“Never work for free!”
I say it a lot. I say it in classes, in published articles, on my blogs (here and at NTRC), in my book, and to students and new graduates who call or email me for advice. It’s a statement others have criticized, often by professionals who also criticize the statement: “Clients aren’t your friends.”
The reasons both pieces of advice are valid and worth heeding seem obvious to me, but since this bad information keeps circulating, we’ll break this down together.
But first, let’s discuss my credentials, so those of you who are new here can understand that I’m not just some crackpot cat lady with a website and a penchant for crushing dreams. My name is Tina Alberino, and I joined this industry at the age of fifteen years old. I’ve spent the bulk of my career in management positions and now, I work in management consulting and education.
I’m the person your clients complain to about your ‘special friendship.’
…we’ll get into that more later. First, here are the reasons why you should NOT become too familiar with your clients.
1.) It’s inappropriate.
Know your role. You’re a service provider. Your job entails performing services on clients to their specifications for a fee. That job description (and that fee) does not include chattering your head off.
2.) You aren’t getting paid for talking.
Remember when I said “never work for free?” If you aren’t getting paid to talk, don’t. If clients aren’t willing to pay extra for conversation with you, odds are pretty good that it’s not something they value.
3.) Clients don’t care about you.
I’m not sure who keeps telling new professionals this, but when you come to work, you’re there to work. It isn’t “The [INSERT YOUR NAME HERE] Show.” The salon floor isn’t a stage upon which you can have an eight hour monologue every day. Clients are not your audience. They’re in the salon to get a service. They likely don’t care about your troubles, illnesses, weight issues, obnoxious children, or financial struggles.
Do you hear me?
They. Don’t. Care.
For some reason, a lot of professionals elevate their clients and put them on this pedestal. They do everything they can to force an artificial relationship, desperately hoping that the relationship will equate to loyalty, but at the end of the day–whether it’s been five months or five years–to the majority of your clients, you’re just their hairdresser/nail tech/massage therapist/esthetician. You’re no different than any of the other dozens of service professionals whose talents they utilize.
4.) They’ll burn you.
Scoff and sputter and deny all you want, but one day, those “special clients” will turn on you.
There are a variety of ways this can happen:
- You’ll take maternity leave, vacation, or time off for a serious illness.
- You’ll refuse to come in early, stay late, give them deep discounts, or do their services outside of the salon “on the cheap.”
- You’ll charge them a cancellation fee.
- You’ll raise your prices.
- You’ll run late.
- You’ll make a mistake that equates to service failure.
All the sudden, that client you had such a “special bond” with is flagging down your manager, bitching you out, giving you a guilt trip, bad-mouthing you to anyone with ears, banging out some angry diatribe on Yelp or Facebook, or doing all of the above.
Remember when I said I’m the one your clients complain to? I’m also the one who has to mediate these issues, which involves communicating them to the offending employee. I’m telling you this because I love you, and I don’t want you to learn this the way so many of my friends and coworkers have. I’ve seen employees cry when they discover their “friendship” wasn’t reciprocated, and when they learned their efforts to secure the relationship were mocked and criticized in a lengthy complaint to management.
Do you have any idea how humiliating it can be to have your personal life put on blast by a customer to your boss? Can you understand how unacceptable that is in any work environment?
Please, don’t get personal. Client complaints are far easier to take less personally when you don’t give them ammunition to hit you where it hurts. If you need more convincing, here are some quotes directly from client complaints I’ve heard throughout my career:
- “She spends the entire appointment talking about herself. She won’t shut up. I have to take aspirin before I leave the house because if I don’t, I’ll leave with a migraine from listening to her.”
- “Can you believe she told me that she had a sexual relationship with another woman in college? I’m open-minded, but that’s way more than I expected to hear about during my pedicure.”
- “Does he realize I’m not his therapist?”
- “She called out sick and cancelled my appointment but I saw her at the mall that afternoon with some guy–she didn’t look sick to me.”
