Behind the Review | Delivering high-quality experiences under pressure

“We’re human. We make mistakes. But our mistakes, they don’t go away. They stay there forever.” Some industries have higher stakes than others. As someone who deals with the pressure of such a high stakes business in addition to all of the other elements that go into running a successful operation, Nahuel Hilal, owner and founder of Miami’s Iris Tattoo, has plenty of insights to share. 

We talk a lot about the importance of customer experience on Behind the Review—one, because it’s probably the most critical element of running a business, and two, when it’s done well, it tends to lead to very positive reviews. This week is no exception, and when it comes to getting a tattoo—something that will be with you forever—the experience has to match the heightened moment. Our Yelp reviewer, Diandra L., has visited Iris multiple times, each time leaving more impressed than the time before. 

Her experience with the shop started before she even sat down for her tattoo. Ahead of her appointment, she received a gift box to prepare her for her session. With games to actively distract from the pain, a stress ball to help with anxiety, Nahuel and his team had thought of it all. He is, after all, a self-described “customer service freak.” And while the welcome box may already seem above and beyond, Nahuel and his team make sure returning customers are getting a different mix of items—something that immediately demonstrates that you are more than just a transaction.

Think about how you can elevate the personal touch points you have with your customers that will leave them feeling special and wanting to return. In that same vein, Nahuel also stresses the importance of acknowledging what your employees need from you. For tattoo artists, their work takes “time, energy and actual emotion,” so it can be hard for them to deal with other things outside of their high-pressure job of creating and executing tattoos. Nahuel realized this and wanted to “take the pressure off the artists and help build a bridge between them and the client.” By taking on the customer relationship and management part of the business—rather than having the artists deal directly with the clients as they often do—Nahuel was able to create a much more effective solution for everyone. 

While it’s important to focus on your customers, it’s also essential to give your employees what they need to succeed. In the end, it will work out better for everyone.

Here are some other key learnings from this week’s episode of Behind the Review:

  • It’s important that what you see is what you actually get. Consistency in customer service and experience is critical. Nahuel understands that consistency doesn’t just matter in his shop—it’s also how it translates online: “We try to make sure that everything you see on social media or in Yelp reviews is not smoke and mirrors. It is the actual experience.”
  • Know your role. Not everyone has to do everything, and it’s important to think about that when designing the operational structure of your business. Of course, when you’re just starting out, it’s not always possible, but as you expand, think of how you are dividing and conquering to most effectively and efficiently staff your business.
  • Practice sustainability. While we often think of environmental practices when we think of sustainability, but there is another definition that is critical: operational and economic sustainability. For Nahuel, he achieves this by booking clients only six weeks in advance. This ensures a business model where customers don’t have to wait months on end and their artists don’t get burned out by never having the opportunity to take a break. It can be tempting to get blindsided by the opportunity to line up income, but that’s not always sustainable for your particular business. Think about practicing sustainability in your operational model to ensure the longevity of your staff. 

Nahuel’s wisdom was inspiring, full of advice anyone in any business can use moving forward. Listen to the episode below to hear directly from Nahuel and Diandra, and subscribe to Behind the Review for more from new business owners and reviewers every Thursday.

Behind the Review, episode 22 transcript
High stakes and heightened customer experiences

EMILY: I’m Emily Washcovick, Yelp’s Small Business Expert. Every week I pick one review on Yelp and talk to the entrepreneur … and the reviewer … about the story and business lessons behind it. Lets see what’s behind this week’s review.

DIANDRA: There’s floor to ceiling windows across the whole shop. So it is beautifully lit. The colors are these very vibrant pastels all around the studio, so you kind of walk in and just feel at peace. And the front desk staff is super friendly. One of the things that I think separates a good business from a great business is customer service, because you can have an amazing product or service, but it’s customer service that really makes people feel welcome and makes them excited to be there and makes them want to come back.

EMILY: That’s Diandra. She’s actually a colleague of mine, and works directly with Miami businesses and consumers as the Yelp Miami Community Manager. You might be surprised to hear that she’s telling me about a tattoo parlor. A place called Iris Tattoo that got its start in Argentina, and then opened its first U.S. location in Miami in 2016. Iris Tattoo isn’t like any of the tattoo parlor’s that I’ve been to. And they don’t want to be! Let’s hear Diandra’s review.

DIANDRA: I am obsessed with Iris Tattoo. Wow. From the environment, to the social distancing protocol, to the level of talent by these artists, I am 100% blown away by my experience yesterday. For my second tattoo, I knew I wanted to get a lion. I wanted to be reminded every day to live with the heart of a lion—to be brave, to be fierce, and to remember that no matter what, to lead with love for my pack. I am also obsessed with my zodiac sign, which is Leo, hence the inspo.

