Clients pour their hearts out to him

The best thing he has in his arsenal as a hairstylist?

Nope, it is not super shears or a fantastic hair product.

It is actually the art of listening.

"Customers talk about everything under the sun: Their family, their work. Sometimes, they need to simply bitch about their bosses," says Mr Luis Cheng, 22.

On other occasions, he helps his clients get some closure after emotional events.

"Once, a girl shared her break-up with me. I just listened," he says. "I don't judge them."

Some young male clients have also told him about their sexual escapades in neighbouring countries. It is all in a day's work, says Mr Cheng.

The Malaysian - who took a hairstyling course when he was 16 and worked for three years there before coming to Singapore on a work permit - says that empathy and building rapport is the key to getting loyal regulars. "These are the unforgettable customers. They are friendly and will even introduce friends to me as customers."

Mr Cheng is heartened that when he moved to another hair salon, some of his regular customers followed him - he has switched salons twice in his career.

But such loyal customers are rare, he admits.

Mr Cheng says he builds up his base of regulars while he washes, cuts, styles or dyes their hair.

"We need to get to know them better so that we can recommend suitable hairstyles to them.

"Some don't know what they want. Or they don't know how to verbalise their 'dream hairstyles'.

And hairstylists are only human. They make poor decisions too.

There was once he tried out a perm on a lady whose birthday was coming up and who wanted curls.

He sheepishly admits that it made the customer, who was in her 20s, look pretty terrible.

"It turned out bad because her hair was really dry to begin with," he says.

He refused payment and instead threw in complimentary hair treatments.

Mr Cheng, who earns more than $2,000 monthly, depending on commission, claims: "We accept payment only if the customer is happy."

When asked if he had any romantic relationships with clients, he says clients are strictly in the friend zone - even if they become close because he knows them so well after all that chatting.

There was one male customer who dropped rather obvious hints that he was into him... including statements like, 'My hair grows very fast, including hair in the lower part of my body'.

Mr Cheng says he had to handle the situation delicately so that his customer would not be offended.

The bachelor says no girls have shown interest in him yet but admits that a pretty customer sets his heart aflutter.

Shyly, he confesses: "Of course, I'll feel happier if I get to serve a pretty customer.

"But girls usually don't show interest and I just treat them as friends.

Secrets of the trade

Be observant when chatting with customers. Not everyone likes to talk while getting their hair done. Some prefer to relax while some prefer to stick to serious topics.

It is okay to sit down while cutting or colouring a customer's hair, so that you can rest your legs.

Manage your time well, especially during peak period, to prevent backlog.

This article was first published on July 19, 2015.
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