Building rapport with your clients is an essential part of being a cosmetologist. Being attentive, clarifying requests and offering expert feedback are the keys to customer satisfaction. Success in this competitive industry takes more than enthusiasm and talent with scissors. It requires excellent communication skills, starting with active listening.
What is Active Listening?
We process less than half of what we hear, and we remember even less. So, when a new customer has a long list of requests or a regular client comes in after a few months wanting the “usual” cut, it’s easy to forget something or get customers confused. We’re only human. Active listening is a way of enhancing what you hear to make it clearer and easier to recall. Do it with the following three steps: connect, concentrate and confirm.
Step #1: Connect
Nothing is more important in the cosmetology industry than to make clients feel like the center of attention. It establishes rapport, builds trust and generates confidence, creating a personal connection.
Forming an immediate bond with clients by focusing on what they have to say sets the stage for a meaningful conversation. Begin by making eye contact and introducing yourself with a smile to let them know you’re enthusiastic and listening. It makes the client feel heard and inspires their confidence in your cosmetology services.
Step #2: Concentrate
Pay close attention not only to what clients say, but also to what they convey non-verbally. Body language can speak louder than words.
Limit distractions, listen thoughtfully and observe the client’s demeanor when they speak. Focusing helps with recall, while noticing nonverbal cues gives more context to what customers say. For example, blinking and restlessness suggest anxiety, downcast eyes and limited eye contact communicate a lack of trust. Both are negative feelings that a cosmetologist can address before providing services, increasing the chances the client will be thrilled with the final results.
It’s also critical to mind your own personal body language. Clients are keenly aware of nonverbal signals. Simple changes in posture or facial expressions can indicate enthusiasm or disinterest and respect or disdain. It’s important to send the right message by presenting yourself as a caring, competent professional.
Step #3: Confirm
Feedback is an integral part of the communication process. When clients tell you what they want, they expect you, as the expert, to evaluate their comments, confirm or question what they say and express empathy for their needs.
A simple way to clarify a point is by paraphrasing periodically during conversations. Asking “What I hear you say is…” or “It sounds like you mean…” allows the client to reflect on and refine their request. You may learn that the reason that they asked for a dark hair color was because they wrongly assumed it was their only option to conceal a botched home effort.
Other ways to confirm you’re actively listening are to nod if you agree or to hold your hand up if you need to interject. Each nonverbal cue you give propels the conversation forward and demonstrates sensitivity to what clients want.
Someone who approaches you for “a completely new look” is less interested in the haircut than in how it will make them feel. Active listening helps you get to the root of what motivates people.
Why is Active Listening Essential for Cosmetologists?
The goal of active listening is to understand the depth and complexity of communication. When you listen actively, you focus on both the details and the emotions behind them. The speaker and listener become part of the same world. It improves your ability to learn and teach, identify and solve problems and be emotionally available to others. These abilities enhance your skills in the areas of customer service, problem solving, workplace relationships, continuing education and networking opportunities.
Cosmetologists depend on loyal clients for their income, but repeat customers are few and far between when cosmetology services aren’t up to par. If you make too many mistakes because you don’t listen, word gets around.
Good customer service, cited by consumers as more important than price, requires understanding clients’ needs. Satisfied clients will go out of their way to recommend you to family and friends, and soon, you’ll have a lucrative base. There’s no substitute for a solid reputation in the community.
Active listening promotes problem-solving. When you allow others to speak, you become open to new ways of thinking. Considering alternate viewpoints helps you think critically, the first step in finding inventive solutions to stubborn problems.
Listening also helps you identify problems that aren’t meant to be solved. Cosmetologists are affectionately nicknamed “thera-stylists” because they serve as sounding boards for frustration. Sometimes, listening is enough.
Most cosmetologists are employed in salons with colleagues and managers, the quality of their relationships can make or break the work experience. Like clients, peers and supervisors have personal and professional needs. Active listening keeps the lines of communication open and heads off misunderstandings before they occur.
The more you listen actively to the people around you, the more you become aware of what matters in their lives. Taking over a shift for a harried colleague with small children at home on the evening before a major holiday goes a long way toward building supportive relationships on the job.
Cosmetology is an evolving field. Trends are always evolving, and it takes continuing education to keep your skills sharp. Courses, seminars, and one-on-one lessons help keep you up to date, but getting the most out of learning experiences without listening is impossible.
