Have you had a hair consultation? Photo: Corbis

If you're like 42% of women, you've gabbed all about your family, job and love life while in the salon chair -- yet have never engaged in a true hair color consultation.

And if you've ever left near tears with a color that didn't look anything like what you had envisioned, experts say it's almost always due to those missing words. A true consultation goes past just stating what you want and showing a picture or two -- it's a methodical process that eliminates any room for results that you don't want.

"As a colorist, effective communication and consulting with my clients is the key to getting the results they're looking for so that they know that their visit is worth their time and money, and that I can be certain I am fulfilling all their hair needs," says David Stanko, haircolor consultant for Redken.

During tough economic times when women are more careful than ever about wasting a penny, two hair care giants -- Redken and Wella -- have instituted consultation programs in an attempt to cut down on the probability of unhappy clients, and increase the turnout of satisfied, glossy-haired women who walk out their doors.

In Redken's consultation process, a lifestyle and physical hair analysis takes place first, when you talk about your daily life, personal style, hair grooming regimen and the type and texture of the hair strand itself. A custom hair plan is then put together, that encompasses the services you'll need in order to get the look that you want, as well as the time commitment, cost and maintenance needed in order to keep the look fresh, so that there are no expensive surprises. Then after receiving the services, your stylist should explain how to keep the same look at home, in a practical way that fits into your lifestyle and routine.

Wella urges clients to 'air dirty laundry," and come clean about your hair history -- even if it includes "cheating" on your stylist with someone else who colored your hair, or an at-home dye job. Lying about these kinds of details can cause a color that you've even successfully used before to take very differently, resulting in a finished look that's not anything like what you had imagined.

With hair color experimentation starting earlier and earlier, Wella Professional color ambassador Laurie Foley says that most botched hair color jobs come as a result of a client not being entirely forthcoming with what she has previously had done to her hair. "Girls are starting out so much younger with hair color. It's not like how it used to be -- that you have to grow up before you can use mascara and hair color -- now by the age of 19, most have tried some kind of color on their hair," says Foley, who is also founder of New York's L'Atelier de Laurie.

Not revealing all the 411 your stylist needs to make an accurate formula for your hair isn't always intentional; some women just simply forget, or don't ask a stylist what has been used on her hair. "The days of backroom color formula secrets are over. There is nothing wrong with asking your stylist what she mixed to get your color, and then writing that down so you can keep track of your own hair history is a good idea," advises Foley.

Photo: Glowimages / Corbis

Another common mistake is assuming that a glaze or wash-out tint isn't worth mentioning. "One of the biggest myths in the hair industry is that certain products wash out after so many washes. It just isn't always true -- it has to grow out before your hair is truly free of it. Until then, it can be a barrier to color you're putting on over it, and even change how the shade comes out," says Foley.

When formulating a plan, the stylist's number one concern should be the health of your hair, and the least invasive plan is always the best one. For example, if you're going deeper or richer in tone, an ammonia-free color is the best option because it gets the job done without unnecessary trauma to the hair. When bleaching or lifting color up several shades, a stylist should take into account the long-term maintenance of the look, and let you know if it's too harsh for the health of your strands.

The consultation should happen each time you return to the salon, as factors like the changing seasons, lots of sun exposure, hormonal changes and levels of stress can all significantly alter the texture and health of your hair, and with it, the way it responds to hair color. What worked the last time you saw your stylist may not necessarily work the same this time.

And when it comes down to it, a successful consultation is all about creating a picture of exactly what you want, says Foley.

"The key to the consultation is verbally creating a visual. Use very descriptive words and do bring pictures. A concept can look very different in two different people's heads, and you want your stylist to see exactly what you want. It's a massive part of getting out that door a happy customer."

Now that you know what to ask for, here are some ideas for bold fall hair color.