Improving Kitty’s Quality of Life with the Right Referrals
By Deborah Hansen
Some experiences in our own lives have taught us that not all professionals in one trade are equal. Knowing when to refer out and who to refer to when it comes to other pet-related businesses can be a huge asset to your boarding clientele while also building trust and respect for your business. Usually a client will ask for a referral, but sometimes it’s apparent that they try a different professional or product to help improve the quality of life for their feline. Knowing how to approach unsolicited referrals can be just as important as knowing who to refer to. It is key that your business has a set referral list in place and procedures on how referrals are handled.
Most boarding facilities have state regulations they must follow such as proof of rabies and possibly other vaccines. In addition, some businesses also require a wellness check. While many people assume this means the cats you board are receiving regular medical care and are healthy, this may not necessarily be the case.
Sometimes a cat in your care will come in with obvious medical concerns. Other times medical concerns (that were probably present before boarding) become observable over the course of a cat’s stay with you. When the family comes in for pick-up and you suggest a trip to the vet, the family may ask for a referral. Other times, you may want to gently suggest that you have heard that a certain doctor has been very successful in treating the symptoms you observed during boarding. Keep in mind, a veterinarian that is great with dogs may not be the best choice for a cat.
It is a good idea to pay attention to what clients say about their veterinarian. After watching my cat clients and listening to their owners over the years, I know which veterinarian offices lean more toward testing to rule everything out, the ones who use alternative medicine, those that have a wait-and-see approach and those that seem to see as many pets as quickly as possible. These observations let me know what to expect when it comes to the health of the cats in my care.
My area has many good and qualified veterinarian offices for cats, but I have never made a one-size-fits-all referral for medical care. I have always tried to match the family’s beliefs about medical care and personality with the doctor I recommend. For example, the family who will go to extreme measures for their cat no matter the cost may not be best fitted to the veterinarian who takes the wait-and-see approach on medical care.
Another referral you may be asked to make is for a groomer. When a cat in your care has obvious mats, problems with fecal matter getting stuck in their coat, furballs or excessive shedding, you may feel it is important to initiate a recommendation for a groomer at pick-up time. While we all hope a referral to a groomer would have been made at the cat’s wellness check, this simply isn’t the case in many veterinarian practices.
I find the best place to start is to find out who the local veterinarian offices are referring to. When a cat is injured during a groom, either the groomer or owner will obviously take the cat in for medical care, making the veterinarian offices aware of the safer groomers in your area. I use these referrals as a guideline to the safer local groomers.
I then call the recommended groomers and ask questions. The most important question, in my opinion, is to find out about the bathing process for cats as most accidents happen during the bath. The key here is to make sure the cats are getting a water bath without a grooming loop around their neck and are not being dipped into the water. A second area where accidents happen during grooming is related to the use of scissors. You may want to ask questions about scissor use. In my business, I never use scissors as I find the feline’s unpredictable, random movements make using scissors too dangerous.
Sometimes clients will see things used during boarding and ask for more information. This can include drinking fountains, cat furniture, cat beds or cat litter used in your facility. In my business, I have a webpage with the products I use to help clients find them easily. If a client is interested, it is easy for them to find the information, and it is even easier for me to refer them to the webpage.
Home Service Referrals
The last area I like to have referrals available for is household service professionals. I have found over the years that people will randomly ask about who I use for miscellaneous repairs. On the top of my list is screen replacement. Cats love to climb screens.
Another service professional that is important to have on your reference list is a good carpet cleaning company. Knowing who you like and why helps build client rapport and trust, especially when you can recommend a locally owned small business.
Handling Unsolicited Referrals
When you are directly asked for a referral, it can be easy to offer one. However, approaching a referral when you know it is something the cat needs and is not getting can be a little trickier. I like to start the conversation by stating my observations and asking if they have spoken to their professional about what was noticed during boarding. I give the clients time to express any opinions they may have regarding their current care team. If they seem unsatisfied, I let them know I may know someone who is a better fit for their family, then ask if they would be interested in a referral. I do include why I think the professional I am recommending is a good match for their family. Offering a referral when it is not asked for can be a delicate balancing act that takes practice.
When you run a business catering to cats, people who have questions about cat products and services are going to ask your opinion. It is always a good idea to have referrals in mind for your clients when they ask. It is also important to realize not all professionals are equal and that there may be a better fit for your client. Knowing how and when to approach the subject can improve the quality of life for the felines you board.