Sunday, 29 June 2008

Parting of the Ways -

I’ve fallen out with the hair salon I’ve been frequenting for about two years. Paying loads of money for a haircut in a fashionable West End salon has always seemed, well, a bit silly. Maybe it’s a man thing. Nevertheless, I liked the way Veronique (not her real name) cut my hair and the salon’s atmosphere and price were fine.

When I phoned to make my last appointment, no mention was made of a price increase. There was no notification at reception, nor was I advised at any time that my haircut had gone up by 30%. Only when I went to pay did I realise that there had been a price hike. That’s when the snooty male receptionist announced the increase, as he matter-of-factly inserted my card into the machine. While the transaction was being processed I said, “Excuse me but that’s more than I usually pay.” He said, in a no-eye contact robotic fashion, “Our prices went up this month.” That was it.

I know the Manager of the salon; I caught his eye and suggested that if you are going to raise prices by 30%, it would be good to advise the customer in advance of them being gowned, or should that be gauged! He responded with some lame excuse and what I would describe as an almost-apology. You know the kind of thing, when someone tells you they are sorry if you are upset by what happened to you, not that they are sorry that they were the cause of the upset. So what’s the big deal, you might say? Here’s the big deal. I want to be treated as though I’m special. I want to feel as though my custom is considered important, something that’s valued.

In short, I want good old fashioned excellent customer service. When, as in this case, a luxury-priced service provider makes no attempt or effort to make a disgruntled customer feel better, they don’t deserve to keep the customer. It’s so simple, all the Manager had to do was offer me this haircut at the old price, or give me a couple of their own-brand hair products as a gesture of goodwill. Or, perhaps send me an e-mail saying sorry about the lack of communication regarding the price increase. I wanted it to be demonstrated that my custom was valued and that they wanted me to come back - I guess what I’m really saying is don’t just stand there… do something!

Saturday, 14 June 2008

Celebrating Being Different

When I was in the fashion business, I spent oodles of time being inauthentic. I applauded enthusiastically at runway shows in Paris, Milan and New York, even when I thought the collections were both uninspired and un-wearable. I went to restaurants, bars and clubs because they were ‘in’ not because they were any good. Okay, a few were quite good.

I never felt that I fitted in at any of these fashionable venues - I tried, but the reality was I just didn’t. I’d have been happier reading a book in my hotel room, or exploring the not-so fashionable enclaves of the cities I visited. One really, really sweltering hot weekend in Milan, I made my first foray into being real. I declined two invitations: one to go to the beach, the other to go to the mountains. In the summer, no one stays in Milan after lunch on a Friday. This time, I did.

I read the Herald Tribune… every page! I started to write a journal of my experiences that week. I explored the ghostly streets of Milan. They were void of (fashionable) people, most shops were closed and there was hardly any traffic; now, that’s a rarity in the centre of Milan. I lunched at a restaurant on the Via Manzoni, an elegant street that has a distinct feeling of understated luxury. During fashion week this particular restaurant would be mobbed with who’s who in the industry. However, on this clammy grey Saturday, there were just a few well-heeled Milanese families enjoying their lunch.

I spent time in an area known as the Brera, Milan’s Soho. This was long before it became known as a trendy area. I discovered antique furniture shops that specialised in late 19th century and early 20th century Italian furniture. Seeing mobili (Italian for furniture) of those eras was very new to me – unlike anything I’d seen before. The very dark wood of the large pieces seemed to exaggerate the bold, curvaceous design and unusually ornate fittings for that period.

As my weekend in Milan was drawing to an end, I chose to have a snack before returning to the hotel for the night. I happened upon a very ordinary looking bar that had sandwiches and coffee. I ordered a toasted Panini with cheese and a cup of coffee. A far cry from the trendy restaurants I’d be lunching and dining in the next day. I can’t say that the weekend changed my life, or that I’d suddenly become authentic. What I can say is that I woke up to the fact that although I enjoyed the business of being in the fashion business, I realised I was totally disconnected from its culture. I also had my first real lesson in what it means to experience feeling more authentic. And, as they say, the rest is history.