I never could get the haircut I asked for

There is a small group of barbers which I meet with on a regular basis. This past week, we asked the question, “What is the thing we hear the most in our chair?”

One of the guys said that he often hears that nobody can ever give the client the haircut they are asking for… and it made me think of how many times I have heard the same thing.

When I ask a client what they want, I normally get one of a few standard answers:

  • “Give me a number __ on the sides and make the top shorter.”
  • “Just like what I’ve got, only shorter.”
  • “You’re the professional, make me look good.”

But I’ve been hearing more often that they can’t get the haircut they were looking for,

To be fair, we are not talking about bold errors that someone has made. This isn’t “I asked them to take an inch off everywhere and they gave me a mohawk.” The differences are usually very subtle.

  • The hair starts touching their ear too quickly
  • The hair at the top of the sides puffs out too much
  • They cut too much or too little
  • This part gives everybody trouble

Now there are usually a couple factors involved… the mindset of the person cutting the hair, and the communication which occurs before the haircut begins.

A haircutter’s work vs. a barber’s service

Too many haircutters concentrate on the work of cutting hair, and have forgotten the art of serving their customer.

To be clear: I am not talking about experience… I’m only in my third year of cutting hair at the time of this writing. I am in no position to throw rocks at other people because of their skill level or experience. I used to think I had a good fade game, and then I started cutting with barbers who were really good at fades – there were a couple of times that I had to ask myself if I even knew how to cut hair!

I’m talking about the mindset… usually that of the person cutting the person’s hair. When someone can’t get the haircut they want, quite often they got what the cutter wanted to cut (or didn’t want to cut) as opposed to what the client told them.

Let me try to illustrate it with music…

If you hire me to come play for your wedding, and I play a whole bunch of breakup and love-lost songs, are you going to be happy?

  • Does it matter if I have been a professional musician for years?
  • Does it matter if I am the greatest break-up song singer in the world?
  • Does it matter if they were the best renditions of those songs?
  • Does it matter if the catering crew really loved my performance?

Maybe I’m not clear at what music is appropriate. Maybe I’m not clear about what music you want. Maybe that’s the only music I know. Maybe I don’t care what music you want, and this is what I am going to give you.

Sure, I did the work… but I did not serve you and give you what I want.

A haircutter’s disrespect for barbering

Again, I want to be very careful with how I word this… because it can be easily mistaken for cockiness, being judgmental, etc… and that’s not what I am trying to do…

If you are dealing with someone cutting hair who is more interested in your wallet than in the profession, you are setting yourself up for failure.

It is very easy for haircutters to get sucked into the idea of “get them in, get them out.” There are several chains whose model is based on a “more affordable” and quick haircut, and it can be tempting to simply blaze through as many haircuts as possible.

..so they take shortcuts… skipping certain parts, etc…

I have personally known people who pride themselves in doing haircuts in eight minutes and cutting four or five haircuts in an hour. When the customers come back to fix what they did, someone else at the shop will fix it for them for free. While their store praises them for the volume they are doing, the other people are paying the price for fixing their “work”…

…and they know it. They are being disrespectful toward the customer, toward the people they work with, and toward the entire profession.

Most are not this nefarious. I’d say the majority of people cutting hair take pride in what we do… and there are good hair cutters everywhere, not just in the barbershops.

Many folks with this “wallet vs customer service” type of mindset are just a product of the attitude of where they are working. Some are simply someone who is cutting hair because it is their job.

I promise that I’m not trying to be “catty” or unfair. I’m only speaking to what I have experienced.

…A barber respects the craft and wants to make sure of what you want before they start cutting, and will check the progress with you while the haircut is in progress.

So what can you do to make sure that you get the haircut you want?

Communicating with your barber is vital. Most of the better ones will ask you a lot of questions, so you won’t have to initiate the conversation. The more information you can give your barber, the better the odds are that you will walk out with the haircut you are looking for. 

Never assume that your barber understands

I may get into some trouble with some folks from this, but I’ll stand on it. Too many barbers hear the first thing and then go straight to work without clarifying.

“What they’ve done in the past is take a #2 to the sides and cut the top with scissors.”

This is a great place to start… not a great place to finish. Yet I have seen haircutters go straight into a cut right from there. There are too many variables to just pick up a pair of clippers or shears and start cutting.

Here are a few of the questions in my head when I hear this:

  • Has the #2 been too long or short for you? Or has it been just right?
  • Taper it down the neck? Full taper or just toward the edge?
  • Should I taper the hair in towards the ears to give more time before it starts touching the ears again?
  • Whitewalls?
  • How high should I go with the #2?
  • How much are we taking off the top?
  • How are you combing the hair? I need to know what to do with the bangs.

There is a lot to know. As a barber, I can always take more hair off… putting it back on is another story.

Ask questions and make your barber ask questions

I’ve learned from various mentors to ask many questions before starting work. This was true in web design, customer service, and is just as true in barbering.

Barbers refer to the consultation as the most important part of a service. This is where we learn everything we can before we start cutting. During this process, I am:

  • listening to what you say
  • looking at your hair and how it grows
  • looking for “trouble spots”
  • checking the skin under the hair for lesions, scars, moles, etc…
  • trying to determine how it was cut previously
  • asking you a lot of questions

The most valuable question I ask is “Is there anything else I should know before I start?” This is where I get the nuggets that I may have wished I had before I started cutting.

Draw a picture for your barber

…or show your barber a picture of what you want.

In my experience, this has been the most helpful for someone who wants something specific. I’ve had customers try to describe what they want, and then show me a picture of what they have in mind… and I wouldn’t have gotten the same idea from their words alone.

Showing the barber a picture gives us a clear idea of what you have in mind, and we can see where to take the conversation from there.

Usually, I’m telling my client that I can get something close to what they are showing me, or that they may not get the result they are looking for (especially if it’s one of those instagram pictures) – and I can tell them before I start cutting.