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According to Gronroos (1997), marketing in relational terms means “To establish, maintain and enhance relationships with customers and other partners, at a profit so that the objectives of the parties involved are met. This is achieved by mutual exchange and fulfillment of promises”. As to whether a business will profitably benefit from investing in relationship with its customers and other stakeholders, a lot depends on the nature of the business. With regards to certain sectors, like the service sectors, it becomes imperative to develop the relationship with its customers, so as to ensure consistent growth and sustainable competitive advantage.
In big organizations like the banks, the bureaucracy makes it difficult for these institutions to be responsive to the needs of their customers. Hence customer relationship building becomes problematic. But taking a small business like a hairdressing salon, various relationship management techniques are blindly employed by these hairdressers to build relationships with customers.
This paper uses the situation of a hairdressing salon located at Akweteyman, a suburb of Accra, Ghana to explain how relationships with customers are built over the years. Top Curls Beauty Salon, located in Akweteyman, is owned and run by Joyce Owusuwaa. She has employed three hairstylists and has six apprentices. She has operated the business for Ten years, and currently is patronized by lots of women from the locality and beyond. Relationship management techniques clearly play out in such small businesses because of the fact that those delivering the services are mostly the owners, and have the passion to see the business grow, hence making them highly entrepreneurial.
Conditions that are conducive to relationship management
It is not every business that can profitably practice relationship management. Certain conditions must exist to foster the development of an intimate relationship with clients. According to Szmigin and Bourne (1998), the value of a relationship, and by implication the desire to commit to it, will depend on the nature of the service, the nature of the consumers and the nature of the situation. Berry (1983), discussing the service sector identifies three conditions for the applicability of Relationship Management. First of all, the customer has to show a continuing and periodic desire for the service. Secondly, the service customer must be able to select the service provider, and finally there must be a choice of suppliers available to the customer. Berry (1995), further points out that, high involvement services, such as banking, insurance and hairstyling services have the characteristics which lend themselves to relationship building.
Taking the case of Top Curls Beauty Salon located at Akweteyman, a suburb of Accra, it has the conditions conducive to Relationship building. Women, both young and old, have a continuing and periodic (which could be fortnightly or weekly) desire to have a hairstyle that enhance their beauty and appearance. The clients, in this case the women themselves; do the selection of the hairstylist. There is also a plethora of hairstylists and salons around the Akweteyman locality, in which case constitutes a large pool of hair salons available to the customers.
So how does Top Curls Beauty Salon build relationship with customers?
Consistency of quality of service
For Joyce, quality of service is very critical to building a long-term relationship with its customers. Quality of service, in terms of a hairstylist, has to do with how good the client feels at the end of delivering the service. Not necessarily the final product in terms of pleasant appearance, but how the person was attended to at the salon upon entering it, how the salon attendants as well as the final hairstylist were gentle with the hair of the client, may be in terms of how gently they stroke and caress the client’s hair and the kind of pep talks that went on with the client during the service, all go a long way to establish an excellent quality of service in the mind of the customer.
This could lead to repeat patronage as well as referrals. But the question one may want to ask is; how does she ensure that this quality of service is at least maintained, even to the extent of her brief absence? Though she has about six apprentices, she also employs three hairstylists who had undergone an extensive training and coaching from established beauty schools, and mentoring from her. These three stylists have the flair for the job and assist her as well as deputize for her in case of her absence. In fact these girls are trained all-round, and can solve every client issue.
Every customer, be it existing or new, that enters Top Curls Beauty Salon is unique in lots of ways. Customers differ in their appearance, shape of their head, the texture of their hair, the color of their hair, the length of their hair, the strength of their scalp, their likes and dislikes, their socialization and exposure, level of education, age and complexion etc. One style will definitely not fit all of them. This calls for customized service. In fact the business of hairstyling thrives on variety and customization of services to individual customers.
The hairdresser gains a better knowledge of the customer’s requirements and needs over periods of encounters. This knowledge can then be combined with social rapport built over a number of service encounters to tailor and customize the service to customer’s specifications. But there is a challenge for Joyce when a customer wants a style which is in vogue, but which will not fit the customer. In a situation like this, persuasion is done with all the tactness, and explanations given to convince the customer that a better style, which is also in vogue will best suit her and give her that “knockout” appearance and appeal. Customization is very much aided by the next point, which is; two-way communication dialogue.
Two-way communication dialogue
The rapport between a hairdresser and her customers is very important if a long term relationship is expected. The kind of communication dialogue that ensues in the salon does not only bolster the relationship, but also brings a lot of client issues to the fore so that the hairdresser can best satisfy the needs of the customer. According to Joyce, she constantly engages the customers in a dialogue, all to unearth their needs. Some customers, based on how they have been conditioned in other salons, just remain quiet throughout the period that they are being attended to. These customers leave the salon only to change their hairstyle as soon as they get to the house. By engaging them in a conversation, they feel comfortable to actually come out with how they want their hair to look like, hence promoting the likeliness of future business and referrals. It is only through a two way communication dialogue that customer needs could be met.