- “She gave me a present for my kid. I know she was trying to be nice or whatever, but it was extremely creepy and made me really uncomfortable.”
- “Maybe if she spent more time paying attention to what she was doing instead of running her mouth, my hair wouldn’t be the wrong color.”
Are you cringing? I am. Be mindful of your mouth.
5.) They will devalue you as a professional.
The more clients know about you personally, the more familiar you become, and the less respect they will have for you as an educated, skilled professional. That respect is critically important in this industry because how you present and conduct yourself is directly tied to your earning potential–to the client’s perception of your worth.
Whether you like it or not, image and perception matter. Just as employees do not respect salon owners or managers who become overly familiar or fail to present themselves as leaders, clients do not respect professionals who don’t carry themselves appropriately. Just as salon owners and managers who don’t exude confident leadership don’t attract or retain quality employees, professionals who don’t carry themselves appropriately don’t attract or retain quality clients.
6.) The worst offenders are the ones you travel the extra mile for.
Understand this: the clients you do the most for are the ones who will appreciate it the least.
Perfect example: an employee of mine became close with a client. This client begged her to come over to her house to perform services. The employee, hoping to make some extra money, did just that. The client moved further away and stopped paying the employee–you know, because they were friends. The employee lost incentive to continue doing the services, since she was driving further away and not making any money, so she politely told the client she couldn’t do it anymore (at least not for free).
The client reported the employee to the State Board of Cosmetology and to me. She didn’t just try to take this employee’s job, she tried to end her career by having her license revoked.
Some of the most vicious Yelp reviews I’ve ever read were written by clients who became “friends” with their professional.
Clients who pursue the “friendship” are looking for someone to use. Don’t let it be you.
What about those clients who seem determined to become your friend?
You will have clients who practically force themselves on you. They’re the ones who friend you on social media after the first appointment. They’ll push you for personal information to forge a bond. They’ll call you “girlfriend,” tell you they love you, and hug on you every time they walk in the door.
Later down the line, they’ll be the ones who pressure you for discounts. They’ll be the ones who beg you to come to their home to do services. They’ll be the ones who “forget” payment, no-show, arrive late, and expect special treatment. Giving in to their requests and granting favors sets a dangerous precident–one that they’ll be happy to continue to exploit for as long and as far as they can. Believe that.
So, what are the reasons “traditional” professionals advocate for this foolishness?
“You’ll build your book faster.”
“Clients will be more loyal.”
“They’ll tip you more.”
“Clients appreciate your relationship with them.”
“Clients come to us for advice.”
Bullshit. Bullshit. Bullshit.
Amateur, immature bullshit.
Retention and referrals are gained through quality work delivered consistently in a professional environment.
Be courteous. Keep the conversation focused on the service and educating the client. Allow them to relax and enjoy their time without feeling pressured to have a discussion with you. Give them exactly what they ask for and charge appropriately. Ensure they’re comfortable throughout the service and entirely satisfied with their results. Rebook them before they leave.
It’s that easy.
Throughout my career, I’ve never had a problem building or retaining a clientele. Where my more experienced coworkers struggled to keep retention at 45-60%, I held steady in the mid to upper 90%. I didn’t do it by being “friends” with my clients. You would never catch me out at a bar with a customer, or at their baby shower/wedding/birthday party.
I built and maintained my book by keeping my mouth shut and producing great work consistently.
I did it by being reliable, timely, and professional.
I did it by staying educated and not compromising my professional values for anyone.
You can do it too.
Start by charging your worth and not doing more than you’re being paid to do. More on this will come in a later post, but in this business a “few extra minutes” can be the difference between a profit and a loss. You can’t afford to spend valuable service time “building a relationship.”
Your clients are not your friends, they are your customers. Without them, you wouldn’t be able to pay your bills. Respect them and yourself by honoring each of your roles in the client/professional arrangement.