Whose client is it anyway?

Larissa Macleman
Salon Owners Collective Founder
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A topic which seems to be in constant discussion among hair and beauty salons is client ownership and contact information. In the hair and beauty industry, customers build very personal relationships with their stylist or therapist.

So what happens to this relationship when the stylist and salon are no longer working together? Or if a therapist moves on to start their own salon or clinic? Does the right to connect with the client belong to the salon or to the stylist?

The dilemma for the client is that if they’ve had their hair cut by the same person for 2, 5 or 10 years, who then moved on, would they still go to the same salon? Or follow that stylist?

For the client, there is much to consider in making this decision.

There are multiple reasons they’ve visited your salon with the same stylist for so long. On one hand, the location, ease of getting to the salon and parking, quality and cleanliness of the environment, the coffee provided, and the service from the team (“they know me there”) are all real and strong reasons to frequent a business. On the other hand, there is the haircut, colour and how it’s blow-waved before they leave, all performed by the stylist in a way they’ve personally developed from the training and experience they’ve had.

The conversation and relationship that a stylist builds with their client is important and personal.

So, which is more important to the client — the salon or the stylist? The answer is different for everyone.

Looking at it from the salon’s perspective

Do you own the right to contact the client when they leave the salon or clinic? Or is it the stylist or therapist who performed the service?

As the owner of the hair salon, you’ve worked hard to build a space that both your employees and customers love. You provide a space for professional services and do the hard work of marketing and managing your business. You are the one taking all the risk, paying the bills, keeping the lights on and paying the wages. Facilitating the space, service and operational systems for stylists and customers to meet and build their relationship makes you a big part of that relationship. Does that mean you can claim the client as yours?

What do stylists say?

As the stylist, you might see things from a different perspective. The business needs your skills and experience, and you are the front line of the business. You nurture the relationship with the client, deliver the professional service and build a reputation. While the environment, location, coffee and brand in the salon play a factor in clients returning for more, the hair styling is the part of the experience the client remembers most and is what brings them back. Does that mean you have full rights to this client? Or is it a bit like saying “If I use the same blow waver every day then should it be mine if I leave?”

So how does it work between these two parties? Owners can outline an understanding, in writing, with each stylist or staff member with their expectations when it comes to customer relations. A written agreement is legally binding but works best in good faith and understanding.

Let’s take a closer look at some key questions around this topic. To get a better understanding, we’ve asked some industry experts to pitch in with their opinions.

Whose client is it anyway?

Should a stylist ever expect to be able to solicit a client from the salon they just left?

“I don’t condone staff ‘stealing’ clients. This is totally inappropriate and not good business practice and eventually will destroy the reputation of an individual. Usually through industry gossip and word of mouth. Having respect for your salon owner if you are leaving is key to making a transition pleasant and amiable.” – Julie Hyne, Business 4 Beauty

“It is appropriate for the salon where the stylist moves to, to advertise where the person is now employed but there should not be soliciting beyond that.” – Erica Cumming, CEO HITO New Zealand

Should a salon advertise for a stylist with an existing customer base?

“I don’t believe that that is appropriate.  Each salon has the obligation to build their own business.  If for no other reason but the salon owner needs to remember that if they advertised for a new stylist with a client base then that stylist can easily leave with that client base along with others that they might build up.” – Erica Cumming, CEO HITO New Zealand

If a client asks, should a salon give out the details for a stylist that has moved on?

“I have always felt that honesty is the best policy, I have always passed on stylists whereabouts and have always given them access to their own client lists, I do admit though that this has bitten me.” – Kylie Hayes, Moha, New Zealand

Behind all of this discussion sits the client, blissfully unaware

People approach a salon/clinic looking for professional services and leave their contact details to help make coming back easier. But are they aware that while they enjoy their treatment, a potential war will be waged for the contact information? Do they have a say in it?

