Communication is a two way street

I’m sitting at a restaurant in the new Cape Quarter, where I usually go to write my articles. While I am there my attention is grabbed by a customer who is visibly upset with the service that he has received and he is waving his hands around and raising his voice to a lady who informs him that she is the owner of the restaurant.

He is trying to communicate to her how unhappy he is and why he is so unhappy and she is trying to communicate to him the care she takes to train her staff to do their jobs properly. This situation was obviously not a great situation for the owner because there is an unhappy customer who is making a bit of a scene in front of other patrons. On the other hand at least she is presented with an opportunity to remedy the situation.

I remember working as a waiter while I was a student and reading an article written by the owner of the restaurant who was also the chairman of the restaurant board in the Western Cape at the time. In the article he was going on about how in South Africa patrons complain with their feet rather than with their mouths. What he meant was that people would rather not cause a stir at the restaurant if they were unhappy but they would just stop going to that restaurant in future, thereby complaining with their feet.

In this scenario the restaurant management would not have the opportunity to do anything about it concluding that it was actually better to have the customer complain there and then because then you could take action and keep them coming back in future.

Communication 101

The reason I have taken the time to relay the above story in the context of communicating with clients is that we tend to see client communication in business as a one way street, when in fact it is just as important that we are taking note of how clients communicate back to the business.

We think of client communication as sending them an SMS for a promotion that we are having, a newsletter to update them on latest events, an appointment reminder or to notify them that there has been a power failure or flood at the salon and that appointments need to be rescheduled. There really isn’t as open a communication channel for salons to easily listen to what every single client has to say.

Now, before you respond to set the record straight, I am aware that you may receive a few replies to your bulk SMS (usually in the form of an Opt Out), or you may get a reply to an appointment reminder to cancel or move the appointment. You may even send out a survey to get your clients feedback or respond to complaints on sites like Hello Peter but this will generally be a very small percentage of your client base.

So how then can you truly communicate WITH your clients rather than just communicate TO your clients.

A note on Social Media

Although Social Media is not the main focus of this article we do need to acknowledge that it is one way of getting feedback more easily from your clients as it creates a forum style scenario for feedback. In fact, some businesses spend a lot of time simply trolling their social media sites looking for any negative feedback that may have been said about them and they then take action to turn the client and their negative perception around. This can often be very effective as a client who is won back is often far more loyalty to your business after experiencing this turn around.

However, even though social media provides a feedback platform like never before it still does not get everyone of your clients to communicate back to you.

Actions Speak Louder than Words

There is a way in which 100% of your client database will communicate to you, and this is through their actions. To put it in very simple terms if they like your salon they will communicate this by coming back for more services and more products. If they don’t like your salon then they will stay away. That’s the bottom line.

Therefore, on top of any other ways that your clients may communicate with you, whether in person, social networks or any other method the most valuable communication (or feedback) we can have from clients is whether they come back or not. Let’s face it, most of us would rather have a thousand feet through our door than a thousand Likes on our Facebook page.

Now that we have established how all your clients communicate to you it is a matter of how well you listen and this will depend largely on the quality of information that you have at your disposal in the form of business intelligence. The more you know about who is not coming back and why they are not coming back the better you are listening and the more you are equipped to take the right action.

One simple example of this would be if you send out an SMS to advise your clients of a promotion of a particular brand of product. If your sales of this brand spike immediately after this promo SMS goes out then your clients are responding by telling you they like what you had to say. If there was no change in sales then they are telling you that they don’t like what you had to say.

A note on SMS

In recent months an interconnect fee has been introduced in South Africa between the cell phone companies for sending Bulk SMS messages to each others networks through Wireless Application Providers (WASPs).

The reason this has been introduced is because the nature of bulk sms’ing is that it is one way traffic whereas sending personal sms messages from your cell phone (and to other networks) usually results in a reply and hence both networks get their money without an interconnect fee.

In the bulk messaging situation one of the cell phone companies decided to attract all traffic through their network (via one particular WASP) and they would deliver to the other networks who would therefore not make any money because there was no reply and no interconnect fee. Now, however, the interconnect fee is the measure that seeks to remedy this so that everyone gets their share.

The point I am driving home is that the nature of SMS is to talk to clients rather than listen to them. SMS is very powerful due to the fact that the delivery and reading of the message is more certain than other methods but in order to listen to clients we need another method.


In conclusion then, I am not saying that we must not communicate to clients, what I am saying is that we must also listen and listening happens in more ways than one.

Clients will tell you so much by their actions. They will tell you what they like to buy (or not buy). They will tell you when they like coming to the salon, how much they like to spend, which staff members they like to see, whether they refer other clients to your salon, how they heard about your salon and so on.

Therefore, SMS your clients, Email them, put out posts through social networking and do whatever else you in order to communicate to your clients. Then start to listen by taking a close look at your business data to determine if clients are saying they like your salon or not. The better your business intelligence, the better you will be at listening to your clients.