By Keiko Kay Hirai
For The North American Post
Every now and then, I reflect back on some of the experiences I had when I was growing up. Many of them have shaped how I perform the services in my salon today. One of the things that frequently comes to mind is the humdrum way that salons shampoo hair. I was only sixteen and this is my recollection of what happened and why it made such an impression on me.
The initial greeting with my stylist, Lydia went fine. After that, she took me back to an area that was lined with shampoo bowls and chairs and sat me down in the closest chair. She guided my head down to rest nicely into the groove of the bowl. Thinking, “This is great,” I succumbed to her direction. Once the shampoo process started, I could feel the warm trickle of water on my head. The warmth of the water gave me a comforting feel. Before my hair was thoroughly saturated, the shampoo was poured on my head and the massaging and scrubbing began.
I sat there thinking, “Okay it’s beginning to feel good…just apply a little more pressure with your fingertips and keep going.”
Unfortunately, no matter how much I wished for a stronger and more stimulating massage, it never happened. Instead, Lydia continued to slide her fingers lightly on the surface of my scalp, back and forth, stimulating my scalp just enough, causing my head to itch.
After moving her fingers around the top of my head, she lifted my head and shampooed the area around the back nape of my head. As she continued to run her fingers through my head, Lydia never bothered to vary her technique nor asked me if the massage was to my liking. Before I knew it, the shampoo was over, even though many areas of my head were missed.
As I grew older, I had my hair cut and styled at few salons when preparing myself for important occasions. Each time, I went through a similar experience. I wanted to shout, “Don’t stop now, keep going! You are really making my scalp itch! Can you apply more pressure on your finger tips and give me a stimulating massage?”
Of course, no matter how much I screamed to my internal self, it didn’t do any good. Before I knew it, the water was turned on again and my hair was already in the rinsing stage. One thing that always annoyed me during this stage was that my neckline never was given a good rinse. After that, the stylists would always finish by putting a glob of conditioner on my hair. I cringed during this process, knowing that overuse of conditioners caused my hair to go limp. I thought, “Well, this is sure great. On top of my unclean scalp, you are putting more stuff on my hair that will only gum it up.”
My dream of looking and feeling good as the bridesmaid of a good friend at her upcoming wedding went out the door. All I wanted was for my scalp to feel clean and my hair to look full to complement my face so that I felt like a full moon on a dark night. I just wanted to feel good and look good. Was that too much to ask?
Before the stylist began the blow drying process of my hair, a generous amount of styling gels and pomades were applied to my hair. Again, I cringed, but felt too intimidated to say anything. After all, she knows best, she is a professional stylist and who was I to challenge her actions?
After she finished styling my hair, I looked in the mirror to examine my finished style. Just as I dreaded, my hair lay limp, lackluster, and flat on my head. The worst part, though, was that it still felt dirty! I could hardly wait to get back home so I could wash all of the stuff out of my hair, give myself a another shampoo, and blow dry my hair into a more complimentary style that would minimize the look of my full and round face.
I reflected on why the stylists didn’t understand what I wanted out of my shampoo and styling experience. The things that were important to me did not seem to be that difficult to do and it certainly wouldn’t have taken any additional time. In fact, it would have minimized the salon’s product costs. I asked myself why I should have to pay them good money only to have to do my hair all over again when I got home, but as a timid young person with little self-confidence, I had little choice but to put up with it.
The “WOW” Shampoo Experience:
Many years later, I opened my own hair salon. I made a promise to myself that our customers would receive a great shampoo experience. Before I even taught my stylists how to cut, color, or style hair, I taught them how to give a “Wow” shampoo to our clients. I said, make sure that you probe each client by asking, “Is the water temperature to your liking or how is my finger pressure on your scalp?”
It wasn’t hard, because if we did the asking, the clients always told us what they wanted.
My Sage Advice:
Have you had a similar experience with other things in your life? Think about it. When you receive a service that doesn’t quite meet your expectations, the natural inclination is to get upset or feel disappointed. Before you do, however, take a deep breath. Remind yourself that it is not always one person’s fault because it usually “takes two to tango.”
Instead of feeling annoyed (don’t be like me), be assertive and ask for what you want before the service even begins. The important thing is to be specific about your expectations. For example, here’s how my friend Janet orders her coffee at Starbucks: “Please make me a short, non-fat, coffee latte with only a quarter shot of coffee and no sweetener added. Oh, another thing, I like it hot.” When she takes her first sip, she compliments the barista by saying something like: “Ummm…you made it perfect, just the way I like it. Thank you!” The barista always breaks out with a big grin, knowing that he or she has done a good job in pleasing the customer.
If you happen to be a service provider, on the other hand, go through an in-depth consultation with your customer before you begin your service. At my salon, Studio 904, we go through what we call an “LSPA Consultation” procedure to help us become good communicators. These steps will help you improve your relationships with family, friends and young children as well. Here are the four steps:
•LISTEN: Ask open-ended questions so the other person can give you an answer other than a simple “yes” or “no.” Instead of asking, “Did you like your last haircut?” probe a little more and ask “What did you like about your last haircut?”
•SHARE: After listening to the person’s wants and needs, it’s time to share your recommendations on how to solve the person’s problem. Remember, everyone has a problem that they want solved.
•PERMISSION: Before starting the service, paraphrase what the person has asked you to do. Say something like: “I heard you say that you want your hair to be this length and you like fullness in your crown area. Is that what you wanted?” Getting on the same page with the other person is important in anything you do in life.
•ACTION: Begin your service only after you have clarified your goals and objectives and the person has given you permission to do so. I even do this with dogs before I pet their heads. Don’t assume…always know that every person (or an animal) has their own desires.
At the end of your service, always ask the person, “Are you happy with the results?” Hopefully, each time the answer will be, “Yes, I am VERY happy!”
I’ve been busy writing my next book. It is coming soon: “A Salon Like No Other”
I have owned and operated my salon for 40 years and have learned many lessons along the way – lessons that have impacted both my business and my life. This book details my journey in discovering joy through my work, embracing artistic endeavors, never giving up, empowering others, creating meaningful connections in my community, and helping those in need. More to come.
[Editor’s Note] Kay Hirai is the author of “Yumi’s Life Lessons” and “Keiko’s Journey” and owner of Studio 904 on Mercer Island. She would love to hear from you through at: firstname.lastname@example.org or www.keikokayhirai.com