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The Art of Listening – The Best Tool in Your Arsenal

What makes a great hairdresser? Is it his or her technical ability, the school they attended, the sharpness of their shears or the brand of product they use? A successful hairdresser, according to Ryan and DeAnnalyn Teal of Teal Salon in downtown Portland, Oregon, is less about technical ability and more about listening…. Yes, listening. Making a conscious effort to hear and act upon a client’s wants, needs and desires.

“I don’t believe that there is a thing as a bad hairdresser,” says Ryan. “It’s not that hard to open and close scissors…. There are however bad listeners and question askers.”

Aside from technical ability, a hairdresser in today’s modern society is perceived as part magician, part mind reader and part psychologist. To get a better look into the mind of a client and touch down at least briefly upon their inner self, a hairdresser must find a non-evasive, yet highly effective tool. Something in which the thought process is kick started and the gears begin to turn once again. For Teal Salon, the tool of choice is a well-honed consultation style interview or “20 questions” as the Teals affectionately call it.

The evolution of the interview at Teal Salon began with a concept first seen at the school of the Teal’s daughter when she was very young. It was a game the kids would play in which they were allowed to ask up to 20 questions in order to arrive with the answer. For the salon, the concept applied beautifully. To achieve the goal of the client, which is to look and feel good about themselves, a hairdresser must use their intuition and knowledge of that person to accomplish the desired and positive result. The Teals adapted the same frame of mind and pared down a long list of questions to about 20, which were used as a starting point.

Customers sometimes are not aware of what they want, they just know that they are looking to make a change. It’s up to the salon professional to obtain the information without the client feeling uncomfortable, pressured into a drastic change or spending a lot of money. The interview, which was developed to get a better feel for what the client is looking to do, has since become invaluable at the salon. It has been implemented as a general practice with all new or referral clients.

“We won’t even consider letting the client fill out the questionnaire,” adds Ryan. “The individual hairdresser fills it in. It’s not just about the questions or the outward answers; it’s about their reaction, the body language and the afterthought. It’s an excellent opportunity to break down a few barriers and get right to the heart of what’s important to that person sitting in front of me. It is, after all, all about them.”

The Questions

The first question is: What brings you to the salon today? or Why is it you are inspired to try something different?

Although any savvy salon owner would love to track advertising, promotional or referral tallies, the question is really more geared toward the client and their individualized needs. Common answers to this inquiry include everything from being new to the area, never having been in a salon before, admiration for the look given to another Teal Salon client to difficulty with their regular salon. Some are just not comfortable or happy with the level of service at their present salon or they are simply bored with their current hairdresser or hairstyle. The reason the Teals examine the question so much is to learn what somebody else did wrong so that they don’t make the same mistake.  It’s an important part of the learning process.

What do you do for fun? For work?

These two questions help to indicate lifestyle and very specific needs leading to how a customer can or will wear their hair. Are they in a creative or fashion-oriented field where they may need to have a trendier look? Is the dress code at the office as conservative as their after-hours club life is wild? Are they involved in a sport or line of work that requires them to pull their hair back and out of their face?  It all works together to help set the limitations.

What are your goals with your hair?

Although most clients claim that they really don’t have a specific goal in mind, this question at least starts them thinking. Once the salon professional has had a chance to “read” the client better, then a goal can be both identified and achieved.

What challenges are you having with your hair? What do you hate about it?

Common answers are more likely geared towards the type of hair that they were born with, yet can’t or don’t want to deal with. Skinny or fine hair, not much hair, hair that is too straight, too curly, etc. To a client, these are specific and sometimes highly annoying problems. To a hairdresser, it’s an indication as to which way to proceed.

“I find it important,” states Ryan, “ when using the interview questions to turn every negative back around into a positive. For example, if a client complains of having overly fine hair, then I imply “fine like silk”.  To illustrate the point further, I use the analogy that like fine hair, one can’t take raw silk and make fabric out of it. It needs to be refined before weaving a workable cloth. Not only did we turn the emphasis away from the negative, we established the groundwork for cut, style and product recommendations later.”

As a hairdresser, it’s all about educating the customer and getting them to understand the options when dealing with their hair dilemmas. Simply put, between product, service and tools most “problems” can be treated. It’s a matter of identifying the obstacle and applying the right solution.

What is the best thing with your hair?

Once again, the negative is taken back to the positive.  It’s about trying to identify the strong points or what is “right” and trying to make them better.

What was the best service you have ever had in a salon before?

The question is basically attempting to find when the client felt that they looked their best.  The response is then pulled apart as to why, while discretely attempting to recreate the positive aspects. Most likely the look was something hip going on at that time. They felt as if they fit in and looked really good doing it. What did it look like? How feasible is it now? Can it be updated? Why did it work so well for them? These are all good questions for a really solid foundation and positive step towards their new look.

What was the worst service you have ever had in a salon before? 

This question can be very scary from a hairdresser’s standpoint. According to the Teals, at least 90% indicate a previous perm as the culprit.  Many also admit to cutting their own hair or applying home color, which in some circles can be considered a temporary replacement to a salon service. In asking this question, the Teals advise salon professionals to be tactful and avoid any embarrassment to the client.  They suggest trying to get them to make light of the situation and attempt to get them laughing again.

What does your hair look like in the morning? Is it flat and sunk into your face?  Is it fat and sticking up?

