Reading the Client

We've all seen her—the teenage girl who walks timidly into the salon with her shoulders taut, sitting nervously in the waiting room with her coat still on, biting her nails or clutching a magazine. How should you respond? Not only is learning to recognize and interpret your clients' body language an important way to keep them happy, says Nikki Trowbridge, owner of Statements Salon & Spa in Woodbridge, VA, it can go a long way toward boosting your bottom line. Trowbridge should know: She had 280 clients when she opened Statements six years ago. Now her salon boasts more than 6,000 clients, some from as far away as California, and Trowbridge is convinced that her ability to decipher body language is one of the reasons for her salon's success. "Customer service has so much to do with understanding the nuances of a situation, not just with what is said," she says. "If you learn to understand what it means when a client moves quickly, avoids eye contact or crosses her arms, it's going to give you an edge that you cannot buy any other way."

Trowbridge recommends setting aside a few hours every week to train your staff to interpret intangibles such as hand gestures and slumped shoulders. Read the face first, she says. "If they're staring at you wide-eyed, then they're definitely scared. So if they're asking you to cut four inches, don't cut four inches." Not that you should ever make assumptions about what a client wants based on body language alone, Trowbridge cautions. Rather, use the movements to gauge how a client feels, then conduct the consultation accordingly. Here, Trowbridge points out some common gestures to watch out for during a consultation and offers tips on how to respond to them.

  • If a client moves her hands quickly, squirms in the chair and looks a little wide-eyed, she's probably nervous. To help her relax, speak a little more slowly, act calmly and compliment her.
  • If she crosses her arms or legs, then she's not very open to a new hairdo, and perhaps not in the mood for small talk either. So act accordingly.
  • If she keeps pushing at the back of her head, she may want more volume in the back. Ask her.
  • If she strokes her neck, then she probably feels more comfortable with longer hair. Be wary if she says she wants to go short.
  • If she pushes her hair off the forehead, then she prefers to keep strands away from her face. Conversely, if she pulls her hair forward, it's likely she wants to keep her forehead covered.

If you're interested in understanding more about body language, Trowbridge recommends reading The Invisible Touch, by Harry Beckwith. –C.W.