Many professionals measure the true rewards of their jobs not in terms of salary and bonuses but by the quality of service or level of assistance they can provide.
Alice Lee, general manager of Harvard Addhair Technologies, is just such a person. A few years ago, she had a young male client who had undergone surgery to remove a brain tumour. After the operation, no hair grew back on the left side of his scalp and, as a result, he completely lost self-confidence and was reluctant to be seen in public.
Ms Lee, though, was able to help. Working with her team of consultants and stylists over a period of two months, she managed to restore his hair and, thereby, made an immense difference to his life. "Seeing himself as he had been before the operation, he was delighted with the outcome and soon regained his confidence," she says. For her, that kind of success makes for an unforgettable experience and is worth more than any kind of financial reward.
After graduating from Shue Yan College with a diploma in psychology and counselling, Ms Lee had initially been interested in a career in the commercial sector. A series of summer jobs doing consumer surveys and product promotions had given her a feel for sales, but a job advertisement for hair consultants caught her eye and she decided to apply.
Stylists and consultants must always build a good rapport and take the utmost care
She began in 1989, only 18 months after the company had been set up, and her training consisted mainly of learning from colleagues and from her own mistakes! There were also regular talks given by overseas consultants, whose advice she sought whenever possible.
Essentially, her role involved explaining scalp treatments and "add hair" services to potential clients, as well as selling any appropriate products. Later, as a consultant, her duties included meeting clients in private to assess their needs, following up with progress checks and a regular "maintenance" service, providing advice, and dealing with any complaints.
The company's main service, which makes use of advanced technology, involves the non-surgical addition of human hair directly to the scalp. Afterwards, clients can wash their hair and take part in every kind of daily activity, including sports. In the early days, those interested in the service tended to be middle-aged and well off, but there is now a broad range of male customers. More services have also been introduced for women, who may have a problem with thinning hair or want a different style for a special occasion. Analysis has shown that about 70 per cent of clients seek treatment because of hereditary hair loss problems, 20 per cent for cosmetic reasons and the remainder due to the side effects of medical treatment.
Ms Lee says one of the major challenges is counselling people who are worried that their added hair does not look natural enough. "No matter how natural it is, some clients still believe it is detectable and need many counseling sessions before they feel comfortable," she says.
For this reason, she stresses that a hair consultant must have excellent interpersonal and communication skills. "You also have to be hardworking and think positively in order to win trust. Clients pay for high-quality services, so our team of stylists and consultants must always build a good rapport and take the utmost care."
Ideally, new recruits are university graduates with a degree in subjects such as marketing or psychology. They must have fluent English, and promotion prospects depend on obtaining further qualifications as a certified trichologist, recognised by the Asian Society of Trichology in Singapore, or as a registered licentiate of the Trichological Society in the UK. Employees will receive financial assistance to study for the relevant exams.
Ms Lee now divides her time between managing the company, promoting their services and technologies at exhibitions and seminars, seeing her own clients, and conducting on-the-job training for new consultants. One of her remaining career ambitions is to volunteer her expertise to help less wealthy people who have a suffered hair loss because of chemotherapy and may have trouble affording the "add hair" programme that they need.
According to Ms Lee, China is a market with great potential for services which restore hair, since, especially in the larger cities, people are becoming increasingly conscious of their looks. More men in Shanghai are seeking "add hair" services, though the overall scale of business is still not significant.
In future, experienced Hong Kong consultants should have little difficulty in finding positions in China. They would be able to introduce a high level of expertise and the most up-to-date knowledge to the mainland market. Salaries would be commensurate with years of experience and the specific type of work done.