Designed to find the “natural state” or starting point of the client’s hair, this inquiry has a profound, albeit obvious, purpose. You simply can’t start on a journey, let alone arrive to the destination unless you know where you originate.

 Does your hair tend to be more greasy or dry?

This will help the hairdresser figure the appropriate products to recommend for cleansing, conditioning or styling the hair.

Would you say your hair is straight, wavy, and curly?

Although any decent hairdresser could tell by feeling the hair, this question is designed to see how the client views his or her own hair. What may actually be wavy hair is considered curly to a client that desires straight hair.

How much time in the morning do you spend on your hair?

 Most of the success of a look is in fact achieved in the last five minutes of the finishing. It’s all the little details that make a good cut into a really great style. This question gives a general guide as to how much time and effort a client is willing to spend between blow drying and finishing each time. On average clients will admit 15-20 minutes, which is fairly normal. It’s up to the hairdresser to make sure that they don’t give the client a cut that takes much longer to style than they are willing apply each day.

In addition, if a client is spending more than 15 minutes styling their hair each day, it’s time for some guidance in working smarter. Hairdressers should identify what is taking so much time and try to help by recommending techniques, tools and or product to make the job easier each day.

 Does it tend to hold its shape all day?

It may be common sense that fine hair goes flat and medium hair tends to hold it’s shape, but it doesn’t hurt to find out what that particular head of hair tends to do. This question indicates the tendency of the hair or how well a product or tool is or is not being used. Perhaps the client needs help learning to use a flat iron or isn’t using a strong enough hold styling product.

How much of a change are you looking for?

The crew at Teal Salon prefers to do only small to medium changes.

“I don’t want clients waking up cursing my name,” says Ryan. “I want for them to be as happy with their hair each morning at home as when they leave the salon.  Too drastic of a change can cause a client undue stress. I instead recommend getting as many hairstyles out of their hair before cutting bra length to the chin. This allows for a fun period in which they can try things that they normally would not have. If it all ends up back to their chin, then no harm done. That’s where they were heading anyway and in the mean time they just might find something they like better. “

Are you happy with the length?

A good basic question for those who want a change, but don’t know what.  If someone really loves their length, a hairdresser doesn’t want to whack it all off and cause them to run screaming, never to be seen again.

Are you happy with the shape?

 Changing the shape can be a good way to update a look or introduce a change without going too drastic.It’s important to remember that a truly great cut isnot about what is cut off…it’s about what is left on.

How much texture do you like?

 According to the Teals, there are three different levels of textures: non-textured, medium textured and maximum textured. They suggest using photos of current trends to help clients answer this question.

If you could wear your hair as a sign, what would it say?  or What do you want your hair to say about you?

Sexy, sophisticated, wow! The Teals have heard every answer under the sun. This is a defining moment when reading a client. It’s where they really want their hair to be and how they want to be perceived by others. It’s a fabulous tool to define their overall goals.  This is the answer to the 20 questions combined.

If I gave you a pair of scissors, where would you start cutting?

It may seem like an odd question to ask a client, but the Teals feel it gives them a great way to cross check previous answers. It reiterates what they really want in a cut and what area or length is important to them. If they barely touch the ends, then this client is nervous about losing length but if they grab a handful of hair and look to cut fistfuls off, then they are clearly ready for a major length change.

What products are you using on your hair? What appliances do you use?

 When asking these questions, it’s important for the hairdresser to remember that they’re not reallylooking for brand, they’re looking at what it’s doing and how they, as a professional, can help make it better.

With either of these questions, one can wonder if a client holds back at all. It’s suggested that a disclaimer be announced at the beginning of the interview indicating that expensive services, product or tools are not being pushed on them, but instead they are being offered solutions to any problems with their hair.

“When it comes to product,” says Ryan, “I’m using what’s available in my salon. I chose to have these particular brands in my salon because I believe in them. You will find these same products both at my station or backbar as well as at my home in my shower. We are not a commercial, or a hard sell. I don’t want the client to have more products than we do. Instead of pushing a product on someone, I instead recommend it for next time or when they run out of what they are using now. Giving a brief lesson on how to style their hair, I show them how to use product and appliances appropriately and get the most out of their cut.”

Follow Up Questions

Once the client returns, or with any returning customer, the Teals have another set of follow up questions to see how everything went with the new look. It’s a much shorter series as the groundwork has all been done with the initial 20 questions. These follow up questions run the gambit from what they liked, even disliked about the cut, color, style, length, texture and ease of styling.  They also ask if the client is using some of the styling techniques, products and tools that were taught before and if so, how they worked.The answers paint a very precise picture of how well the client is doing with the new look and lets the hairdresser correct any issues that may need to be addressed.

“It’s about “Teaching Artistry”, adds Ryan. “My haircuts are technically free, it’s the lesson I charge for. I feel it’s important that when a client leaves my chair they need to be able to do the style at home themselves and it’s my job to teach them. To insure their satisfaction, I learn as much as I can about them, their wants and desires. Their lifestyle, specific tastes and level of effort to achieve the goals with their hair.  In addition, I teach them what I can to style at home with only the product and tools that they really need. If they are happy, they’ll remember you in a positive way, thus invoking a significant emotional experience to cause them to remember for the next six to eight weeks until you see them again. That is, after all, why most of us became hairdressers…right?”


One thought on “The Art of Listening – The Best Tool in Your Arsenal

  1. Great article! Thank you

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