Each issue of ist Magazine features a cover story filled with valuable and relevant information gathered from experienced salon professionals across the country. This month, the following group of tanning operators – who represent nearly 50 years’ of combined industry experience – were kind enough to share their expertise:
Mike Blore, CEO California Sun – Sacramento, CA
20 years’ industry experience
Heather Hallahan, Manager Glow Tanning Co. – Long Beach, CA
10 years’ industry experience
Roy Coronado, Owner/Operator Tan Las Vegas – Henderson, NV
5.5 years’ industry experience
Roy Carrasco, General Manager Tropi-Tan – Flint, MI
10 years’ industry experience
Rick Kueber, Founder/CEO Sun Tan City – Louisville, KY
13 years’ industry experience
Customer complaints can be brutal, embarrassing and even brutally embarrassing. Because of this, it’s very easy to react to negative feedback on an emotional level and lash out with, “How dare you?” or “Get out of my store, you idiot!” If this is how you handle customer complaints at your salon, then you need to check your ego at the door and adopt some effective customer service skills. (Yes, you read that correctly!) Fortunately, we’ve talked to some salon owners who’ve “been there, done that”, and they were willing to share some particularly nasty customer complaints and the simple, four-step process they used to resolve them … and retain their clients.
It’s hard not to be offended by a customer’s complaint, especially if they say something like this – “I signed up for a tanning membership at this location and the girl didn’t even bother explaining anything to me. She wasn’t overly friendly either. Went to (another) location and the girl told me I had free upgrades and explained what else came with my membership.” This was what one client at Tropi-Tan in Flint, MI had to say on Yelp.com regarding her tanning experience. Rather than becoming upset, Roy Carrasco, Tropi-Tan General Manager, saw this as a second chance to earn this tanner’s business … then, he sprang into action.
“I was glad the client posted this because it alerted me to a problem that needed to be corrected,” said Carrasco. “As a consumer, myself, I know that most dissatisfied customers don’t say anything at all – they just take their business somewhere else. This puts a business in the tough position of having to spend lots of time and money trying to get them back. And, while these clients don’t tell us why they choose to leave, they will tell their friends and family about any perceived problems, creating a public relations nightmare.” Carrasco contacted the client to resolve the situation, as well as refreshed the staff on policies and customer service training requirements for all Tropi-Tan salons. “In today’s economy, we try to do everything we can to keep the clients we have,” he added.
Even some of the largest salon chains occasionally get bad reviews. Consider this one, which was left on Yelp.com by a client of the Sacramento, CA-based salon chain, California Sun – “I’ve been coming here for four years and I’ve never really had an issue, except for recently. From the overpriced clothing and broken bed to the manager who disciplined a new employee for making small mistakes in front of customers … I can tell it’s going downhill. I know it serves a lot of people in the area, so I can understand long wait times; but certain things are getting a little out of hand. Overall, just a few tweaks and California Sun would be back.” As a general rule, the staff at California Sun doesn’t post responses to bad Internet reviews because this tends to highlight the negativity. When complaints are made in person, however, the company’s five-person Guest Services department is more than happy to listen. In fact, they’ve found that this is more than half the battle in resolving any customer-related issue.
“Whenever a client has a complaint, the first thing we do is thank them for bringing it to our attention because we can’t fix the problem if we don’t know it exists,” said Mike Blore, California Sun CEO. “The next step is to repeat back to them what they’ve said to us because it shows our clients that we understand their concern and are taking it seriously. The last thing we do is ask whether the problem exists with their personal experience or with the process our salons utilize – once that’s determined, we make things right for every client, every time.” Blore says that the simple act of listening to the client’s concerns and agreeing that their concerns are valid – whether the salon employees agree with it or not – is the key to good customer service. “When a customer has a problem, they want to be heard, and it’s our job to listen to them, not just simply agree with them in order to make the problem go away,” he added.
Sometimes it can be hard to say, “I’m sorry” to a client, especially if that client said something like this – “I just got home from an utterly AWFUL experience at this tanning salon … I felt that the customer service at this place was non-existent … I have been a customer here since October and have never had an issue until now … I will not be returning to [the] salon and have advised my friends who go to this salon to find another one.” This review of Glow Tanning Co. in Long Beach, CA was left on Yelp.com by an obviously unhappy client. While the tanner’s words were harsh, what the salon’s manager did to resolve the situation was quite admirable.
“Whenever we receive a complaint from one of our customers, the first thing we do is apologize for their inconvenience, whether we agree with the complaint or not,” said Heather Hallahan, Glow Tanning Manager. “Doing so tends to put the customer at ease and allows us to progress to our second step, which is fixing the situation. For that, we provide the direct phone number to the salon’s owner – Dan Hallahan – and encourage clients to contact him directly so that he can handle the situation personally. He always goes above and beyond to keep our clients happy and they appreciate that.” If a complaint is customer-service related, Heather also speaks with the employee involved in the situation to make sure the same issues don’t happen again.
