When Philip Pelusi opened his first Pittsburgh salon in 1965, he was shy. At about 20 years old, he was intimidated by the high-fashion clientele who told him he was too young to style their hair.
“And yet when I started to talk to them, they became clients,” says the founder and owner of Philip Pelusi Salons. “I had to learn the hard way. I was forced to get [feedback] and learn and adjust.”
Pelusi had to devise his own way of connecting with customers to meet their needs. But now that his chain of 13 Philip Pelusi Salons has expanded to include 20 partner salons and another 60 that carry his P2 brand of products, he’s sharing those lessons to help others provide client service.
To start, Pelusi spends time at partner salons to observe client consultations. What he doesn’t want to hear is employees asking questions that make customers choose their own solutions, such as, “So, what are we doing today?”
Then, he brings people to his education center to cover product education and skill certification but the bulk of training comes down to soft skills like communication.
“The barrier of communication is huge. You almost have to teach a little empathy,” Pelusi says. “There’s no one class that can do it. It starts with the questions you ask … and it comes from making suggestions.
“You don’t force them to buy a product. It’s just as simple as, ‘Have you ever thought about caramel highlights? Think about it.’ Now, you might say, ‘This is what it could do for you,’ so what’s in it for them. It’s pretty subtle.”
Pelusi recently honed the communication skills of the team at Akron’s Studio V Salon & Spa, the second partner salon for owners Coleen Morlock, Mary Kay Hallas and Lucy Mahoney who previously partnered with Pelusi at VCS Salon & Spa in Medina, Ohio. Through role-playing, Pelusi had their 35 employees take turns in the customer’s seat to experience service from the receiving end.
“They helped us understand the clients’ needs from the clients’ perspective and not just ours,” Morlock says.
Pelusi also helped them develop a needs assessment format to help employees understand clients’ frustrations.
“Whether it’s a first-time client or a continuous client, do a needs assessment to find, No. 1, what they’re looking for, but No. 2, what we as professionals know that they need,” says Morlock, who follows up with longtime clients to make sure they’re still receiving the same satisfactory level of service as newcomers.
Begin by learning clients’ problems so you can guide them to the best solution, rather than simply asking what they want. Morlock expects employees to ask at least three open-ended questions, such as: What’s your biggest challenge? What are you currently doing to try to solve it? And one of Pelusi’s favorites: If I had a magic wand, what would be your ideal solution?
“A lot of other companies say, ‘What do want to do today?’ instead of, ‘What’s challenging you?’” Morlock says. “It’s getting a little bit deeper in with what they’re looking for.”
Morlock also expects employees to explain products or services they suggest to clients, making use of Pelusi’s intensive product education.
“Are they giving the [customer] a tag?” Pelusi asks. “If you buy a nice outfit, you get a tag: Do not dry clean. So really, when you leave, you should have a tag for your [product or service.] No one’s saying, ‘Buy,’ just, ‘We talked about it. This is what I’d recommend. This is what I’d use.’
“You just shut up and let the client make a decision. There’s nothing worse than pushing something and not knowing what you sold them, No. 1, not following up, No. 2.”
To make sure employees utilize the needs assessment, Morlock invites secret shoppers to evaluate employees quarterly based on the questions they ask and the explanations they provide.
But you usually know how effectively employees communicate before you get that far.
“When someone is utilizing a needs assessment to its fullest, their sales increase and their client requests increase,” Morlock says. “You almost always find that they’re booked three to six months in advance. You can tell just in the numbers; it’s like reading a book.”
Still, she meets with employees one-on-one to reinforce the process. A couple of her employees also participate in quarterly telementoring conferences with Pelusi to share their challenges, questions and goals, and to receive more training to bring back to the rest of the staff.
“The performance reviews are critical,” Pelusi says. “When you hire somebody new, you want to do it more often every three months, minimum. When you do them well, by the time you go into the review, they already know. The last thing you want to do is go into the review and they don’t know what to expect.
“I don’t care how great you think you are, that person walking through determines. They make the final vote if they come back [and] they seek our advice. You can talk all you want, but if it doesn’t get to the end user, nothing happens.”
How to reach: Philip Pelusi Salons, (888) 263-4720 or www.philippelusi.com
How to reach: Studio V Salon & Spa, (330) 665-8010 or www.studiovspa.com
How to reach: VCS Salon & Spa, (330) 723-3998 or www.vcssalon.com