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A hairy language crisis for proving worth

April 29, 2010

Here’s a great example of how a language crisis can hold you back from bringing value to your work. Every business and individual would benefit from a regular analysis of the communication skills they use at work.

Paul Mitchell Salons, founded 30 years ago, built its brand on a foundation of learning and teaching millions of people how to take better care of their hair and skin.  The cosmetology giant understood that one of the problems with the industry, in particularly the salon business, was a matter of semantics.

The average clients on the street valued their experience in a hair salon to a lesser degree than, say, dining in a four-star restaurant. The problem wasn’t that clients received rampantly diminished service, but rather the level of expertise inside the salon was not adequately relayed to customers. Clients – including me – need to be trained to take better care of our hair, skin and our health. We need to view our professionals as professional.  We can’t really do that if we view going to the salon in the same light that we do when we fill our cars with gasoline: Get in. Get out quickly. Don’t stay to chat.

Sitting down at a four-star restaurant, however, we immediately know that we will have an elevated dining experience. From the coat clerk to the hostess to the head chef every one is trained to teach us with class and knowledge about the nuances of what we are eating. We learn something while we’re there. We chat with the staff. We know exactly what’s in the reduction sauce, where the salmon came from, what type of chocolate is in the cake and why the chef is recommending a specific wine. Staff members fuss over us and we feel good being there.

Most diners, I suppose, can’t wait to go back again. In the meantime, they’re talking about their experience.

At a salon, however, are you working with a hairdresser or a stylist? Do you get your hair colored or do you have a color consultation? When you call do you make an appointment or a reservation for services? Do you get facials or have a treatment from a skin care therapist?

For the cosmetology industry, this is really an image crisis that a good dose of public relations training on a micro level in every salon could change.

A simple curriculum of basic public speaking, presentation training, and language-building skills, on a regular basis would go a long way toward building the quality of the corporate brand in many salons. Every one benefits when staff members build their skills. Maybe salons should conduct a communications audit every five years.

Paul Mitchell Salons found a way to be the change agent by redesigning its salons and instituting an expanded level of training through its schools and regional trade shows. The company found it was time to rethink how we as consumers viewed different aspects of the salon experience.

With its corporate redesign, Paul Mitchell Salons relabeled the reception area to Reservations, because the company wanted people to make a reservation on its staff time and expertise. It was also telling people to reserve time for themselves. Make you a priority.

Clients no longer went to the bowl or sink to get their hair washed and treated. It’s The Wash House.  Stylists used to consult with their clients in the chair and then disappear into the dispensary to mix hair colors. Professionals now take their clients to The Stylists Station and together they discuss their hair color options at The Color Bar.

One of my pet peeves is not having a stylist who will take the time to suggest different products that are offered at a salon. There are walls filled with products. How am I supposed to know what conditioner to choose? I cringe when someone says to me “try it and see how you like it.” Not at $20 a bottle times three bottles.

Helping me prepare my product options – a menu if you will – to Take Home sounds a lot more elegant and makes me think about what I actually need to look salon good tomorrow. When I walk through the door of a salon my average ticket runs about $100. I’m more likely to spend a few minutes shopping if I know I’m going to receive additional advice. I appreciate that expertise too.

I was listening to a discussion at a Paul Mitchell runway exhibit at the Valley Forge Hair Show this week of how salon owners and cosmetologists could help build their business from within by rethinking and rebranding the salon experience for their clients.

“Do you ever wonder why there is an epidemic of at-home hair color in this country,” a Paul Mitchell trainer asked the audience. “It’s because we fail to show our value to our clients. If you train your clients to understand the benefits of professional hair color and the steps that they can take to maintain it then they are less likely to experiment with off-the-shelf color at home.”

From my own experience in salons over the years, she was right on point. The speaker said she sometimes refers to herself as a crime stopper, who goes around the world solving crime one bad hair cut and color at a time. I howled.

Maybe I should change my job description from public relations strategist to this:

Spiritual Advisor – provides companies and organizations with important messaging to help them grow forward.

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