By Bernard Ory, Owner The Profitable Stylist, Slidell, Louisiana

While the Serious Business Conference was underway recently in New Orleans, I went to dinner with salon owners Heather and Wayne Tytula of Brio SalonSpa in Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada, as well as Lead Master Stylist Olivia McLellan and Master Stylist Jordan Bryan.

During our dinner conversation about the communication techniques I use and teach my stylists, Heather asked me, “How do you get a stylist to talk to their clients when they’re just too quiet?

I explained that I train my staff to ask strategic questions and mostly listen, this is the start of my powerful FOR technique.

Back Row: Melissa Bould, Brittany Fowler, Shelbi Ransom, Sacha Quarles, Eddie Ohanian, Isabella Borrego, Vivien Holley Front Row: Corie McCaffrey, Bernard Ory, Mariah Cary

Someone at the table mentioned that it’s also a great idea for stylists who also talk too much. Too often, we get off track talking about ourselves or things that don’t help our client relationship or future business. I asked everyone at the table, “Who feels more important in a conversation, the person doing most of the talking or the one doing most of the listening?” We all agreed that the talker feels the most important. 

Successfully communicating with clients is an important tool in our industry and while it seems like it should be a natural skill, many of us lack the fundamentals of how to drive a conversation. We just don’t know what to say. 

I know I couldn’t do it for many years. I would watch others just chat away with no problem and think, “How do they just know what to say?” Sure, it comes naturally to some, and many others learn the art of conversation in school speech classes and public speaking courses.

My easy technique can help us all become better conversationalists.

It’s a short simple acronym, FOR It stands for Family, Occupation and Recreation. Those are the three topics I used to build rapport with my clientele and teach my stylists to use it for successful client-focused conversations.

It starts by knowing what questions to ask to get them talking at length about meaningful things. Some of your clients don’t know what to say or they may think you wouldn’t be interested. The secret is having a few planned questions to ask that get them talking about things that are important to them. Then practice active listening. Listen intently and actively. For example, nod your head, provide positive and appropriate comments, but do not interrupt. 

FOR can be used in any conversation situation, but I’ll break it down for our industry and how we translate into building trust relationships we need to help our clients feel comfortable in our chair over a long period.

Here are some tips on questions to ask and not to ask.  

It Starts with Family

Family comes first. However, it can be offensive to directly ask a person if they are married or have children. So start with something like: Are you from this area? Did you grow up here? What brought you here? They will often reveal if they are married, have children, or have other family members in the area. You should be genuinely interested in learning about your client’s life dynamics. It will help build an authentic relationship while also recognizing that these family members could be future clients. If your client is consistently pleased with the service and experience, you will establish a relationship that allows you to ask for referrals. 

Occupation Comes Next

Ask about their career, their occupation, their job. What do you do for work? After the short answer, the next question is usually the most important one. How did you get into that? Try hard not to say anything for a few seconds. There will usually be awkward silence while they decide how far back to go and how much to share. Then they might go on for 30 or 40 minutes, depending on how much interest you show.

Round it Out with Recreation

Recreation is the final step in the FOR system. This covers whatever a person does for fun or outside work. Again, the second question here is going to be the powerful one. What do you do for fun? Wait for the answer before asking the next question, “How did you get into that? “Now, really wait

for the answer. This is when they think for a minute before answering and then maybe answer for 20 minutes or more. Remember during this answer, if their hobby is with other people, this may be another opportunity to gain clients through their relationships. Offer to do something that might get you notified at the next event. Offer to style just before they get together again. In some situations, you may be able to go to this meeting to present on the topic of hair or just go and style their hair for their next outing or party.

The main goal is to build relationships to better understand your clients’ needs, develop a more loyal clientele and increase referrals to your salon.