Lessons from the salon and 30 years in business: How to build customer and client loyalty

Renae and Roy Kunda

Renae and Roy Kunda are the owners of Cape York Motorcycle Adventures. Source: supplied.

When I say that our business is 30 years old, it is kind of like an out-of-body experience. I don’t really relate that to anything personal about me.

Trust me, the words surprise me as much as they do the next lady. Firstly, I am way too young to have a 30-year-old anything, and I’m not going to profess to be any wiser than any other person on the planet.

We, or rather I, did not set out to be self-employed for this long. My husband Roy dreamt up Cape York Motorcycles when he was a kid and he was always going to do it.

I guess I was a conduit to make that happen when I took a break from my career to assist in the creation of his thing.

I’m still deciding what I will be when I grow up.

When I met Roy I was a qualified hairdresser, taking a sabbatical of discovery and travelling and trialling all sorts of crazy jobs to find my place in the world.

It wasn’t really any great career sacrifice when this opportunity came along but I was nervous that I might not have the skills needed to run a motorcycle tour business.

I had no idea what a cashflow forecast was and let’s not even discuss what I thought ‘fiscal’ meant when I first heard it.

In hindsight, I had something more precious than a bachelor’s degree in business. I had a good strong handshake and the confidence to touch strangers.

Hairdressing 101 is basically “good morning, how are you, come with me, sit right here”, now accept my touch while I rest my hands on your shoulders and start running my fingers through your hair. It sounds downright naughty, doesn’t it? I bet you are imagining that going down like a lead balloon in your office setting. 

Let me tell you all humans crave touch, and if you can master the subtlety of that lesson without being dragged into a sexual harassment suit, then you are winning in life.

Renae Kunda hairdressing

Renae Kunda at Wellington’s Haircare, Mackay, in October 1987 after five hours braiding. Source: supplied.

Hairdressing taught me so many things that I had taken for granted and the lessons have helped our business in its strength and sustainability.

It all became apparent when I started training staff. That’s when I realised that not everyone has these simple life skills:

  • Look people in the eye when you talk to them;
  • Offer a handshake first and be confident with your grip;
  • Smile, and smile before you answer the phone, it does reflect in your voice; and
  • Listen with interest and hear the details. 

OK, OK, I hear ya’ll yelling at me to think about COVID-19 and we have to be socially distant now. But just remember this: you can see someone smile from behind a mask, and you can hear it through the phone.

You should use that smile wherever you go. Smile at people as you walk to the post office or the bank, smile at people on the street. Just think, if you have over 500 clients, you might not recognise them in a shopping centre but they will recognise the ‘one’ you from that salon or office.

This concept became ever so apparent when I had teenage kids misbehaving on the street. How many times did I get told about it ‘this naughtiness’ or ‘that language’ they thought they were hiding from me and all the adults they knew for that matter.

Wait a moment! Think bigger. It applies to all of us! You don’t see every person in every car that will see you. Wear your reputation everywhere.

My first boss (kisses to you beautiful lady) had a customer card system in place for all clients, and we would get the card out for every phone call and appointment for that client.

This card held all the magic on it! All of those details and every staff member that was to deal with that client on the day read the card. We all knew this client’s hairstyle and colour choices obviously but we also had the partner’s name, kid’s names, where they had their last holiday and how they take their coffee or if they prefer a glass of wine during their visit with us. Yep, those were the good ol’ days.

We took all of the relevant notes, and guess what, our clients felt pretty bloody special. They certainly were not going to go to the unknown salon down the street ever again, were they? We moved into the friend zone and we’ve made a client for life.

Now, what do you do with that card after the client leaves?

You schedule it for a follow-up, you make a note, and you give Mrs Friend a well-timed call to make sure everything is as she wanted, and see if she’d like to make another appointment when she is due.

Mr Friend should be well recovered from that biopsy, or the Friends as a couple should be back from that vacation by then. You’d love to hear about it. Etc. Etc.

You get the picture.

I didn’t know when we started our male-dominated tourism business that these methods were pretty specific to hairdressing and so I just adapted them to what I was doing. I guess when you write it all down, it does sound a bit girly, but the boys responded in exactly the same manner. 

It’s just me in the office now, but I go about business in the same way with my outsourced colleagues or professional partners. I call my bank manager, accountant, finance and insurance agent, friends and I email and chat with them in that way. 

No, I didn’t just waltz into the bank and say: “Gidday mate, how ya doin’?” I proved I was professional over time and that I was going to carry my weight in our relationship first.

Then I listened with interest to the human details, noted them and followed up.

You’ll know when you’ve mastered this skill because you’ll be enjoying your customer relations and you’ll feel like you’re spending your days with friends all around you. What you practice is what you become.

The skills you need to thrive in a client- or customer-facing role

Compassion

You’ll have to be able to communicate with your client and really listen to what they have to say, and then have the desire to make things better for them.

If you’re only in business for yourself then I can’t imagine it working well for very long.

Business is a partnership with your client.

Passion

You have to be passionate about your subject area.

It has to light you up enough to get you out of bed every morning, so you can drag your butt to the office every day, for the next however long.

I’m not passionate about motorcycles, I don’t even ride, but I was passionate about making my husband happy and that’s where I hung my reason ‘why’. 

Right up until I started reaping the rewards of my ‘system’ and then the client-colleague-friendship equation became my passion.

Self-belief that is strong enough to sell

Are you capable of success and sustainability? Are you the master of your subject? Are you worth the price you’re asking?

If you answered yes to all three then your chances of accomplishment have increased. 

Work ethic

Do you possess the ability to complete tasks, to set and achieve your goals without supervision?

Working for yourself doesn’t have to be flogging yourself day in and day out.

I found that if I planned my work to flow through the day and I followed the routine then I could achieve all I needed to and with practise it became less challenging with each week.

For instance, I only check my email three times a day so that it does not distract me when I am supposed to be focusing on another task.

I do the things I don’t like first. I only do things once, if I go to the postbox, I open the mail and enter it or file it directly.

Touch it once, do it now. Don’t put it down if you have to pick it up again.  

Adaptability

I kind of like to think of adaptability as an appetite for education because that has been the crux of my last 30 years in this office.

My learning has come from taking myself back to uni or by having to find a solution to an unforeseen and random problem and when things got boring or mundane.

I chose to keep my brain active and do a random course of some kind. 

Actually, that’s a bit of a fib because if I get bored I start subconsciously creating problems to solve. If you understand what that means, it’s not productive. Taking a course is productive.

So in recap, what have we learnt?

Hairdressing taught me to build a rapport with my client, always be authentic and compassionate, keep a note of the details and follow up.

If you possess a few of these skills then you might just have what it takes. 

One last thing: always remember to ask for help when you need it.

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