When’s the last time you got your hair cut? And was it a transaction for you (i.e., you just went in, got a haircut and then left), or was it an experience for you? Over the past few decades I’ve been alive, I’ve been to literally hundreds of salons and while not every experience was something that I learned from (for me, I treat it as a transaction), I have seen a few interesting things that I wanted to share in this short post that made me think about how to provide better customer service to those that I serve:

Understanding the optics of a situation can help you provide better customer service

I was waiting to get my hair cut at a chinese hair design studio. As I was waiting, I was listening to banter between the stylists – one gentlemen said to the other stylists that they should not be speaking chinese all the time, especially when they can see their customers do not understand. Why? Because when the stylists spoke chinese, it alienated those that did not understand the language and there was a small but very real possibility that ‘foreigners’ would think that the stylists were talking about them. I’m sure you’ve been in the same situation – you may have gone to a restaurant in a different country or that do not primarily serve your ‘kind’ (you are Chinese and you go to an Indian restaurant). You may order a few things that you think are normal and then the waiter goes back behind the kitchen, puts in your order, talks to the cook and then starts laughing. In a lot of these cases, they are probably not even talking about you, BUT, it makes you wonder. The same thing was happening at the studio – customers gave the stylists a ‘look’ whenever they spoke chinese that said “hey, are you talking about me right now? Because I don’t appreciate it”

Similarly, in consulting, the best management consultants are often aware of the optics of a situation. What does it look like when we have ten people going to a client meeting where we are only meeting one individual? What does it look like when we are all dressed to the nines in suits at the client site where most of the employees are only wearing jeans and t-shirts?

Make hard work obvious and memorable

I’m going to couch this observation by saying that I have never worked in a design studio but something that I have noticed is that a lot of stylists will leave the ‘finishing touches’ to the very end.

Let me segue a bit by saying that when you are doing a speech, the beginning and the end are more important than the body of your speech. For whatever reason, the fact that you just started and that you just ended serve as significant milestones and therefore are more memorable.

So I think it then makes a lot of sense that stylists will leave the finishing touches to the very end. You may not have noticed the work that came from cutting the majority of your hair but the stylists will pay very close and special attention to specific parts of your hair at the very end, to give you the impression that they care very much about your hair. It could also be that they do this as it makes sense sequentially (cutting off major parts of your hair and then sculpting it to your specifications).

If they do this on purpose, I think it’s great on their part – they surely get better tips and provide customers with a better experience this way.

I’m going to steal this analogy to management consulting from my good friend, Shawn Kanungo, who interestingly talked about how clients did not want just the deliverable, but they are also interested in seeing the process to create the deliverable. Who did the consultants talk to? What did they say? What kind of design decisions did they make on the deliverable? These small things might seem trivial in the eyes of consultants, but since they are knee deep in the process, they do not understand how valuable that process can be when outlined for the client.

If no pricing is available, expect to pay more than usual

In my experience, whenever a haircut studio or barber does not list the prices on their website or walls in their shop, it’s because the prices are much higher than normal. When the prices are lower, I’m very pleasantly surprised but that hasn’t happened for me in the majority of the times I haven’t seen the prices.

Thinking about this further, I find it interesting to contrast the experience between places that have prices listed out and places that don’t. In the majority of the cases, I find that for places with prices listed out, it feels like a transaction. Sure, the stylist is nice, they engage in conversations with you, maybe even give you a bit of a massage as you step out of the chair but it feels mundane compared to places where they really pamper you with hair washes, scalp massages, hair products and fancy bibs (one place I went to had a see through bib so that you could see your phone on your lap as you were getting your hair cut). I suppose it’s a similar comparison to fast food restaurants or chains and high end dining restaurants that may not give the prices of certain items on the menu.

I’m not sure if there is an equivalent in management consulting – I do know that the work involved in winning a small piece of work is significantly less than winning a larger piece of work though and many firms will try to undercut each other on price in order to win work with long tails at the very end. I also know that the firms will, for some projects, hold steady on their pricing because they are absolutely sure that their expertise and bid is the very best – in those cases when the firm wins the work after holding on their pricing, the project team is under significantly less pressure to ‘ghost’ hours (i.e., work a lot more hours than they bill) or to manage the budget very closely – in short, the project team is not as stressed about small things.

Overall, getting my hair cut is a fascinating experience and while it may be mostly a transaction for me, I try to learn something from everything that I do and apply that to the things that I know in my life.