If you go into a class with preconceived notions, it limits your thinking. Active listening is part of being teachable, it opens your mind. You’ll not only learn the technical aspects of a new cut or coloring method you’ll get the benefit of others’ insights in how to use them.
Making connections with your local community of cosmetologists is good for business, but relationships should be both give and take. As with clients, you should understand what others hope to achieve by networking though active listening.
Some may be searching for a mentor or referrals while you want to get the word out about a unique new service you offer. Giving as well as you take reinforces alliances with peers.
How Can Someone Become a Better Active Listener?
Some people are naturally good communicators, but active listening is a skill that can be learned. In fact, practice makes perfect.
Vocational school training includes instruction in active listening and gives cosmetology students the chance to hone their skills in student-run salons or via externships. Watching YouTube videos from communication experts can also give you ideas to try.
But perhaps the easiest way to fine-tune your active listening skills is to apply them to conversations with family and friends. Try to eliminate distractions, listen before speaking, manage your emotional response, and let go of needing to be right.
If you’re tempted to answer texts or check the latest headlines on your phone while speaking to friends, don’t. Instead, address distractions in advance by letting loved ones know you won’t be available while giving others your undivided attention.
Among salon customers’ top pet peeves are cosmetologist who converse with peers while performing services or who interrupt conversations to answer the phone or aid other customers. Avoiding distractions in a busy business setting isn’t always possible, but it’s critical to keep your clients in the loop. If you ask, “May I get the phone,” chances are they’ll agree without feeling slighted.
Listen Before Speaking
It’s natural to want to express yourself, but letting others speak first gives you the benefit of information upon which to reply. Letting a friend suggest restaurants for lunch could reveal a theme, if spots are quiet, perhaps they’re feeling overwhelmed and need to talk. If they’re energetic, maybe there’s something to celebrate. Active listening provides the clues.
Use the same technique in the salon to enhance profits by learning exactly what clients want from a new hairstyle or nail color. If it’s for a big day, suggest complementary services such as highlights or nail art.
Similarly, the more you know about a client’s lifestyle, the better you can recommend products. A working mom with kids, for example, might appreciate a quick-heat styling appliance or a leave-in conditioner. The more you know, the more your cosmetology business will grow.
Manage Your Emotional Reactions
We all want to be problem solvers. But whether it’s to console a family member who’s lost a job or make a friend feel better about the end of a relationship, giving advice before listening minimizes their feelings.
Instead, listen quietly and avoid jumping in with your views. Examples of giving premature advice or consolation may begin with phrases such as:
- “Why don‘t you just…”
- “It happened to me once, and I…”
- “That’s nothing, once upon a time I was…”
- “Just hang in there…”
- “You poor thing…”
Listening to others thoughtfully before suggesting a solution gives them the opportunity to tell their whole story. A customer requesting a short style for easy maintenance may not realize there could be better options.
Giving clients time to discuss what they want and why they want it makes it easier to give relevant feedback. You’ll get down to business faster, and the client will feel respected and heard.
Let Go of Needing to be Right
Conversations can unwittingly devolve into debates. When speaking with family and friends, notice your tendency to impose your ideas on others. Clients look to cosmetologists for advice, but it’s critical to respect their ideas and support their creativity. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
Colleagues and managers also appreciate it when you approach issues with an open mind, and eventually, they’ll reciprocate. It makes for a less stressful workplace and fairer conflict resolution.
Cosmetology is a personal service. Success requires building interpersonal relationships that, in turn, create trust. It’s a journey dependent on good communication made better through active listening.
Do you have a passion for hair care? Want to learn more about the skills offered in a cosmetology program? At Minnesota School of Cosmetology, we are dedicated to helping our Cosmetology program students develop a solid foundation and a flair for style through hands-on training in basic and advanced industry techniques. You will learn how to cut, color and style hair, give manicures and pedicures, provide spa treatments and perform various skin care techniques from industry-experienced instructors in a professional salon setting. We keep our class sizes small to make sure you get the individualized instruction you need and attention you deserve. You will graduate with everything you need to be a versatile artist in an exciting industry, including a cosmetology diploma from a respected college.
Contact us today to learn more about becoming a cosmetologist and starting a rewarding career in the beauty industry.