Now that lockdown restrictions have been eased significantly, shoppers are nervously returning.

It’s a brave new world out there and it’s more than just nerve-wracking going back out, visiting retailers, pubs and beauticians – it’s confusing, it’s less fun and an undertone of seriousness is present at all times. No one wants to get it wrong, or look silly and uninformed.

The once-relaxing, rejuvenating experience of visiting the hairdressers is a perfect example of what’s changed and how we should consider that, when designing our customer experience strategy.

Before we look at that customer journey, however, let’s look at why it is so important to our customers, and why we should be taking it as seriously as possible right now.

What’s the problem?

Having your hair done is not just a functional thing. It can have a deeper psychological impact. The same can be said for shopping for clothes, make-up, shoes, a car – the list goes on. This quote from Rebecca Newman, a psychotherapist based in Philadelphia, sums it up well:

“When we’re going through a period of transition that is particularly painful, we tend to make decisions that provide immediate relief.”

According to Newman, altering the way we look or making an impulse buy is like figuratively shedding our skin, and we do so in the belief that it will improve our emotional well-being.

So getting your haircut is more than just that. It can be an emotional release, the symbolic act of starting over, taking a new direction, becoming bolder. This is a heavy weight for those businesses in the beauty industry, retail or anyone selling luxury items such as cars or holidays, and it’s one that is so important to grasp at this point in time, when emotions are running high.

If we accept that our consumers may well be seeking more than just the basic transaction from us, that they are coming to us in a state of vulnerability and require the extra care and support that their vulnerable state necessitates in order to shop safely and leave feeling satisfied and uplifted, we can start to cater for these new needs more comprehensively.

What does this look like for the customer experience? A case study.

After months of overgrown hair, during one of the hottest summers on record, a lot of us took the first opportunity we could to book in to our favourite stylist. The promise of a fresh hair-do, the uplift that can give us and the couple of hours away from the rat race, just being pampered felt like too good an opportunity to pass by.

Despite working in the CX industry, despite following all the pandemic news and guidelines, I had somehow failed to mentally prepare myself for the much less glamourous, much starker reality, and it was a shock to the system.

Pre-lockdown, a trip to my favourite hairdressers would have entailed a warm greeting, someone taking my coat, helping me into the protective gown and asking if I’d like a cup of tea, maybe even a glass of bubbles. I’d have a face to face consultation on what I’d like to have done. Moments later I would be brought a cup of tea – usually in a cute little tea pot with a side helping of Lindt chocolate (no prizes for guessing why this place is my favourite). I’d have the hair dye applied and be left with an assortment of magazines whilst it developed. I’d then have the dye rinsed out, my hair cut and would end with a fantastic blow-dry, leaving the salon feeling a million dollars.

It was one of the best ways to access a bit of me time, some self-care, and that overall feeling of wellness.

What actually happened was that I entered the salon in my mask, feeling stifled and already aware that it was a little harder to breathe, my glasses fogging up with every exhale. I was pointed in the direction of my chair, but misunderstood which was the one I should sit in, so as I gravitated towards the wrong one, the receptionist shouted loudly ‘no not that one’ and I felt like a prize idiot as the collective eyes of all their patrons shifted in my direction.

I was told to place my belongings directly into the plastic bag on the counter by my seat, and to get my own gown on. Which way round does it go? Something so simple, but normally they help you into your gown and I’d never really paid much attention. Having figured it out, I sat down and waited for my stylist. He came out, wearing a mask and a visor which – whilst fully understandable – was a little disconcerting and it was hard to get that same bond with him as I couldn’t really hear him well over the noise of the dyers, and I couldn’t tell when he was smiling or even moving his lips.

There was no offer of a drink, something that hadn’t occurred to me so I hadn’t brought my own. There were no magazines, again I’d have brought my kindle if I’d have really thought about it.

There was a clear tension in the salon as staff tried hard to work as normal (in anything but normal circumstances) with huge Perspex screens separating every area, the need to disinfect their equipment between every visit and having to frequently remind customers to stand back from the cash register until it was their turn to pay.

All of these changes should have been obvious to anyone keeping up with the news, and when I really think about it, of course that was the way I’d have found things. But that reality had not hit me with enough weight, far enough in advance to prepare me, and adjust my expectations. I left the salon feeling gloomy, stressed, thirsty, and like it was probably not worth the trip in the first place. I won’t be the only one.

That rejuvenating, luxury experience does not exist anymore and whilst on a logical level our customers probably know this, they may not have taken time to understand how that might impact them, and how they might feel about their experience as a result. This could lead to a pivotal moment in the customer experience, where as a nation we go into our shopping life with long-term ingrained expectations that have been formed over the course of our entire life, only to realise in one moment that those experiences that form our understanding of ‘the way things are’ are now changed – if not forever, at least for the foreseeable future.

This has the serious potential to cause mismatched expectations across every industry, and a surge in dissatisfied customers, complaints, and unhappy staff. We need to see this surge coming and take proactive steps to combat it.

How do we beat the surge of dissatisfaction?

1. Take time to reset expectations ahead of customers visiting

You may have to take bookings before admitting customers, if you do, use it as a time to explain to them how things will be, what will be different from normal and to reassure them that you will be on hand to help them figure things out, answer any questions and that you will make their experience as comfortable as you can.

If you don’t get to speak to your customers at a natural place in the experience, send them a newsletter, again written in a clear, informative but reassuring tone that tells them what they can expect, and helps them understand what that might mean for them.

If you don’t have contact details for customers then help them with posters in your premises or clear, current wording on your website.

2. Train your team to be on hand to explain

Make sure empathy is at the forefront of your staff agenda, that there are enough people on hand to help with the changing expectations, and to avoid any unnecessary confusion or embarrassment when someone gets ‘the new way’ wrong. Appreciate your customers for still coming out, for risking it to visit you. It won’t have been an easy decision for a lot of people.

3. Prepare your team for a rise in complaints

Whilst we have all gone through this together, and we should all be as kind as possible to each other, mismatched expectations will generally result in increased complaints. If you expect them, have time to train for them, re-enforce the importance of empathy, and can help your team to understand that the emotional weight behind the complaint will not simply be formed by one bad experience, but by months of rising anxiety, potential ill-health of loved ones and the end to a normal way of life, it might help them to address the complaint in a more compassionate way, improving outcomes for everyone.

4. Be clear when information and procedures have been updated

If you’ve updated your website, your opening hours, your IVR to reflect the changes due to Covid, spell that out. People shouldn’t have to guess whether they are looking at pre-lockdown advice and opening hours. Even if you haven’t needed to make any changes, make it clear that things are working as usual, that the advice on your website still stands, and that you have reviewed and updated it regularly.

Displaying clear and prominent wording on the situation post-lockdown will help customers to self-serve when accessing information and result in happier, more informed customers, and a reduction in calls into your organisation to clarify, or issues when customers visit your premises.

If you need any help with your post-lockdown customer experience, Think Wow have packages available for every business.


Check out the previous instalments of Bill & Doug:


Post Views: 391