What Customer Success Managers Can Learn From A Barber Shop

Today was the day I had my monthly hair cut. Being a rather traditional guy, I got to a pretty traditional barbers. I get a hair cut by the same barber each time, someone who can only be described as a “man’s man”. During the 45 minutes, I’m surrounded by “manly” barbers discussing “manly” things.

I’ve done this every month, on roughly the same day every month, at exactly same barber shop, for the last 2 years (which is since I moved into this area).

It was during my cut today that I started observing, I mean really observing, why I’ve come back to this place every time, for the last 2 years. There’s 4 other hair stylists/barbers within a 5 minute walk, but I choose this one.

During my deep contemplation, while a man with hands the size of a viking was deftly and efficiently cutting away at my barnet, I started to see the underlying fabric of the place. The reasons I come back here each time. Why I’ve become a loyal and happy customer.

I’m fully aware that the business model and challenges of a barber shop do not accurately map onto the challenges of a SaaS software company (startup or enterprise). I’m talking about repeat customers vs. subscribing customers.

But I did see a lot of amazing lessons in something so simple and honest as my local barber shop, and I wanted to see if we could use them to inspire our approach to customer success management.

My Barber Knows Exactly Who I Am

Through the small pieces of information I’ve given up at each hair cut over the last few years, my barber has created a profile of who I am. For example, he knows what I do for a living. He knows I’m a homeowner. He knows I live a 5 minute walk away. He knows I commute into London. He knows I don’t follow football (or any sport). He knows which University I attended.

Most importantly, he knows I detest being forced to make idle conversation during a haircut.

And so every time I have a hair cut now, he’ll do a few things:

  • He always welcomes me by name
  • If there’s a queue, he’ll offer me a black coffee (how I take it)
  • He’ll comment on any recent event with my old University – “So town will be busy this week with the graduation ceremonies!”
  • He always ask me to sit at the chair with the same line – “Come and sit down and forget all about London for a bit”
  • He’ll never make comment about the recent football match, no matter how much it pains him during a World Cup

He’s only able to offer this personal experience because of the profile he’s created of me. He never grilled me for 45 minutes to get all of this information in one go – instead he’s asked me a few questions per visit over the years to slowly create this exhaustive profile.

And it makes me feel great as a customer.

My Barber Knows Exactly What I Need (Even When I Don’t)

Every few hair cuts, my barber will change my style. I usually give a small nod of acceptance, but generally I don’t need to ask for anything. He follows the styles of men my age. He knows I have a wide face, a young hairline, thick hair and very wavy hair. He knows I change my hairstyle every 3 months, or roughly every 3 cuts.

So when he starts to cut a new hair style in, he makes changes to adapt it to my specific requirements. And when he’s doing a “maintenance” cut, he looks at how my hair has grown longer in some places than others and adapts the cut to bring the style back in line.

He pro-actively anticipates my needs – even though I may not be aware of them!

My Barber Knows To Use The Right Tool For The Right Customer

When I sit in the throne at my barbers, before me is an array of cutting and slicing tools that make Edward Scissor-Hands look harmless. Today, I made a point of counting those tools:

  • 6 different scissors (of various angles, shapes and curvatures)
  • A pot containing around 10 different combs
  • 3 different mains clippers (with an assortment of attachments)
  • 2 wireless battery powered clippers
  • Some scissor looking things that I couldn’t actually figure out what they did
  • 2 cut throat razors
  • 3 mirrors
  • 2 sizes of shaving cream lathering brushes

But for my cut, he used only 3 of those tools.

He knows that mains powered clippers freak me out, so he uses the quiet and small wireless ones. He knows I prefer a rough texture cut, so he uses a particular pair of scissors with a particular comb.

And I’m certain when the old guy who had a cut before me, or the Army-looking guy who had his cut after me, he’ll use a totally different – but specific – combination of tools.

My barber knows that not every tool works for every customer, and you should choose the tools that not only are the most effective but are also suited to the style, personality and preferences of that customer.

My Barber Knows Retention Comes From Making Me Look Good

A barber makes enough revenue from a single hair cut to cover the costs of the shop, any products he might use, any tools he might buy, the flyers he might leave around gyms, and the time he spent cutting my hair.

As a single transaction, hair cuts are profitable.

However, a barber knows that for his business to succeed and maybe even grow, he’s not in the business of just cutting hair. He’s in the business of making men look and feel great. His haircut is merely the feature – the benefit is how that haircut makes me feel.

While not strictly a subscription business (where the time to break even on a new customer is often many months), my barber still knows that customer retention is necessary for his business to do well. And he knows that customer retention comes from customer success.

Plus, when he makes guys look great he knows their friends will ask where they got their hair cut.

Summary Thoughts

When you’re next sitting at a weekly team meeting with the other customer success managers in your company, or you’re working with a customer, or considering how to best compliment your strategy with technology, take a minute to think about the simple barber shop.

Here is a business that can retain a customer from a 6 year old boy up until he grows into a 60 year old man.

Take a few minutes to think about how they deliver that personal service, anticipate the needs of their customers, use the most appropriate tools to each customer, and maintain an absolute focus on making their customers successful (i.e. looking good) above everything else.

Published by

Liam Gooding

Liam is the cofounder and CEO of Trakio. Previously an engineer, he writes about growing subscription companies using data-driven techniques and inside glimpses to Trakio's own growth journey. He wrote a book, "Growth Pirate!" which discusses data-driven growth strategies for startups.