Secrets of Guest Retention

Intelligent Verbiage

Elevate your guests experience and INCREASE your retention rate with Intelligent Verbiage.


By Michael Nikolas


I have asked hundreds of service providers – including stylists, nail technicians, estheticians, massage therapists – if you had 100 new guests in your chair, how many of them will still come to you one year later?

Most of them reply that 80-100% would return. 


In reality, the average percent of guests that are being retained in the salon is 30%. Meaning, 7 out of 10 guests will not come back!

Picture this in another way. Right now your salon average retention is 30% and you get 100 new guests per month: 30 of these new monthly guests would stay. Multiply this by 12 months and you have 360 new guests per year. If you could increase your guest retention rate to 50% of the guest count per month, you would have SIX HUNDRED guests per year! This is in addition to all the return guests you already have. Quite a difference!

The gap between how many guests that a service provider sees and how many turn into a request guest is staggering. So, why is the average retention rate only 30%? The answer lies in the quality of experience that a guest receives at the salon. Service providers need to give the guest more than what they expect, every visit. They need to make that visit their Highlight of The Day. This may sound easy to some, but it is really a talent.

Many service providers think that that they are already going above and beyond their guests’ expectations. They say: “I really listen! I am nice! I am a good technician!” While these are all good things, it is not enough, because the service providers at the other salon down the street ALSO listen, and are nice, and good technicians. Above and beyond means going way past what is standard.

It isn’t always clear to find out what it takes to exceed guests’ expectations. Many service providers need assistance to see how they are treating each guests, and how to ensure that they approach them in a truly helpful manner.

Highlight of the Day

Let’s start with the idea of their Highlight of the Day. You want every guest to leave your salon amazed by the treatment they received . . . so much so that they tell everyone they know. And no one should ever leave your salon without plenty of the service provider’s business cards.

Unfortunately, often service providers will give guests a business card but not tell them why. It is important to be specific at this point. Here is an easy script for after you are finished with your guest’s service:
“Your hair looks great! You’re going to get lots of compliments! When you do, would you mind handing out one of my cards?” In a similar vein, when your guests mentions a friend, their office or club, stop them and ask: “Do I do their hair”” And when they say no, tell them that you would love to, and hand them a business card. 

It is very hard for many service providers to ask for business! With guidance, practice and time, everyone can find their own voice and a way to pass on a business card gracefully and effectively. And this leads to higher guest counts!

Simply put: Service Providers need to create Raving Fans. What is a raving fan? It is a guest that doesn’t want to leave the salon after their visit. It is a guest who is SO EXCITED by the outstanding experience they had, they tell everyone they know about their fabulous visit at your salon. Creating this exemplary service has nothing to do with the size, shape or location of your salon; treating guests with the outmost respect is inexpensive, while the benefits are enormous. And if outstanding experiences were a part of your salon’s daily objective, you might not even need a referral program!

A salon owner must teach these principles and techniques to the staff with authenticity and sincerity so that each service providers understands that guest retention is in their best interest too.

When I walk into a salon, I can immediately tell to what extent the business is service-oriented, and this is all I need to guess whether there is high, medium or low retention. It begins with the front desk staff. Those at the front desk must greet everyone walking in – old AND new – as an old friend whom they did not expect to see. This is a fantastic way to start a guest’s visit, and just think how happy every reception area would be!

This is part of what is referred to as The WOW FACTOR, an industry buzzword these days. The Wow Factor helps to create The Raving Fan. So, what is your WOW FACTOR? What makes you different from all the other service providers? There are many ways to achieve your own difference.

Here are some effective ways that I have seen in action:

  •  Greet your guest by name, with a warm smile and a sincere handshake. Use a calm voice and make eye contact. Tell new guests that it is a pleasure to meet them! Use your guests name as often as possible, it makes them feel comfortable and cared for.
  • Give a tour of the salon. Ask your guest if they have had a tour of the salon, and if not, invite them to do so. Even if the salon is not large, it is still beyond what many service providers do. At this time you may also show them the service offered along the way, and point out the restrooms. They will be impressed by your thoughtfulness.
  • Give every guest – old AND new – a fantastic 5-minute scalp massage. You want the guest tell you it was the best they have ever had! I have knowledge of several guests who say that they go to their stylist because of their incredible shampoos and scalp massages.
  • Start your visit off with a compliment. You can find something to compliment in everyone: great eyes, beautiful hair, gorgeous shoes, etc. Whatever it is: make sure you always notice something. My current stylist never fails to greet me with a smile and give me a compliment. She makes me feel great!
  • Introduce your guest to the owner/manager (when time permits). This makes your guest feel more important. The owner/manager should also tell the guest how nice it is to meet them and how much their business is appreciated. Think about how you feel when the owner or chef at a restaurant stops by your table to thank you for choosing their establishment and to let you know if there’s anything you need. You feel special!
  • Give each guest – old AND new – a thorough consultation on every visit. Ask them open-ended questions about their past salon visits, and find out what they liked as well as what they disliked, but resist the temptation to disrespect any service provider they have seen before you. Many service providers lose their guests by getting lazy about consultations. Recently, my neighbor told me that she’d found a new stylist and her first cut was great. But after the first visit, she didn’t take as much time with her. By the third visit, her stylist just said: “are we doing the same thing?” and the guest no longer felt special.
  • Offer style recommendations. Guest feel taken for granted when their stylist doesn’t offer them new suggestions. I know a stylist with a whopping retention rate of 67%. She loved to change her guests’ looks; sometimes mildly and sometimes drastically. Her creative and enthusiastic consultations were always different, so that her guests looked forward to every visit and never felt cheated afterwards.
  • Tell the guest that the intention is to give them one of the best haircuts/colors, etc. that they have ever received – and ask them if they would like that! This can be powerful. Not every service provider has the confidence to say this because they may not believe they can deliver. But such a statement is huge for the guest and puts the provider at the top of their game.
  • When you are finished with the service, tell your guests how much you enjoyed meeting them and how grateful you were for the chance to perform their service. This should happen while you still have them in your area. Deliver this message with eye contact and a warm, calm tone of voice, away from the commotion of the front desk.
  • Invite your guest back! Do this with grace and authenticity. Pre-booking your guest equals 100% RETENTION!
  • Educate, educate, educate. Talk about their hair! They came to you for a service, not for your life’s story. You can certainly talk on a personal level a little, but keep going back to why they came in the first place. Let your guest know of any education you may have attended. Guests love to know that you are on top of current looks and product knowledge!
  • Call the guest after a service to make sure they are happy. I used to call every new guest that walked into my salon. They were always grateful for the call, and this would lead to countless referrals. The call can be a simple check-in and thank you: guests love it.
  • Thank you cards are a great way to support retention. A simple postcard might include a thank you with an offer for a gift on their next visit.

These are just a few ideas on how to contribute to high retention levels. The key thing is not to blame a lack of business on anyone else: make it happen for yourself. Hold up a mirror and take a hard look of what you are doing now, and figure out how you could go above and beyond. What this boils down to is giving every guest more than what they expected! 

It’s time to find your WOW FACTOR and start creating RAVING FANS who will spread the word about your great salon. It is possible to make the leap from the low average of 30% retention to 50-75%, and when you do, your financial and personal situations are sure to blossom beyond imagination. Take control of your career – YOU have the potential and the tools to make it happen!

What about you? What are your retention tips?



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