Yesterday I went to my hairdresser in a nearby town who when I arrived was engaged in a conversation with a co-worker—the hairdresser working at the next station.
A nod of hello to me, she continued to talk with her co-worker, while using her hands to signal that I should sit in the shampoo chair which I did.
I submitted to a head-washing that made me think she had a dog at home that she bathed rigorously in the family bathtub.
As some people do when washing a head and find themselves distracted, she kept returning to the same place behind my right ear, and I fought the urge to say “Woof!! Woof!” for I had never felt more like a dog in the hands of an animal groomer. Because I like dogs this did not offend me.
What did offend me was my hairdresser wasting her opportunity to earn more money, for I know something that my hairdresser doesn’t know: she is better at her job than many other hairdressers I have tried, but other hairdressers with lesser skills have a more cultivated and refined professional personae than she evidences. They charge more for their work, and they get much better tips because the environment where they work requires good manners and a professional personae.
The skills of creating and using that personae are not out of anyone’s reach for they are based in simple courtesy: greet the customer, ask and answer questions according to what the customer needs and wants to know, be present in the experience (perhaps humbly or flexibly present), and smile often and generously. Thank the customer for coming in and say, “I’ll look forward to seeing you next time!”
My hairdresser didn’t do any of that though I gave her ample opportunity. The only question she asked was: “Whatcha want today?”
I replied, “You have always given me an excellent haircut, but today I hope that the lengths in back can be evened up to simply one length, and I would prefer that my bangs not be shorter than my eyebrows.”
She gave me a superior haircut while her attention flitted back to her pal-co-worker, and their exchanges were like cheerleaders who band together and exclude other people who have come to the game. They talked about other customers. They talked about an absent co-worker who had called in sick, and they knew for a fact she was hung over. It is not an uncommon dynamic in various places about town where you go to do business. People at work often talk among themselves, and pretend that the customers are deaf, invisible—or simply not there.
Yesterday at the beauty shop, another customer was sitting with perm rollers in her hair and her head wrapped in a long string of cotton to keep the fluid from trailing down into her eyes and down her back, and she tried to enter their conversation to no avail. We were adult customers but we were treated like children who should be seen and not heard. We were customers who were handled efficiently but could have been handled better, and if we had been the tips would have increased and our willingness to recommend their services to others would be more often expressed. The business would thrive.
I will most likely go back to my hairdresser because she gives a good haircut, but I grieve for her future, which could be so much more prosperous than it is in the small town where she works hard all day long to deliver low-priced haircuts and earn the low wages and proportionately small tips that come with it. Her work deserves the kind of price and profits other hairdressers earn with better manners in better beauty shops but don't cut hair as well as she does. She could have more money and a brighter future, if she knew. I want it for her. All she needs to do is learn better manners and use them.
The discipline of courtesy can flesh out a professional personae that will take anyone farther in life than bonding with your co-workers while customers sit quietly in your presence.