Anyways, if you’re going to get a lion on your body forever, it had better be beautiful. After a ton of research on tattoo shops in Miami I fell completely in love with Iris. Check out their Instagram, every single one of their artists is incredible. When I submitted my request and examples of work I was paired with Rustem. We actually had this appointment set for March and due to the pandemic it was pushed back to now when the shop could safely reopen.

I knew that this would be semi-painful since the ribcage is sensitive but Rustem made me feel completely at ease. I had an incredible experience. Everyone at Iris is so friendly, it is ridiculously clean, and everyone in the shop must wear masks. The artists are working in shifts so there aren’t too many people in the studio so you feel very safe.

I am so pleased with how my tattoo came out. Rustem is so talented, and created exactly what I wanted. I said I would stop with two tattoos but I am sure I will be back…

Thank you Iris Tattoo for an amazing experience.

EMILY: Diandra’s love for Iris wasn’t just about her artist, or the piece of art being added to her body. It was about the environment and the operational systems put in place by the Iris team to make customer experiences memorable. Let’s hear from founder Nahuel on how Iris came to be.

NAHUEL: I’m a customer service freak. And the whole idea, actually the seed was planted, when I got my last tattoo before Iris Tattoo. I had to wait for three hours for my artist. And I thought, there has to be a place where you can just even pay a little bit more, but ensure that your experience is good. Because I know from the perspective of a customer, there’s a lot of emotion put into it. And here’s what I identified: tattoo artists are extremely emotional people. But for what they do, they need to concentrate on the actual tattooing. And their work takes up so much time, energy, and actual emotion that it’s hard for them sometimes to have the space to vibe with you while you’re there. They work with so many people and they need to focus on the actual piece, because that’s a lot of pressure on tattoo artists. It needs to be perfect, you know? I always said we’re human. We make mistakes. But our mistakes, they don’t go away. They stay there forever on somebody’s body. 

So I thought, if somebody would just take the pressure off the artists and help build a bridge between the client and the artist. That will be amazing. That will be a game changer for the tattoo world. 

Customer service is key everywhere. And this industry has a huge potential of turning customer service into something that’s real and meaningful, because we’re not, it’s not coffee, it’s not a hamburger. It’s for life. And there is a lot of emotion put into that day. I always say, when I have these little meetings with my teams that guys gotta remember for us, it’s another day in the office. For them, it’s a landmark in their life. 

So I think that was what made it all watertight, and consistency, of course. We try to make sure that everything that you see through social media or even Yelp reviews or whatever, the moment you walk in, it’s not smoke and mirrors. It is the actual experience. 

EMILY: Nahuel identified a pain point in an industry he was so passionate about. It happens to be a pain point in many industries. And it’s also the key to a great reputation both online and off. Customer service creates connection. Customer service makes people remember your business and come back. 

One of the things that made a lasting impression on Diandra was a welcome box she received when she arrived for her appointment.

DIANDRA: So I knew I was getting a tattoo of a lion on my ribcage. I’m already freaking out that I’m going to be in pain. It was so nice to get a little welcome box that said, hey Diandra, with my name, and then you open it and there’s one of those little balls to help with pressure. Like if you have stress. There’s some snacks. There’s a little game, if you want to kind of ease anxiety, if you have it. And there’s the aftercare cream, right? So I was like wow, they were expecting me, and this is really nice. I know I’m in a good place.

EMILY: This personalized gift is an extra touch that connects the customer to the brand. And it wasn’t always a box! Pre-pandemic, the welcoming waiting area of Iris Tattoo had these items scattered around. 

NAHUEL: All that you experience in the box, which is, you know, a little treat, a warm cup of tea or coffee, a little snack, something to play with. Which are things that were scattered in the studio. And we would make sure we had time to talk to the client and ask him about how they’re feeling today. Now with COVID, we had to remove everything that you touch with other people. We had to stop receiving guests, so they come in there alone, but we can’t touch them, or we can’t give them a coffee. So we sat down and again, I’m a customer service freak, and fortunately I’m married to a marketing wizard. And marketing, it’s basically the art of bringing empathy into actual dynamics. Right? So my superpowers, our kryptonite, when I can’t interact with people. I like to make them feel like you’re in my living room and I’m a great host, but at the moment I can’t interact with them, I don’t know what to do. And then she goes, Nahuel we can build a little box so we can make them feel at least a little bit of that experience, right? 

