Honesty as a Policy

I had an interesting experience getting my hair cut last Friday.  Being a 40% bald man in his thirties, getting my hair cut is often a little weird, as I juggle questions about whether or not I use product or what kind of style I want, as though I’m going to ask for a Mohawk that I am physically incapable of growing.  No, this time, I was told honestly that not only was I not the desired customer for said barber shop, but why I wasn’t the desired customer.

To paint the picture, understand that I am a cheap bastard in suburban North Carolina.  My options for barber shops are pretty much limited to high-end boutiques or strip-mall haircutteries like Fantastic Sam’s or Sport Clips.  I’m not sure if I’m legally allowed to say where I got my hair cut, but suffice to say they offered to give me GREAT CLIPS every time I came in.

Midday Friday is a slow time for barbershops, but I imagine this is especially the case for the day after Halloween.  As such, I wasn’t too-too surprised to learn that the woman who ended up cutting my hair was the manager of this particular establishment.

I can’t speak for what everyone experiences when they go to the barber, but for me, it involves walking in the door and having every stylist stop what they’re doing, turn to me, and call ‘Welcome to [Barber Shop Name Redacted By Legal Department]’ in a tone that can only be achieved by equal parts apathy and fear of losing an underpaying job, and then promptly go back to what they’re doing.

I hate this.  I don’t like an entire place of business coming to a complete stop to singularly draw attention to me.  I feel bad for the people who were having their hair cut until I walked in, and I feel bad for the employees who would only do this for corporately-mandated reasons.  So right off the bat, I’m compelled to turn around and leave.  Sadly, there are only three barbershops near where I live and they all do this (despite being different chains).  So, I swallow it and go on.

A woman meets me at the register and asks if I registered online before coming in (because every barbershop these days has pre-registration on a conveniently-downloadable app).  When I decline, she immediately asks for my information.  Not even a feigned friendly ‘hello’ like the ‘welcome’ I got upon walking in.  Just “Name?” like she’s a cop that pulled me over and is asking for my driver’s license.  I give her whatever pseudonym I make up on the spot because, like being yelled at the instant I walk in, I hate this.

Please understand, I’m not hyper-paranoid about my personal information.  I pay for almost everything via debit or credit card; I buy stuff online; I run a blog for Pete’s sake.  What I mind is that giving out my name/phone number/mailing address/email/place of work/shoe size/movie preferences/political affiliation/Coke-or-Pepsi/etc is required to have a simple service performed on-site.

And also understand, this irrational preference isn’t limited to barber shops.  I hate having to create log-in accounts for websites where I’m buying one thing, or having to carry around barcodes that are dangling advertisements from my key chain just so I can have access to reasonable prices at a grocery store.  Hate.  Loathe.  Despise.  I don’t mind the organizations getting said information; again, I’m paying with a credit card.  If they want to steal it from my card, fine.  I don’t want it to be a requirement to get a service I’m already paying for.

So anyway.  The pseudonym du jour was Tommy Oliver because I’m a nerd.  I then had to create an profile for them before I could get my haircut.  I hate having to lie, and I suppose technically I don’t have to, but it sure as hell feels like it.  When my zip code doesn’t match my obviously made-up address, I gripe that I don’t care if they match.  This prompts another woman to quickly take over.  She does something – fabricates an address, overrides with managerial codes, waves a magic wand, whatever – and we’re off to the chairs.

She asks what kind of haircut I want and I tell her and she gets to it with the clippers.  I apologize to her for being ‘so hard to deal with’, citing my great disdain for having to give so much personal information just to get a haircut.  She explains very directly (but not rudely or unprofessionaly, I must emphasize) that such matters are to monitor customer retention and return business.

We spend the rest of the haircut discussing various corporate policies the barbershop has put into place that I actively dislike (the information-gathering, the heavily forced greeting upon arrival, the product-pushing, etc).  All of this, she listens to all of this and retorts very thoughtfully with why said policies are in place and how most customers prefer them and they help to drum up repeat business.

I remarked that I felt that was unfortunate because it made me feel very uncomfortable, to which she said “Well, you’re not our target customer”.  And it was then that it hit me that I wasn’t a customer to these people; I was an intruder.  I was a distracting invasion from somebody well outside their key demographic.  My business wasn’t wanted; only tolerated.

On the one hand, I can sympathize with her (and her corporate bosses).  She’s got a business to run and businesses need to focus on the customers and demographics that give the best return for the money.  If nine out of ten customers prefer to be greeted loudly and summarily upon arrival and give out every last bit of personal information like they’re interviewing for a gig on a reality TV show, that remaining one out of ten cannot expect the store to adjust their practices just to accommodate them.  My preferences are (at best) a minority or (more likely) statistically insignificant.

And yet, it sucks for me because it means that, so far as I know, there is no barbershop within a reasonable distance that I can go to that in any way wants my business.

My thoroughly subpar and very rushed haircut complete, I paid and left.  The woman made sure to thank me and encourage me to come again.  I smiled at her, all but saying that I wasn’t coming back.  And she smiled back at me, all but saying how grateful she was that I wasn’t coming back.

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Author: Robert V Aldrich

Author. Speaker. Cancer Researcher. Martial Artist. Illustrator. Cat dad. Nerd.

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