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Service Times: Speed Vs. Efficiency

I can remember the days as a young stylist when I was struggling to get a set of highlights done in under 24 hours. It felt like a lifetime of effort to try and get my services down to a reasonable timeframe. I think we can all relate to that in some way or another. For me I struggled most with styling and chemical services. It was really tough for me to get to a point where I felt comfortable and confident with my skills and with my times. Haircutting came naturally to me but even with that it was slow going in the beginning. As young Creatives starting out on our first few hundred clients it seems as if it will be difficult forever, but I can reassure you that it will not be. There will be a day when you are confident in your abilities and you are able to complete services in a very reasonable time if you work hard and don't give up.

When I got my first job I struggled to meet the company's time requirements. The salon I worked for acted as if speed was the only thing they cared about. So, naturally I focused all my effort on getting things done quickly. Then guess what happened? I learned that I was sacrificing quality for speed, and my clients were not consistently happy. I had a lot of help from my fellow stylists at the time and I slowly developed my techniques to enable me to be fast, and provide a quality service. By the time I left that particular salon I had lowered my service times and set a personal best record of 43 haircuts in an 8 hour day. I had worked extremely hard to get to that point because that's what I thought I needed to do. It wasn't until I started working at the next salon that l learned to slow down.

My personal record was amazing to me at the time, and still surprises a few people when I tell it even today. However, the Clipperguy himself, the king of the quick haircut Ivan Zoot, has me beat, by far. He beat 3 world records all having to do with haircutting speed. This excerpt was take from an article by Modern Salon, "Zoot set up shop at Rooster's Men's Grooming Center in Austin, Texas and he and his Andis Clipper sped through 340 hair cuts in 24 hours, beating the previous record of 300. He performed 34 cuts in one hour, eliminating the old record of 23 and recorded the fastest hair cut--55 seconds, breaking the previous record of one minute 11 seconds. The cuts were monitored by Guinness-approved witnesses." Even with his skills and jaw dropping speed, even he suggests that you don't always have to be super fast. Here is an excerpt from his book "Be a $100,000 Haircutter", "Work up to and down from 3 haircuts per hour. As a rookie you were cutting slowly. You were happy to cut one good haircut per hour. As a veteran, your goal is to cut one great haircut per hour" He goes on to describe the process of gradually getting quicker and achieving the goal of 3 haircuts per hour, and then as your skills increase and you are able to charge more, you should gradually work back down to 1 haircut per hour. It's brilliant and I think we could apply that logic to all Creative Industry services that you all may provide.

In the remainder of this blog post we will be discussing the time and place for speed, when its best to slow down, and the extreme importance of efficiency and why it goes hand in hand with service times. Remember this, speed focuses on the amount of time it takes you to compete something, while efficiency focuses on how well and how much is done in that amount of time.



There is a time and a place for being quick, just like there is a time and a place to slow down. When it serves a purpose, your speed can be a valuable tool. I once had a client many years ago that was an excellent example of how I used speed to improve his experience. He explained to me before I cut his hair for the first time that he would need leave at a moments notice, so I would need to be quick and give him a great cut. He was always on call due to the importance of his job, and if he got a call on his radio he had to leave immediately, haircut half done or not. He also told me that most people refuse to cut his hair and he had been struggling to find the right person. I knew I had an opprotunity on my hands to have a loyal client. I understood what he needed and delivered so he returned every two weeks and was a fantastic client. He always paid up front and if he had to leave in the middle of a haircut he would come back as soon as he could knowing that I would take care of it.

The importance of how fast or slow you go is always determined by your client (within reason of course). I remember a wonderful lady that was a regular of mine for many years. She came in every 4 weeks to have her hair trimmed and her color touched up. We did the same cut and touch up on her every single time. Over time it became easier and easier and I should have gotten faster each time, but I knew that she was there for an experience. She was there to enjoy the company of myself and my coworkers because she didn't have anyone else in her life. Had I not taken the time to be thorough in my first consultation with her, and not paid attention to the subtle clues of her loneliness, I would have treated her like every other "service provider" had and dismissed her as another elderly woman with too much time on her hands. I always booked extra time for her and her services so that we had plenty of time to chat and catch up.