“I have always believed that the client has the right to decide, and always favoured that if they ‘belong’ to anyone it’s the stylist they have formed the relationship with. Now I know business owners will be sighing saying ‘really?!’, but on too many occasions  when we as business owners try to desperately hold onto that client, the business looks non-cooperative.” – Kylie Hayes, Moha, New Zealand

“A good reminder for the business owner is to try to have a relationship with a number of clients, not only the ones that they may do themselves.  Take the time to talk to other clients so clients know who owns the salon.  Also remember that if a client leaves, then acknowledge should you meet them on the street as they may very well like the chance to come back to your salon but may be embarrassed that they left in the first place. Also, ensure that you have sufficient other staff coming up as new stylists that the clients know so that they know other people within the salon.” – Erica Cumming, CEO HITO New Zealand

Whose client is it anyway?

Here’s what the clients have to say

“I will always follow my stylist if I have been with them for a long time, I will stay loyal to them when they decide to move on.” Eden, Wellington

“I love my stylist, but the salon is close to home and convenient. I’d prefer my stylist to stay at that salon, they know me there, it would be hard to move if she changed salons.”

I don’t belong to anyone, I’ll choose my hair stylist on quality and the in salon experience – I’d hate to think that either party thought they own me..!

Our Verdict: the client has the ultimate say

People won’t chime in through a contract or an agreement, they vote with their feet & their money. For this reason, the client doesn’t belong to the salon or the stylist. They are the consumer. The right to choose where they have their services performed still lies with them.

Some final thoughts

At some stage in your business ownership, this is going to be a question for you and your team.  In today’s environment where ‘finding people’ has taken on a whole new level of meaning, is this discussion out of date? Businesses are facing a new social way of doing business. Social media is hugely public, so finding these clients is very easy.

Let’s face it, your salon clients are already communicating with your stylist through Facebook, and appointments through Facebook Messenger is an everyday occurrence between stylist and client — like it or not!

Perhaps rather than stressing over protecting our data, it’s time to evolve and manage our salon team and business to create a kick-ass space that our clients love. Perhaps this will solve any issues around business retention.

4 ways to ensure your business is protected

1. Be upfront with your expectations

Have an open chat with your new staff members about clients from day one. Not all working relationships last forever so it’s good to have the expectations for all parties laid out. Discuss how you will choose to part ways with each other and your clients and prevent any miscommunication later.

Make a note of any specific expectations in your employment agreement — having it in writing is a good way to prevent any misunderstandings.

2. Invest in your staff and customer relationships

You are part of the relationship your staff have with your clients. Invest in this relationship by working with your team. Talk to them every day— remember that every visit is an experience for the client and one you should be a part of.

Ask yourself, where does that experience happen? Think of your store as a home. A warm, healthy, family home is a comfortable place for guests, which is why hosting a healthy work environment is vital to your business. It helps retain good staff and builds a comfortable place for your clients to visit.

  • Will you openly tell clients where she has gone and how to find her? Followed by an introduction to another staff member and a friendly message to let them know you value their needs.
  • Try a direct marketing strategy to help keep your clients and encourage them back to other team members — a gift voucher, perhaps?
  • Make personal contact with your clients between visits via email or SMS marketing.
  • Protect your client data by outlining what access staff have to client details. If you’re using POS and booking software you should have a feature to help you limit and manage access.

3. Present your staff to your clients

Add profiles of your staff on your website and Facebook. Your clients are going to find your staff anyway, so why not have a professional persona ready for them. Present them on a professional page along with inspiration that you can support (and quietly encourage quality).Prepare a strategy for your clients. Create a plan for talking with your clients to let them know they are valued. Plan your strategy for when it does happen because it will happen at some stage. How will you ensure your reputation stays strong and is seen to be genuine about best caring for each client?

Having a plan will help you keep your reputation strong. Think about what you will do when a staff member moves on.

4. Build a culture

Build a culture around clients belonging to the business and enjoying a relationship with all the team, not just one. This should include apprentices, front of house staff and owners equally. Communication is key! Stay in contact with your clients. Inform and share with them through email, Facebook posts and in-salon communications. Collecting client details then takes on the wider goal of maintaining a relationship with them during and between salon visits.

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