These days, it's easy to get distracted. The real trouble is, the distractions take our attention from the issues which really count - client service being key among these.
We are such sensory beings, and barraged as we are with marketing messages, a simple trip to the store may turn into a phantasmagoric trip down the rabbit-hole. When I buy groceries, I will often see shoppers, apparently from other places, who cannot hide their amazement at the shampoo aisle of my local supermarket. Has washing your hair ever involved so many decisions? The same goes for purchasing a pair of blue jeans.
This also used to be a pretty straightforward experience. Today, you need to know your boot-legs from your whisker-wash to your thong-rise-oh, forget it, the Denim Dilemma is too much. I usually end up deciding that the pair I've got are just fine after all.
This, of course, is what I now aptly call the paradox of choice. As consumers, we quickly reach a saturation-point where we become paralyzed by an exhausting overabundance of options. I believe that this exhaustion comes in part from the realization, on some visceral level, that many of these choices offered are in fact bogus choices: there isn't REALLY a significant difference between many consumer goods. We all retain our deeply-imprinted genetic history as hunter-gatherer-foragers, and somehow we know that we're being conned. This is, obviously, a major distinction between buying over-the-counter goods and professional products-unless of course the professional simply hot-stamps their logo and brand name onto a generic formula and package.
Yet the real crisis in the marketplace is not that we have too many products to choose from (which we do), but rather that the explosion of SKUs parallels a corresponding descent in the concept and practice of customer service. It's easier for retailers to drown the shopper in meaningless product variety than to train, incentivize and effectively manage a motivated sales team dedicated to helping shoppers find what they actually came in for, and feel satisfied and looked-after when they depart.
Perhaps there is some maniacal strategy to all this which reasons that while the disoriented, dehydrated shopper desperately pads up and down the overstocked aisles in search of a new shower curtain, she'll happen across a floor-length sable coat or a sapphire tiara that she simply must have as well. And speaking as someone who has been intimately involved with retailing in one form or another for 30 years-my entire career-I truly understand the power of the "Point-of-Purchase" (I'd prefer to call it "Point-of-Service", but this would be optimistic) impulse buy. We've all snapped up the latest lurid tabloid or naughty dark chocolate as the cashier rings up our sale. But even this spasm of immediate gratification is no substitute for finding what you actually want, guided by informed and helpful sales pros who help you get it.
Like Meryl Streep's imperious character in the film version of "The Devil Wears Prada," the level to which service has sunk in every industry in this society makes me ask rhetorical questions, sometimes aloud. Is it really oh-so challenging for an employee to greet clients, facilitate their purchases, and generally manage the client experience from initial phone call to ultimate re-booking in a pleasant, efficient, and professional manner?
This is the question which we, as skin care professionals, must not only ask but answer. Because unfortunately, the next rhetorical query in this line of questioning is inevitably "How low can you go?" I love the skin care industry. I love our tribe. I love the work that we all do. But we are in trouble, because the bar is set low enough to step over. Have a look at your menu. Is it, in a word, bloated? Is it an extravaganza of far-fetched treatments? Then have a hard-eyed look at your staff-if you can find them, that is. Are they spot-on, attending to business, or are they nosing through scraps on eBay, checking their cell-phones, gabbing with each other about the weekend, or simply missing in action? If your menu is huge, you may be compensating for a team that doesn't know the first thing about service.
Some of it has to do with the overall decline of service as a cultural value in America, even within so-called service professions. My attitude toward this is, it's time to step it up. While no one ever has anything nice to say about the Fox Network and reality TV programming, I think Gordon Ramsay's "Hell's Kitchen" should be required viewing for everyone who's even thinking of working in skin care. Because there are many parallels between creating an effective restaurant and a first-rate skin care facility.
I believe that there are three primary elements-an "ownership" attitude, rigorous technical skill, and time-management-which must converge in order to create quality service, whether food service or skin care service. Imbalance in any of the three areas, and you've got, as people say where both I and Mr. Ramsay (a fellow Scot) come from, a bloomin' disaster-well, Mr. Ramsay might phrase it a bit differently, but we can't print that here. Here's the point: regardless of how choice and juicy the prime rib may be, if it shows up 30 minutes late, cold, on a greasy plate with a few sad, wrinkled peas and topped with a luxuriant human hair, buh-bye, I'm taking my appetite elsewhere. Likewise, you may have an effleurage that makes the angels weep, but if there's no paper in the ‘loo, you shan't be seeing me again.
Education is also critical in both professions, and this is where I must wax (no pun intended) critical myself. I am critical of the industry I adore here in America for setting the bar so abysmally low in terms of skin care education. Twenty-odd years ago, when I was founding first my postgraduate skin care training program and then the professional skin care products to support that program, a license to practice skin care required only 600 hours of study. Today, that is still the case. It wasn't enough then. It certainly is not enough now.
American-trained skin therapists are at a distinct disadvantage when compared with their counterparts who have been educated in the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and many parts of Europe and Asia. There exists a huge discrepancy in the base-line when newly licensed therapists work side-by-side, and employers know it. Sad, shocking, true.
How can the American-trained therapist stay competitive? The only way to take up the slack is by committing yourself to a lifetime of postgraduate education. If you're a skin therapist working for someone else, you must do this in order to establish and maintain a professional edge-otherwise, you will become discouraged, overwhelmed, and just another statistic in the incredible skin care industry burnout rate, which fluctuates in the high-90th percentile. If you are the owner of a skin care establishment, you owe it to your clients to raise the bar by dedicating a significant portion of your annual operating budget to ongoing education for your team.
The alternative: add 10 or 20 ridiculous new items to your menu, so by the time clients reach the treatment bed; they'll be too dazed to notice the second-rate service.