And then we sit down for hours. We put so much thought into it. It’s not just the two of us, it’s all the team. And the box was just a welcome box for a few weeks, until we realized that we got a lot of returning clients, and we need to make sure that they know that we’re not robots. So we spent a humongous amount of hours just making sure if this person is a returning person, just to put something different, to play within the box, you know different snack flavor, and a welcome back. Just let them know that we are expecting those people.

So that’s how we created the welcome box. It’s fairly new. It’s just after COVID, after we were able to reopen. And it’s a big success. We’re happy with the box. 

EMILY: The welcome boxes are a part of the experience. An experience curated to make customers comfortable, as well as connected to the brand. And that extra attention to detail used to identify return customers and modify their welcome box, is a great example of how Iris Tattoo elevates their customer service, which pays off in return business.  

I want to go back to something Nahuel mentioned earlier about the relationship between a tattoo artist and their client. He identified that taking the pressure off the artists, and bridging the gap between the client and artist would enhance the entire experience. Having someone welcome customers in, give them their box, and see how they’re feeling in advance of their appointment is an extra employee that needs to be paid, but it also sets the stage for the high end experience Iris offers. And a lot of this is operational. I’ll let Nahuel explain.

NAHUEL: Right now we have eight artists and we have about 10 people working from home, doing the bookings, answering emails, and answering DMs. We have people answering emails from nine in the morning to nine in the evening, seven days a week. It’s very easy to get frustrated when you like an artist, when you like a studio, and especially with something so visual, you start creating a connection with it. And when you finally build up the courage to reach out and they tell you, well, books are closed until 2027, right? Or you didn’t get an answer to your email in maybe weeks, I think it’s, I don’t want to be dismissive to other artists, but yeah, it’s disrespectful. But it lacks the acknowledgement of the other person. Do you know what I mean? 

So again, this is my first time owning a tattoo studio, right? So everything is improvising and trial and error. At the beginning we had a six month waiting list. And it was very frustrating for both the client and the artist. Because sometimes the artist has a cancellation two days before, or the person that you called, that’s been waiting for five months now, they want something completely different.  

So I thought, okay, let’s build some sort of strategy here, which is we’re going to have people dedicated just to filter all the messages, to arrange the bookings. And then we shortened the booking length by, we only opened the books of each month on the first of the previous month.

Okay, so January 1st books are open for February. Usually in a week or 10 days, they fill up. And on February 1st we open books for March and so on. So that it doesn’t push the artist to commit in that long of a term because they want to travel they want to go on vacation. You don’t know where you’re going to be in six months, especially after 2020.

And then on the other hand, the maximum that a client’s going to wait is six weeks. So that’s how we came up with the system and we are so dedicated. Everyone in the studio, apart from the whole booking team outside, it’s constantly checking and supervising. 

I glance at every email to come into my studio and that’s 500 emails a day. We check DMs. We detect the moment that somebody gives us a four-star review. We jump into it and we brainstorm what happened there. It’s the least we can do when people choose us for something so important.

EMILY: We’ll come back to the topic of reviews in just a moment but I want to reemphasize the operational decisions that Iris Tattoo makes to better serve its customers. Rather than fill the books for as many months out as clients are willing, they have completely changed the game of tattoo booking. They only open the books for one month at a time, and they have a large team dedicated to managing communications from customers across multiple platforms to spread that message and process requests. Sometimes, they even turn away customers!

NAHUEL: We have to say no to a lot of tattoos and when a new artist comes and goes, like you just let $500 walk through that door. And I tell him, no, no, no, $500 is always coming into that door. We are building a culture here, not just the name.

Very quick example. When I was at the front desk a couple of years ago, I had this very young girl. She was probably 18 and she wanted to get a rather strange quote, strange words to me. So it caught my attention. I asked her why, what is this? And she was like, “Oh, those are the lyrics of a song that I heard with my boyfriend who just left.”

I’m like honey, you’re 18. You’re going to hate this tattoo when you’re 30. You’re not going to remember the name of the guy who just left you because you’re 18. So let’s do something else. Come on. And she got super upset with me because I didn’t know what she was going through, but yeah, the truth is I felt comfortable with my decision. Two years later, she’s a customer and she thanked me. Thank God you didn’t let me do that. I was crazy. So that kind of commitment, it really costs nothing. And it pays off big time. That’s the challenge. And honestly, it’s not even a challenge once you show your team that’s the way.

EMILY: Operationally, Iris Tattoo has structures and systems in place that allow for a smooth and memorable experience. Customers fill out a form online indicating what they want, and then are paired with an artist. The artist creates their design and when they meet in the studio for the appointment, the artist and customer look over the art together before getting started. 

