The Best Lessons in Customer Retention? Your Hair Salon

How do you keep customers coming back, month after month, year after year? Your hair stylist knows. Customer retention is a key part of a great haircut. But too often, it’s overlooked.

I should know. Five regional managers of the world’s largest salon brand, Great Clips, sat in a conference room in Minneapolis talking with me about vocational education. I was conducting the R&D work that would eventually lead to the invention of two Filmbook® learning apps.

The edtech startup I had co-founded was developing a new learning model for a large U.S.-based group of beauty schools, and these regional managers were the primary consumers of the end product of the schools—professionally-trained hairstylists. I wanted to know what these experienced salon managers thought about recent graduates.

They were candid. And what they told me confirmed what my research at cosmetology schools had already revealed:

Cosmetology school was so focused on students passing the state board licensing exam that it frequently failed to prepare students for the real world of the salon.

Specifically, Great Clips wanted us to teach the students how to build and keep a clientele. “We have to spend a lot of time training new hires,” they said. “We can teach anyone how to cut hair, but teaching customer service is a lot harder.”

The learning model I was developing had to help students pass the cosmetology licensing exam—and help them understand how to keep and build a clientele. Hit the ground running day one in the salon.

A good role model can lead the way

From a legal perspective, all you need to do to prepare for a styling career is complete a certain number of hours in an accredited school and then pass the licensing exam in your state. And as any cosmetologist will tell you, the licensing exam is mostly about safety and sanitation in the salon.

It is entirely appropriate that the government should enforce some rules to ensure that when you wield your shears you don’t wound your guest. But once you’ve met that basic standard, how do you keep your guests coming back, month after month and year after year? A good role model can help you discover the answer to that.

Communication, critical thinking, emotional intelligence—these are the skills a successful stylist needs to interact daily with clients. And these skills can be learned through effective role modeling.

The role model for Filmbook Cosmetology is an aggregate—of the dozens of experienced cosmetologists we interviewed about their experience in the salon and in the classroom. Although these experts didn’t agree on everything, they did agree that a stylist’s success depends on the ability to conduct a thorough and detailed guest consult.

As our principal master stylist put it, “It all happens in those first five minutes in the chair.”

Learning is not linear

Deep learning happens through discovery, one of the core design principles of Filmbook.

By exposing our students to increasingly complex and sometimes ambiguous salon situations—difficult technical procedures, uncertain guests, complex hair conditions—we lead them through a process of discovering how to think about and resolve these situations.

As described in this piece on non-linear learning, a curriculum constructed around solving complex problems can result in deeper learning than one constructed around a linear progression of subject matter. This is precisely what we did in Filmbook.

Each Filmbook Cosmetology class is developed around a single salon service and the challenges the stylist may encounter when performing it. For example:

  • How do you evaluate your guest’s face and head shape to ensure that the cut she is requesting will actually look good on her?
  • How do you guide a guest through making an appropriate color choice for the level of maintenance she’s willing to commit to?
  • How do you determine and evaluate hair history before performing a chemical service?
Filmbook Cosmetology app on iPhone showing questions about hair history before a relaxer
Many hair stylists don’t know how to discover or learn about hair history. But it’s a critical part of customer retention in the cosmetology industry.

Through the process of deconstructing these real-world scenarios in the guest consult section of each class, we enable students to discover the richness of salon life in a way they would typically get, as one salon hiring manager told us, “only by doing a job shadow for a year.”

—Neal Tillotson, Filmbook CEO


Related posts:
How to Fail at EdTech? Leave Teachers Out
Cosmetology School As a Model for Vocational Education
Is Your Learning App Missing These 3 Teaching Essentials?