Hair Cell-On

Today I stopped into a salon in Bangkok where I saw something that I don’t see that often in the States (though admittedly, I am operating with a small sample size in terms of salons). A stylist had finished up one fellow’s hair and was giving him a neck-and-shoulder massage, which is a great custom here in Thailand that I wish American salons would start. Anyway, at one point the stylist’s phone rang. I thought it was odd he did not have it switched off, or at least set to vibrate, whle working with a client. I was even more surprised when he answered it. And I was even MORE surprised when he continued the massage with one hand. Though I imagine the client might have been even more surprised than I.

“An isolated incident,” I thought, until I later heard another phone go off somewhere in the salon and a muffled conversation get started. And then it happened to me, though my stylist had the courtesy (?) to step away and keep the call brief.

This suggested a couple lessons to me, one more appropriate for customer service roles, but also one of a more general nature.

In terms of the salon, or really, ANY environment where your employees are working directly with customers, cell phones need to be a no-no. If they are with a customer their focus needs to be on that customer. Unless they are waiting for a call that is going to affect your relationship with that client, that phone needs to be silent and be ignored. Clients who engage your employees want to know they can focus, and also want to know they have the employee’s full attention on their work. Answering the phone in the middle of a client’s styling session can make that client feel they are not getting their money’s worth, and you are liable to lose their repeat business. And of course, if that stylist is not concentrating on work, they are liable to do a bad job as well. The bottom line, regardless of which industry you are talking about, is FOCUS.

In a broader sense, this suggests something about today’s workplaces in general. We often let employees have a bit more freedom in the workplace so as not to create a friendlier environment and more engaged employees. That’s all well and good when it positively affects their ability to do their job. But when it detracts from their work, when it interferes with a client-employee relationship, or when it’s just downright rude, then you should not feel you have to give in on everything. Those of us at Designing Leaders are big fans of doing things to create a better working environment, but you as a leader need to know where to draw the line.

The Bangkok example might not seem relevant to many people. They do not really work for tips here the same way as the US encourages, so the stylists’ motivation may be a bit different, and the need for a good environment for the clients may not seem as important. But one thing I have noticed about this salon, which I have visited probably a number of times over the last 5 years: the number of clients seems to be getting smaller each time, as does the number of employees. Yes, I know, correlation does not equal causation, but I have to wonder if getting rid of the cell phones might help a bit.

So, keep the phones off, and encourage your employees to give clients — and every aspect of their job — their full attention.

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