High level of interaction
There is a high level of interaction between a hairstylist and her customers. The relationship between a woman and her hairdresser is unique. This is because she develops an intimate relationship with her hairdresser as a result of visiting the salon regularly. Women go to the extent of confiding in their hairdressers on issues like personal relationships or marriage and family issues. Why won’t they, if they trust their hairdressers enough to alter their physical appearance, sometimes radical? For some customers, it is all about enjoying the whole experience of going to the hairdresser. For this people, you can always have a good chart at the hairdresser’s salon, as well as catch up on the latest gossip. Hence hairdressers initiate certain lines of conversations and gossips, especially fashion, all to get the salon exciting. Some also go to the salon because they need someone to talk to. They tell their hairdresser really personal things, having in their mind that their hairdresser is a good person to speak to, because they are completely separated from their lives. With the advent of technology, this form of bonding with customers is enhanced by mobile phones, which makes it possible for the interactive platform to be extended outside the salon.
Plays a professional as well as an advisory role
Hairdressers play a professional as well as advisory role to their customers. One could classify them as “informal” psychologists, who exert a level of influence on their customers, not only to change their hairstyles, but positively impact on their lives. Moreover, by virtue of their knowledge in hair grooming and taking care of hair in terms of what hair products the consumer should avoid and those that are suitable (health wise) to them, hairdressers always have the client at heart and appear to act in the interest of the client. If a client should suffer a hair loss, or let’s say suffer a scalp infection as a result of misapplication of a particular hair product, it will adversely impact on the relationship with the client, and generate a negative word of mouth as well. This situation, the hairdresser avoids as much as she can. These are some of the main reasons why she ensures that clients’ hairs are attended to by her and the three most qualified employees. Just to avoid such incidents. Hence, the clients trust the hairdresser to take care of their hair, which the hairdressers consistently do, in their daily dispensations.
High commitment and fulfillment of promises
From the above point, one can say that hairdressers exhibit a high level of commitment towards the client, and help the clients solve their hair problems. A typical example is when clients consult their hair dresser on problem of hair loss and breakage. The hairdresser goes the extra mile in recommending an appropriate product for solving the problem. Some hairdressers go to the extent of purchasing the product and assisting the client in applying it, all for a fee, and which helps in bonding with the customer. Hence, a constant commitment to solving the hair problems of the client goes a long way to improve on the relationship with the customer.
Furthermore, the hairdresser endeavors to fulfill her promises to the client. It is not easy trusting anybody to change your appearance or outlook. What is the assurance and likelihood that you would like the final appearance you are given? Hairdressers, by leveraging their skills and flair, fulfill the promise of making the client feel good at the end of the service delivery. There are situations where some clients refer new customers, and a challenge appears in terms of satisfying this new customer, and fulfilling the expectation and hype. But hairdressers leverage the two-way dialogue to meet the expectations of this new customer.
Long-term orientation and horizon
Long-term orientation and horizon is a key feature hairdressers use to build a lasting relationship with customers. How long a customer is kept in a relationship and share of their wallet they spend in that salon is very important to the long-term profitability of the hairdresser. There are situations where customers had relocated to a distant suburb in the capital, and yet trek to the old suburb just to patronize the services of a trusted hairdresser. It is important to see customers as partners rather than opposite parties, as highlighted by Gummesson (1999).
He goes on to pontificate that long-term collaboration and “win-win” as a key feature of building relationships. This view promotes collaboration, and creation of mutual value for both the hairdresser and the customer. There are situations where hairdressers freely apply certain pomades or sprays, at least initially, just to woo these clients in the long-term. Sometimes too, customers are given discounts just to get them to patronize the salon for a longer period. Hairdressers, in this sense, do not wholly transfer cost to the customers. Customers are handed certain benefits which in the long run make them loyal to the hairdresser. This loyalty is sometimes assured and maintained even when customers relocate to different localities.
Customer lifetime value
Finally, hairdressers view customers, though crudely, in terms of their lifetime value to the business of hairdressing. They nurture the notion that if you can best satisfy and delight a particular customer the more likely you are to have a sustained relationship with the client. This lifetime relationship could be extended to the client referring family members and close peers to that particular salon. Furthermore, taking such a position makes it difficult for the client to break the relationship with the hairdresser.
How has Top Curls Beauty Salon benefited from developing such relations?
First and foremost, the fact that she has established a bonding relationship with them, the customers do not react negatively to price increments, since they know they are getting value for money. Besides, compared to the prices competing salons are charging in the locality, Top Curls Beauty Salon’s charges could be termed as premium, yet the customers see it as appropriate.
Again, some customers move to distant localities and yet regularly visit the salon. The client base of the salon has greatly increased as a result of referrals from these customers.
The salon has been able to leverage their service “brand” into other forms of grooming. The salon now does manicure and pedicure as well. But all these are not without hitches and challenges. Not every relationship developed has yielded the returns. In fact some has yielded negative returns. But on the whole, building a lifelong relationship with its customers has brought some level of success.
Gronroos, C. (1997) ‘From marketing mix to relationship marketing – towards a paradigm shift in marketing’, Management Decisions, 35, 4, 322-339
Szmigin, I. and Bourne, H. (1998) ‘Consumer equity in relationship marketing’, Journal of consumer marketing, 15, 6, 544-557
Berry, L. L. (1983) ‘Relationship marketing’, in L. L. Berry, G. L. Sostack and G. Opah (eds) Emerging Perspectives on services marketing, Chicago, II: American Marketing Association, 25-28.
Berry, L. L. (1995) ‘Relationship Marketing of Services, Growing Interest, Emerging Perspectives’, Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, 23, 4, 236-245.
Gummesson, E. (1999) Total Relationship Marketing – Rethinking Marketing Management : From 4Ps to 30Rs, Oxford: Butterworth-Heinemann.
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