Most of us have either heard of or read Animal Farm an allegorical novel by George Orwell set in 1917. A simplistic novel about a farm where the leadership of the farm declared all animals on the farm equal in status, but as was discovered in their farm life and leadership tenets, some animals seemed more equal than others a depiction of the happenings in the Stalin era during the Russian revolution. An experience a friend of mine – Let’s call her Mahwam  narrated to me recently on her salon experience had me flash back to my high school days where we read this book with much intrigue, arguing passionately against the injustice of the unspoken inequality. 

So I now ask, in the salon industry, are there some customers that are more equal than others? Are there situations that call for unequal treatment? Mahwam for example, had booked her hair stylist whom we shall call Rose for a 1 o’clock appointment last Thursday to wash up, condition, gel and style up her locks.  She had tried to get a booking the day before but Rose had told her she had another booking, so the appointment was set for Thursday. So Mahwam called up at 1pm to confirm that she was enroute as her office is a 2 minute walk from the Salon and Rose informed her that her previous appointment was quite late, but she knows what she would do to manage the situation. What Rose had planned was to have someone else wash and condition Mahwam’s hair then she’d take time out from the late customer to twist up and gel it into a hairstyle.

So Mahwam went to the salon, and someone else undid her previous hairstyle, and washed her hair which she didn’t mind. While the wash was ongoing, Rose came over to the sink and informed her that the late client had refused to have her take a break from her hair and would not let someone else do a bit of it while Rose attended to her. She then requested Mahwam to please have someone else do her hair instead. Mahwam who has had previous unpleasant experiences with other people doing up her hair and had specifically booked Rose  declined indicating that  didn’t  like that proposal  and that she had already made an appointment and wouldn’t have it ruined by another client who did not honour their timing. Rose tried to make the request again but Mahwam was not agreeable wondering what indeed then was the use of an appointment booked 2 days ago if someone else could come and interfere?

To cut the long story short, Mahwam left the Salon with her locks washed but not gelled and twisted and to use her own words ‘looking like a real Mungiki’. The outcome of this incident is that Mahwam has ditched Rose. She acknowledges that Rose does a very good job and she has been with her for a while – in fact she’d changed salons to this new one as Rose had moved from a previous place – but that if accessing her services has proved such a difficult process and that then after securing a booking she’s passed over for another, then she’d rather look for someone else.

I have a few questions to ask at this point. One – was it worth the business received to have a loyal customer leave with a sour taste in her mouth? Two – what could Rose have done differently in this situation to have a favourable outcome for all? And three – besides Rose, what did the management of the Salon do about the situation occurring between an employee and a customer in their establishment?
Thinking about this unfortunate incident, the message out to Mahwam as a customer was that she was indeed not as important as the previous customer and that the rules of the game could be twisted to suit someone else who turned up late for their appointment. Many of us have been in a situation where we are in the middle of having our hair or nails done and the stylist requests to do another quick job in between like an eyebrow shaping or quick styling. Whereas this multitasking does take up some time in between one’s already ongoing procedure, many customers do not mind if  the stylist makes a kind request. However, if the customer is not agreeable, their wish should be honoured for interruptions to service should be at the discretion of the present customer.

In Mahwam’s case, there was outright discrimination. One is left to wonder if the late customer was paying more or having a more expensive procedure done or what motivated the decision to choose who to disappoint?  Was the late customer more important? Rose was indeed out of order and should have had her late customer inconvenienced rather than the one who had followed the rules. Also, if Rose had judged that indeed there would be a problem, it would have been in order for her to let Mahwam know in advance when she called that there was a tricky situation at hand before she reached the Salon in order to have her make an informed decision to still come in to have her hair done or otherwise.

Customer loyalty in the service industry is pegged on how appreciated a customer feels. Does your customer special? Do they feel acknowledged? Do they feel important? If the answer to these three questions is a resounding yes, then you have a loyal customer who will be a raving ambassador for your services.
To have excellent customer service an avoid situations such as Mahwam’s we need to make sensible decisions and remain true to our brand promise and our word. If we have made a particular promise to our customers, we should stick by that and deliver as best possible. Our word should be bankable without second thought. Time is considered very precious with customers’ current busy lifestyles  and any situation deemed to be wasting one’s time or not honouring the preciousness of it, will have the customer easily ditch one service provider for another.

Special treatment should be accorded to all customers in a like fashion. There should be consistency of service and standards upheld for all customers. As is said, one unhappy customer tells 23 others about it and the experience gets wilder with each new telling. And in the case of Mahwam’s not only did she tell her story, but left the Salon and Rose’s services never to return. A bad reputation is quite a challenge to mend and we should endeavour not to ruin it in the first place rather than struggling to redeem it once dented.

So what is our extract from Mahwam’s experience? What does one need to do differently? What should be at the fore of our decision making when faced with two conflicting customer desires? We should at the very basic, look at what was promised and honour that. One may end up disappointing one customer, but even the disappointed customer will acknowledge that even if not in their favour, one stuck by their word and honoured it at all costs and may even reluctantly imagine that the same would be done in their favour if the situation arose.

The experts define a good brand as a promise made and a promise kept. The key question today is – What brand promise is your Salon making to your customers? And are you keeping that promise no matter the cost? Challenge yourself today and start making the difference that will have your Salon be a formidable brand.