You can see how different each of those clients needs were, and that is the point that I want to drive home about speed. You need to develop your skills in such a way that you have the ability to choose how much time you spend on them. You do not want to be stuck taking 3 times as long to complete your clients set of nails, you want to decide for yourself that you want to based on what you charge, and what their needs are. This rings true for all of us whether you are a Tattoo Artist working on a full sleeve masterpiece, an Esthetician delicately removing hair from a clients body, a Manicurist putting the finishing touches on a set of gel nails, a Barber doing that picture perfect edge up, or a Cosmetologist taking out the last foil of a three hour long highlight session. Use your speed as a tool to best serve your clients needs.



Efficiency is "being able to accomplish something with the least waste of time and effort and showing competency in performance" There are a few variations of the definition of efficiency, but this one suits us in the Creative Service Industry the best. In order for us to claim efficiency in our services we must first understand that it will come when we find a balance between knowledge in our given craft, and practice in speed. You can be fast at something but not very good at it, therefore not very efficient. You can also be really really good at something and get distracted between steps and end up wasting lots of time.

One of the other major aspect of efficiency in what we do is quality. You can't claim you are efficient at what you do if you do not have the quality to back it up. You will gain speed and efficiency the more you practice only if you practice good habits so here are a few tips and tricks to increase efficiency:

  1. Repetition-This can be a great way to work out your own system. You should find a way to accomplish the service you are trying to perfect and stick with it. As you work out your way of completing the service, you will naturally find ways of increasing it's effectiveness and cutting down on time. You may also work out that you need to spend a little more time on one portion of the service, and less on others.

  2. Diversity-Throw yourself a curve ball every once and while. Practicing the easiest versions of the services you provide is not very good practice at all. Working with new people with varying expectations is what will get you the most valuable knowledge.

  3. Quality education-Find someone you admire as a quality professional and follow what they do. Learn from what they are doing and not doing to be more efficient. If you have the ability to speak to them directly, ask them questions about why they do what they do.

Remember this, finding the balance and truly understanding the difference between quick for quickness sake, and efficiency comes with time and experience. What you need to focus on is, what are you charging and what are your clients asking for? Once you can answer those two questions you will be able to determine the amount of time needed to spend on any given service. In my opinion, the most important thing to do is provide a wonderful experience to whomever is sitting in your chair or laying on your table. They are the key to all the questions and answers you could possibly need to know.



"Art is the beautiful way of doing things. Science is the effective way of doing things. Business is the economic way of doing things"-Elbert Hubbard. We in the Creative Service Industry are a mixture of all three of those things, we are beauty professionals and artists first, scientists second, and business professionals third. Do not forget to split your efforts between all three areas. We tend to get caught up in the creativity and scientific aspects of what we do and forget to be great at running our businesses. Speed and efficiency effect business in a big way. If you are not efficiently running your business (whether you own it or not you are still responsible for your clientele and the success of your finances) you will lose clients, money, and job security.

I challenge you all to measure yourself starting tomorrow. Measuring your speed is easy, set a timer and time yourself doing all the various services you provide. If you do not know what you are doing you cannot know how to improve. Next determine if you need to speed up or slow down and work on it.

Measuring your efficiency is not as easy to do. You must involve your clients and fellow professionals to determine this. You will need to start doing your own quality checks with your clients. At the end of a service simply ask them how satisfied they are and whether or not they feel you were efficient. You can then follow up with coworkers to get their insight as well.



Ivan Zoot-Website

Modern salon-Ivan Zoot article


If you are a salon, spa, or shop owner consider using Working Knowledge for you next team meeting. We will come to you and provide training on how to be a better professional by reinforcing and teaching the important industry soft skills. Here are the subjects we cover:

Customer Service/Interpersonal Skills

  1. Professional Image

  2. Consultations

  3. Punctuality & Time Management

  4. Communication

  5. Teamwork

  6. Customer Service and Conflict Resolution

Business Skills

  1. Client Retention

  2. Retail Sales

  3. Service Times

  4. Referrals

  5. Goal Setting

  6. Upselling Additional Services

For more information visit our education page

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