The last step in handling customer complaints – rewarding the client – is fairly straightforward, yet tends to be the hardest one for salon owners to wrap their minds around. After all, would you be eager to give someone something after they posted this on your salon’s Facebook page – “When is the Fort Wayne store going to open? We were promised a free month of tanning in May. The month is half over and the store looks nowhere close to opening. I hope that we will not be charged on June 1, and we get a free month before they start charging us.” When this message was sent to the folks at Sun Tan City of Louisville, KY the team there did everything to keep this person happy, just like they were trained to do.
“It’s always better to work these things out with your clients, and it’s best to do so privately,” said Rick Kueber, Sun Tan City Founder/CEO. “Whenever we receive a complaint via our social media outlets, we encourage a private, one-on-one conversation with the client by phone or e-mail. Once that’s established, we hear them out, apologize and do just about anything we can to resolve the situation and keep the customer happy, and in most cases, it doesn’t take much. Whether it’s giving the client a free week of tanning or a bottle of tanning lotion or moisturizer, the small cost of these gestures pales in comparison to the positive effect it has upon the client.”
While it would be nice to be able to pacify every unhappy customer, you truly can’t win them all. Roy Coronado, owner of Tan Las Vegas in Henderson, NV, learned this lesson after receiving this particularly nasty review on Yelp.com – “WORST EXPERIENCE WITH SPRAY TANNING OF MY LIFE!! Apparently living in the desert and having very dry skin does not work well with spray tans. I would like to have been told that prior to tanning and what possible side effects I could experience should I choose to go forward with the spray tan. I am now a freckled mess and my hands look 80 rather than 39… Seriously, don’t waste your money on this crap; go play outside in the sun for a little each day with sunscreen on.”
“I’ll never forget my experience with that particular tanner!” Coronado exclaimed. “She was one of more than 200 people who took advantage of our sunless tanning special on Groupon and she was the only one who wasn’t happy. When she came back to the store to complain about it, I tried asking her a few questions about her skincare regimen to determine what might’ve gone wrong, and she just kept yelling and talking over me. In the end, there was nothing I could do to calm her down enough to even talk to her, let alone solve the problem, and after a few minutes she just turned and stormed out the door.” While Coronado says he does everything he can to keep his clients happy, he was willing to let this particular tanner go. “I don’t need customers like that.”
Even though you’ve put your whole life into your business, it’s not about you. (Read that again.) If you want your salon to be successful, it has to be about your clients – those people who pay their hard-earned money each month so that you can enjoy the fruits of your labors. If they’re not happy, you need to swallow your pride and make things right. And the only way you can do this is by listening to – and valuing – what they have to say, no matter how they might say it. You then have to actually do something about the situation in a manner that is positive and, above all, retains that person as a client. Fortunately, with the simple, four-step plan used by so many salon professions, it’s not difficult. Just remember to Disengage, Recognize, Apologize, and Reward.
Companies that aren’t embracing social media today are missing out on huge opportunities to capitalize on the voices of their customers.
The voices of your customers can contribute immediately and powerfully to a better service experience. “Companies should be saying to their customers, ‘If you did not enjoy our service, please tell us. If you did enjoy our service, please tell someone else,’” says customer service expert/bestselling author, Ron Kaufman. “Engage them. Tell happy customers to go ahead and be social about their great experiences and encourage unhappy customers to come to you via social media so that you can make it right and improve your overall service.”
The voices of your customers can contribute immediately & powerfully to a better service experience.
Say thank you. It sounds simple, but showing a little love for the love your customers show you goes a long way. All it takes is a message of gratitude that says, “Thank you so much for spreading the word. As one of our happy customers, when you tell other people about us, it helps us grow and serve you better.” Or, “Your voice counts. Thank you so much for spreading the word. You make us love what we do.”
Create a ‘Thanks for Being Social’ promotional piece that includes the company’s Twitter handles, Facebook pages, Yelp pages, helpful Twitter hashtags, etc., with a line that reads, ‘If you enjoy our service, please let the world know.’ Put it beside your cash register, whatever works for your company. The positivity you receive from customers will be priceless.”
Invite them to reach out. Imagine the number of flights that took off today. Each had a captive audience of approximately 200 people or so, but it’s unlikely that very many of them were encouraged by the flight staff to tell their social networks about their flight. Now think of all those people arriving at their destinations and opening the doors to their immaculate hotel rooms with great views. They love it. But yet again, there’s nothing in the room encouraging them to share it with their network.
“Your customers’ voices are vital to your organization,” says Kaufman. “Social media provides an incredible opportunity to engage those voices, to turn one customer’s great experience into an advertisement that attracts new customers and gets current customers thinking positively about you. It’s an incredibly advantageous way to address customer concerns and improve your company’s service culture in real time.”
A 14-year industry veteran, John "Ribby" Ribner has written hundreds of
articles for IST Magazine and, as Director of Editorial Content, has also
helped guide the publication's evolution. Ribby is a graduate of Central
Michigan University's journalism program and has brought many years of newspaper reporting experience to his position of Head Writer. He is also the author of three novels, "Legacy of the Bear," "Prophecy of the Bear" and "World So Dark."
Copyright 2020 ist Magazine