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Experience Design Lessons We Can Learn from My Nail Salon

I’m a native Manhattanite and uptown girl, so it should be no surprise that I’ve been getting manicures since I was a munchkin. It isn’t only about having freshly painted nails; it’s more about taking 30 minutes every few weeks to really treat myself and escape from the hustle and bustle of the city.

I’ve probably been to more than 50 nail salons from the Upper East Side down to TriBeCa and almost everywhere in between, so it’s safe to say that I’ve spent a lot of time observing what works and what doesn’t. At one point, my best friend and I joked that we had enough data to write a directory of NYC’s nail places, a sort of Yelp of beauty. We never ended up doing it — but someone should!

There are three nail salons within a two-block radius of my apartment building, but I always go to the same one. It’s “my nail salon,” and I always walk out of there feeling wonderful. What separates this place from others places is that someone took the time to carefully design the customer experience. While getting my nails done the other day, I suddenly realized that the principles used there can and should be applied to the digital experiences that I’m responsible for designing every day.

So here they are: 10 lessons we can learn from my nail salon.

  1. Never keep a customer waiting. Every time I walk into my nail salon, all the nail technicians are busy with other customers. But the door has barely closed behind me before someone has looked up from their station, acknowledged my presence and asked what I was interested in doing today. Inevitably when I say a manicure, they’ll tell me to pick a color. It’s kind of genius when you think about it — deciding between the dozens of shades on the shelf can take me up to five minutes, and in that time someone has had the chance to finish with someone else and is now ready for me. It didn’t feel like I had to wait at all.

    What do you do to ensure your customers are ushered through the process without delay?

  2. Remember your customer. Every time I walk in, I’m greeted with with a hi and a smile. They know I’m a frequent customer, and they treat me as such. As they should. I don’t even want to add up all the money I spend there in a year.

    Do you acknowledge your recurring customers and make them feel valued?

  3. Provide consistent service. Every manicure I get looks almost exactly the same, no matter which nail technician I get each visit. I know exactly what to expect every time because the staff is well trained and methodical. There are no surprises and no inconsistencies.

    Can you say the same of the service you’re providing?

  4. Provide a relaxing atmosphere. As soon as I walk into the nail place, I’m a happier person. It’s a serene environment, quiet, soothing. All my tension just melts away. And heck, that’s what I’m paying for! The manicure is the product so to speak, but relaxation is the desired experience. I know I’m in good hands when I’m there.

    Do your customers feel safe and happy when they’re with you?

  5. Be gentle. Sometimes this stuff is painful! Cutting cuticles isn’t pleasant, and filing isn’t much fun either. But these women are always incredibly kind and sympathetic. They hold my hand gently, give me a soft cushion to lean on, and don’t make me reach too far.

    Are you as considerable to your customers?

  6. Keep the place spotless. Dozens of customers go through my nail salon on a daily basis, and they’re dealing with some gross stuff here — nail clippings, chemicals, dirty water, dirty paper towels, etc etc. But I never have to look at or think about any of it. The nail technicians are constantly cleaning up after themselves, sanitizing tools, keeping their stations nice and tidy. Being clean shows that they care, and it’s one of the main reasons I choose to go there over other places. No visual or olfactory interruptions.

    Do you keep the crap away from your customers?

  7. Get out of your customer’s way. Basically, the nail technicians do their thing and don’t bother me at all. They don’t try to engage me in too much conversation, require more than my hands extended in front of me, and pretty much don’t make me move. While they’re doing their thing, I get to stare off in the distance and try to forget about the 15 things waiting for me when I get home. The service doesn’t require anything of me at all, short of taking the money out of my wallet.

    Are you making your customers work for it?

  8. Post your prices. The nail salon offers a lot of services beyond just tending to nails, and the price list is highly visible right at the entrance. For people who’ve never been there before, it’s great to see what they’re getting themselves into as soon as they walk in the door — they need the appropriate information to decide if they even want to be a customer. I’ve seen plenty of women walk in, look at the prices, and quickly turn around. And that’s fine. Not everyone wants to spend $9 for something that’s gonna look like crap in a week anyway. But at least they were informed quickly and no one wasted their time.

    Are you upfront with your prices and allow potential customers to make informed decisions?

  9. Post rules visibly. Yes, even a nail salon has to have some rules. Sometimes rules are necessary to allow for a good experience for all. For instance this particular place requests that you don’t use your cell phone in the salon so as to not disturb other customers, and a polite sign is clearly posted so that there’s no misunderstandings. Additionally, they prefer tips to be paid in cash, and have a sign about it posted right above the cash register. It’s not a hard and fast rule, but it’s a strong preference so that the nail technicians can take home their tips at the end of the day. That’s something I can get behind.

    Are your rules and regulations explicit and easily understood?

  10. Provide technology both for convenience and pleasure. One of the main reasons why I choose to go to this particular nail salon over other ones in the area, even one right around the corner from my apartment, is because of the perks — high-powered hand dryers (that reduce the amount of time I have to sit around waiting for my nails to dry) and comfy massage chairs for pedicures. It’s the above and beyond stuff that makes me feel like I’m really being taken care of. When people ask what I do for a living, I tell them that I make stuff easy and pleasurable to use. Why are both important? Because easy doesn’t always equal fun. Making the experience delightful, entertaining and surprisingly lovely is what the customer will remember.

    Are you giving your customers a reason to love you, or just doing the bare minimum?

Chew on it.

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