Kim Penstone

Banks should serve cake

2005-05-05 09:41

I've recently had a nasty hair experience. You know the kind, when you politely decline any invitations to go out, for fear that someone might say something like, "oh, you've cut your hair", which will likely result in that someone receiving a black eye, this someone bursting into tears and everyone having to vacate the restaurant in a hurry.

Yes, that nasty an experience.

Without boring you with the details, let me simply say that, for a year, I've been attempting to grow my hair from a rather messy get-up-and-go brushcut into something slightly more glam, but in the throes of frustration (exacerbated by unruly hair, a cupboard of styling gels and two different types of hair dryers) instructed my brand new stylist to "cut it off".

Being a brand new hair stylist and not accustomed to my fits of passion over what my grandmother use to call my crowning glory, he obeyed.

Twenty minutes later, my carefully nurtured locks were lying on the floor, and my carefully-constrained smile was hiding my about-to-burst-forth tears.

It's taken two days (and a fix-up cut from another stylist - but that's another story) to restore me to my usual coffee-inspired good humour, but during that time I couldn't help but ponder the power of good relationship marketing.

The fix-up cut

You see, despite the horror haircut from hell, I went back to the same salon for the fix-up cut. And, despite the fact that the second stylist agreed that the first stylist had royally screwed up, I insisted they charge me. (And hey, they're not cheap, and I'm just a journalist!)

Had any other brand dished out an even remotely similar experience, I would have cut it out of my life without a second's hesitation (sorry, I battle to avoid those puns sometimes!).

But this particular salon has me well and truly wrapped around its roman columns.

From the half hour hair wash and scalp massage complete with free foot and hand rub, to the complimentary coffee or glass of wine (even at 11:00!), the salon has transformed what should be a grudge purchase into a what feels like an indulgent treat.

They open at 07:00 to accommodate us working slaves, and only close after 20:00 in case anyone needs a do for a do. They give me free treatments on my birthday, and served me champagne on my wedding day to calm my nerves.

And while my other half's eyes bulge when they see the credit card invoice, especially on hearing that half of it was for a treatment that I didn't even request, I remain serene, and make a mental note to thank the hair washer for noticing the poor condition of my hair and doing something about it, without my even having to ask. Note to self: Must tip her more next time.

Now that's powerful marketing. Or perhaps image management? Whatever it is, I'm of the firm opinion that other service providers could, and should, learn from this example.

Banks should offer cake

Take banking, for example. There are few things (aside from perhaps yoghurt advertising) that frustrate me as much as having to 'pop' into my local branch.

Because, let's face it, one person's 'pop' is another person's leisurely coffee break and long-distance call to long-lost friend while patient customer waits in sterile lounge surrounded by pamphlets on boring banking products...

But say, for starters, said bank offered me a free coffee while I waited (not instant).

That would help. I'm not convinced a foot rub would work in this particular scenario, but how about a piece of chocolate cake (hey, I'm a woman, we really are that easy to please!). That would dull the pain. It might even convince me to 'pop' by tomorrow too.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying for a second that I'd migrate to a bank that offered free cake over one that offered good service (although I would be sorely tempted!). I know that peripheral fluff can only round out good service, or in the case of my horror haircut, take the edge off bad service.

But I also know that, like so much in life, it's the small things that make a difference in marketing. And, sometimes those small things, done well, can make the big things, done not so well, seem a little less catastrophic.

And, if your life is anything like mine, a little less catastrophe is a damn good thing!

  • Kim Penstone is slowly getting used to her new haircut. She's well aware that it's not a national disaster. But she's pleased that's one of the biggest worries in her life, and yes, she knows just how fortunate that makes her.

    Send your comments to Kim or discuss this column now in our debating forum.

    If you're looking for something a little more serious on the marketing and advertising side of life, go to

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