DIANDRA: So the cool thing about Iris is that the artist’s work is unique every time. They’re not going to replicate it. So you don’t actually know what you’re getting until you get there. Of course you send examples and you send the reasoning behind why you want the art and all of that, but I didn’t actually see my art until that day.

And they come out. They bring an iPad with the art and it’s this cool reveal, right? And the one thing that I also appreciate too is sometimes you can go for any service or and people might be pushy or not accommodating if you want to change it. So you get intimidated to be like, oh I don’t know if I like that. And this is going to be on my body forever. So I was super comfortable telling Rustem, okay, this is a great start, but can we do XYZ? Or, can we change XYZ? And he edited it a couple of times before printing it out and putting the stencil on me so I could see.

And then we ultimately had a very good rapport. He really brought my vision to life in a way that I wasn’t expecting. Cause I knew they would do a good job, but that I was just so happy with. And that’s when I knew okay, they say that once you start getting tattoos, you keep coming back. And that is definitely true. So I just knew that whenever my next one would happen, I would definitely go back.

EMILY: That experience, from start to finish was flawless. Just as the Iris Tattoo team planned, Diandra had a great feeling and comfort with the business before even meeting her artist or going over her tattoo design. This started when she looked at their website, checked out their Instagram account, and read their online reviews. As Nahuel mentioned earlier, it can’t be smoke and mirrors. All of those things need to match up to the in-person experience as well.

NAHUEL: You walk into the studio and you can hear laughter here, a warm conversation there, somebody singing the song we’re playing. It’s a happy place. It’s hard to keep it like that, because we’re human, everybody has a bad day.  But it’s also a job. I always tell them, listen, just use it to your advantage. Don’t be miserable. Let’s all go be miserable as a family together afterwards, let’s use the opportunity here, to be happy.

I’m very clear about trying to avoid polarizing subjects. And it’s not because we don’t care about what happens outside these walls. It’s because right now it’s about that person getting that tattoo and let’s use it. Let’s be happy. We are very committed to both the technicality and the emotionality of the tattoo.

EMILY: I absolutely love his honesty. No matter what industry you’re in, you and your staff are human. You’ll have bad days! But you have to consciously remember the customer you’re serving and the experience you’re creating. That is what impacts their feelings about your business and their willingness to share that story with others. Here’s Nahuel talking about the power of feedback, whether it’s a Yelp review or even a word of mouth recommendation to a friend or colleague. 

NAHUEL: Yeah, it was just before Instagram and right before online reviews and it was word of mouth. So what reviews do now, is they spread the power of word of mouth, okay? So we’ve got a few friends that came and got tattoos and they showed it to their friends. And then honestly, it was so fast and I can’t really tell you what it was. Before I knew it, I had to hire a team to help me deal with the demand. 

But the reviews are both a great certificate for us, a great badge to wear, but here’s the thing—it’s 50% what it does for us, for our business, and far as gaining more customers. But the other 50% is the moral boost and the learning. Because when you go see we have perfect five star reviews, but they were not all five stars at the beginning. Some of them were two or even one star that we were able to turn around. 

Every time we get a bad review, we sit down and say what happened here? We look into the case. We call the person. We make sure that we learn from our process and we make sure that we make it right. And then they go and change it. So it’s also a great tool for not falling asleep and keeping us on our toes.

EMILY: The Iris Tattoo team works to create a memorable experience for their clients. Everything from the online form, the booking process, arriving for your appointment, and receiving a personalized gift. But they also realize they’re not perfect and sometimes consumers don’t experience their business in full form. That’s where reviews provide visibility and allow their team to reach out and to learn. 

To close us out, I’m going to let Diandra talk about why she writes reviews, and allow her to provide some insight on ways you can help support local businesses in your community.

DIANDRA: I always try to remind people that this past year has taught us so much. And I think the weight of what people can do to help or support can be a little bit daunting. And I know sometimes for me, when something is daunting, I decide to avoid it versus addressing it. But I always try to reiterate that it doesn’t matter what your financial situation might be. It doesn’t matter what your resources might be to be able to try new businesses and things.

Ultimately the unifying thing about all of this is that supporting businesses doesn’t have to be difficult—like writing a review, engaging on social media, or spreading word about businesses that you love. All of that is free, and you might think that it doesn’t make an impact, but your review could be the deciding factor for someone to go to that mechanic, right? Because they trust you, they saw your review, and they’re like, wow, Diandra went to X, Y, Z place. Let me try it. Or your social media posts, sharing the new menu item, and sharing something that you think is cool. That means more to a business owner than you might realize. All of that is free. And then my last point, you have more of an impact in your small or large circle then you know. So when you share about businesses that you love, you’re really helping them. Even though you think you might not have that impact, because you do.


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