”

On a larger scale, the national hair salon chain Drybar has disrupted the industry by becoming known for a product – its signature blowouts, hair treatments with no cut or color that include a wash, blow dry, and styling.

Yet cofounder Alli Webb knew exactly where to focus her efforts before selling Drybar in 2019: squarely on the salon customer experience.

“The idea that the customer is always right was branded into me as a kid,” she told Forbes. “I knew that if we didn’t have customer service down, nothing else mattered. We weren’t just selling blowouts. We sold the happiness and confidence that comes with it.”

She added: “Remember that the customer is your compass.”

Related: Customer Experience Examples In The Spa Industry: Pampering And Playful

The Salon Industry Grows, Focuses On CX

With their emphasis on close personal contact, salons were hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. But recovery has been swift, with a 2023 consumer survey showing that 51 percent of the U.S. population regularly visits a hair or beauty salon.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that the personal care services industry will grow 8.1 percent from 2020 to 2030. It defines the industry as including barbershops, beauty and nail salons, and personal care services, ranging from hair and nail care, facials, makeup treatments and massages to tattoos, saunas, and ear piercings.

Growth projections for the global beauty salon market are similar, propelled in significant part by “a heightened emphasis on enhancing the overall customer experience.”

Indeed, The Salon Professional Academy (TSPA), a top beauty school franchise, offers its students “the necessary technical skills along with business, marketing, and guest handling tools.” And at least one expert has taken notice.

“No matter where I am, I can always tell a TSPA graduate because they are consistently one step ahead of their peers – in skills, professionalism, and customer service,” said Jesse Linares, Artistic Director at The Studio by Studio Gaven.

Customer Experience Stands Out

To provide s great customer experience experience, SPEC’s Civitano has some advice: “Listen, listen, listen.”

“A client is paying for a stylist’s attention as much as talent,” he said. “It is all about the client – understanding their life (without getting too deep). What is their profession? How does it contrast with their personal life, and how can the stylist create a look that is manageable and interchangeable?”

Classic salons combine that creative look with loads of personalized attention. Manhattan’s famed John Barrett Salon – which for years spanned the penthouse level of the Bergdorf Goodman department store – was among the first salons to offer comprehensive beauty care including manicures, pedicures, and makeup services.

Its full slate of offerings today include haircuts from $175 and up, full highlights from $320, a Magic Sleek straightening treatment from $620 – and a chin wax starting at $40.

But it was the experience offered by hairdresser John Barrett, his “relaxed wit, scissor-sharp style and long line of A-list clients,” that brought in regulars like Martha Stewart, Princess Diana and Hillary Clinton. Customers routinely hailed the half-days they spent in the calming atmosphere of his luxurious beauty mecca, with its foamy cappuccinos and Central Park view making it feel like they were on vacation.

An Industry Leader

When John DiJulius opened his first John Roberts Spa more than 30 years ago, he knew he had to do something to stand out.

“The street we opened up on… you could literally throw a baseball and didn’t have to have a good arm and hit a bunch of salons,” DiJulius told Jesse Cole on the Business Done Differently podcast. He settled on customer experience as the ultimate differentiator and never looked back.

“To this day, we don’t advertise but we invest like crazy in the customer experience and the training of our employees,” DiJulius said.

More Salon Industry Examples

Canadian hair stylist Dawn Bradley goes all out on the salon customer experience, offering candy buffets and chai tea lattes while bringing her dogs to work.

Bradley suggests that salon owners “provide consistent experiences and let your clients know how much you appreciate them!”

In the Washington, D.C. area, The Nail Saloon is a salon and cocktail bar in one. The team’s core values, according to its website, are excellence, kindness, and generosity, and the company outlaws “mean girls.”

A Witty sign inside the “saloon” highlights different nail shapes, including round, almond, and square. Then there is “queen,” with points on the top of the nail that look like a crown. “Just kidding,” the sign reads, “though if you’re really into it, we can work something out.”

A sign in The Nail Saloon identifies different nail styles, such as round, almond, and square. Then there's one called "queen" where the nail has points at the top like a crown, with a note that says "just kidding... though if you're really into it we can work something out." This is a great example of a salon customer experience infusing some humor.

A sign at The Nail Saloon highlights a Witty customer experience. Photo courtesy of Gina Schaefer.

In Atlanta, Van Michael Salon locations offer what co-owner Van Council calls transformational service for haircuts and colorings, hair treatments and extensions, waxing, and makeup.

“Every service comes with a sensory experience and every haircut ends with a complimentary makeup touchup,” Council said. “And, managers introduce themselves to new guests and give them a gift of travel-sized products.”

The Van Michael slogan says it all: “You first.”

That’s exactly where the focus should be when people experience salons or services in any other industry: on the customer.

Main Image: Adobe Firefly, using AI. 

NEW! The Little Book of Little CX Ideas™ for Salon Professionals. Read the digital version here

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