Okay, sure every barber is taught the value of a good consult prior to beginning a service on a client. It’s part of being a professional. It gets covered in school. We are taught how to do it. Basically the idea is to talk with the client, find out what it is they have in mind for their service, assess your ability to deliver on their request, and from there develop a plan to deliver the desired result. How simple could it be? I mean, the idea isn’t unique to barbering. The same thing happens when you visit a coffee shop or call for a pizza, or when you talk to guy in the hardware store.
Notice I said the hardware store. If you’re talking to someone at the big box home improvement place you’re taking your chances, particularly if they give you a blank stare followed by, “Well, let’s see…” as they read the label to you, just my opinion.
It is a simple concept and most of the time it goes flawlessly. As a matter of fact it usually goes so well so often that it can get taken for granted which is why even experienced professionals sometimes have problems with it, and it can happen for lots of reasons.
I have a friend who has been a barber for more than thirty years who had a customer with a deep Hispanic accent ask him for a Caesar cut, or so he thought. A Caesar is a low cut similar to a crew cut. He put an appropriate guard on the clipper and ran it over his client’s head and the guy came right out of the chair. “No! No!” he protested.
“What’s the matter? I thought you wanted a Caesar cut.”
“No cleepers! Seezers! Seezers!” the man exclaimed holding up two fingers and making a scissor motion.
When there are language barriers, or clients with limited speech, or hearing it obviously pays to be more thorough. One of the times that difficulty in gaining an understanding is less obvious is when the terminology that the client uses is different than what is used locally.
Take the term, low fade for example. When it’s used in our area ‘low’ can refer to the length of the hair left on top of the head whereas in the rest of the country ‘low’ refers specifically to the fade being in the area below the points and no higher than the occipital ridge tapering down to the neck. It has nothing to do with the amount of hair on top of the head.
It wouldn’t be hard to take a client, especially one from out of town a whole lot lower on the top than what they had in mind. I know. I’ve done it.
It’s all about communication. As a barber the primary responsibility lies with me but a client that makes themselves clear can go a long way too, and a picture is worth a thousand words. There have been several times when a customer has pulled up a picture on a cell phone. That, in conjunction with a bit of discussion gives us a clear vision of the cut. Of course, that isn’t always an available option and clients, and barbers, make assumptions which can lead to misunderstanding.
A mirror, a little patience, and a few questions during the service can help guide the barber to the desired result when the client is unsure of either how to describe what they want or when they are just not sure of exactly what it is they want. I’ve done plenty of haircuts that fall into that category. I begin by cutting of what the client is most certain.
“I want it close on the bottom but not too close.”
When I hear that, it’s usually a #1 guard closed but it pays to be conservative, so I might open the guard and leave a bit more hair. I can always close it and make another pass if it’s not short enough.
Once that’s established we discuss the next step using the mirror as a guide, and soon we reach the desired result, so in effect the consultation takes place over the entire length of the service.
I’m not alone in this practice. My partner says, “When I’m not sure of exactly what they want I start with what I know they do want and then I just keep them talking.”
Many times a customer will get in the chair and say, “Cut it just like you did it the last time.” It helps of course if I can remember exactly what I did last time, and that can be a bit problematic given that it’s probably been the better part of a month since they were last in my chair. During the course of that time I’ve easily done more than one hundred other haircuts. Try as I might I may not be able to recall what I did previously. Generally it takes awhile before customers who become regulars and always get the same cut can just sit down and have the barber do it by rote memory.
Asking for feedback on their last service can prove very valuable too, and some customers need to be asked because they don’t like to complain, or they might simply forget that they found something that they may want to change next time around or something that some other person might want them to change this time around.
I’m talking about wives and girl friends here. Anyone who thinks that the wife doesn’t get to the barber shop has never had a married clientele. We’ve seen wives decide which shop, which barber, and what style their man wears. Physically present or not their opinion matters, and it definitely needs to be accounted for in conversation. If we can’t keep them off the sofa we won’t keep them in the shop.
The last part of a good consultation is concluding it, plainly stated, it’s knowing when to shut up. There is such a thing as overdoing it. An old gentleman with a cane and a balding head is probably not going to be terribly concerned over the nuances of the latest styles and may not have much patience for a barber who wants to discuss his preferences as regards them. I’ve had older clients tell me they’ve gotten out of the chair of barbers who asked too many questions about their service. Conventionality usually governs their preferences and common sense is the rule since thinning and balding limit styling choices.
The bottom line is that while good communication doesn’t guarantee a great experience for the customer, it can sure go a long way in keeping them from having a bad one.