When Eveline Charles began expanding her salon business almost a decade ago, she developed clear policies to ensure consistency and quality across multiple locations. Such a sophisticated approach not only brought a new level of professionalism to her firm but also eased its growing pains as it became a major player in Western Canada's beauty industry.
Today, Charles' Edmonton-based EvelineCharles beauty empire includes nine salon/spas in Edmonton, Calgary and Kelowna, B.C., three training academies and a line of cosmetic, skin and hair products. The business generated sales of more than $15 million in 2010, excelling enough to earn Charles the No. 34 spot on this year's PROFIT W100 ranking.
Yet, it hasn't all been smooth sailing recently. Beauty is a luxury expense, and when the recession hit, EvelineCharles clients began pinching pennies. As a result, customer retention—the golden goose of the salon/spa business—began to slip.
After cost-cutting and a marketing push had failed to offset the damage, Charles sat down to think of ways to win back clients' patronage. If her salons could give customers the warm-and-fuzzies with top-tier service at a good price, she reasoned, the competition wouldn't stand a chance. And what better way to achieve that goal than by standardizing things the way she had when expanding years earlier? With that, the firm's "Five-step, Five-star" customer-service program was born. Its success proves that great service is no fluke—and that its benefits are manifold. "It's become our competitive advantage," Charles says.
To start the customer-service overhaul, Charles surveyed clients to gain a better understanding of what they wanted from their visits. She also held roundtables with her staff to get their service-improvement ideas. She chose the latter tactic in part because she felt employees would be much more likely to buy into the change if they had played a role in shaping it.
After mapping out all aspects of a typical client's visit, Charles and her executive team tied everything together into a program to be rolled out across the company.
The program they created is based on the five interactions that patrons have with staff during a visit: preparation, greeting, consultation, service and closing. It sets out expectations for what every staff member should do to make patrons feel terrific at each step, and sets out detailed guidelines for achieving those expectations. For instance, when a client enters an EvelineCharles salon/spa, the program mandates that an employee greet her with a handshake, a warm smile and solid eye contact.
It's tough enough to put a great plan into action at one site; it's even tougher to do so across multiple branches. Charles got everyone on the same page by introducing the service program to staff at an all-employee symposium last autumn. She then had each staffer spend a day training in the new expectations. And she built mechanisms to follow up: salon directors and managers were directed to reinforce the service standards through daily interactions with staff and weekly employee huddles.
To encourage staff uptake further, the program includes some carrots. Managers grade each employee monthly on his or her ability to uphold the standards. Those who consistently excel are rewarded with new business; in other words, explains Charles, they'll get the new clients who call for an appointment. There are bragging rights at stake, too; a weekly "Hotshot" list publicly celebrates those who have delivered stellar service.
The Five-step, Five-star initiative seems to be working. Charles commissioned a customer survey in May and found that patrons gave EvelineCharles a 97% satisfaction rating. And client retention is up by 4% this year over last.
Charles is working to dazzle clients on other fronts, too. In April, her firm launched an iPhone app that allows users to test new hairstyles virtually, see the latest trends and view video tutorials. If users like what they see, the app links them to an online booking concierge. To date, the app has been downloaded 70,000 times; Charles expects it to boost bookings over the longer term. And as a branding exercise, it has been a coup.
That increased profile could prove valuable as Charles takes the next step in the company's growth plan: wider distribution of its line of hair, skin and cosmetic products. The firm has hired a consultant to help determine whether to mass-market its wares or to offer private-branding opportunities to select salons and spas. "We don't have all the answers yet," Charles admits. But whatever path the company chooses, she says, the goal is always to be ahead of the pack: "It's how we run the company."
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