Pet Boarding & Daycare

The Concierge Strategy

The Concierge Strategy

Consistently Thrilling Customers at Your Front Desk

By Eric Beck

A pet parent walks in the door…ready to be treated with respect and given the attention they deserve. They are excited to be at your facility and happy to see their expectations met, possibly exceeded. They believe in YOU. Instead, they get ignored and ushered into chaos in a blender as your team desperately tries to juggle demands.

The customer standing there is getting angry; and the customer on the phone can tell something’s not right; the dogs are going nuts and the employee spinning all the plates is just about to drop them. Stress is going up. Everyone is losing. Without meaning to, a bad workflow design has caused your #1 opportunity for growing relationships with your customers & prospects to literally wither and die—and it’s happening day after day in most facilities.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.

What if, in each aspect of this situation, you had a qualified, relaxed, competent, trained employee who could give 100% of their attention to your customers’ needs? What would your customers prefer? What would be most beneficial to all involved? What would enhance your reputation? What would bring in more revenue? What would build long term commitment and loyalty by all involved?

What Does Science Have to Say?

Neuroscience* has dispelled a powerful myth in this regard: Multi–tasking is IMPOSSIBLE. Without getting too deep into the research, the problem is that when we try to do two things at one time, our brain enters a mode called “switching”. Switching is just that…your brain trying to go back and forth between two tasks at light speed. When we are dealing with customers our full attention is needed and a split brain is not capable of meeting this need. Our relational attention must not be split or it will convey precisely the wrong message: We don’t care, we’re stressed out, and our operation is out of control.

In April 2005 CNN ran a story on their website* about the effects of this systematic distraction with the subtitle “Workers distracted by phone calls, emails, and text messages suffer a greater loss of IQ than a person smoking marijuana…”1  Oh my!

So why, in the most important relational situations, are we setting our facilities and staff up for failure? Your customers are throwing the relational ball of trust to you and your front desk team has to look away multiple times, close one eye, hop on one foot, and spin around twice before the ball arrives. Are they going to catch it and score a touchdown with your customer or drop the ball, again?

The System is the Solution

The system is the solution because “memory”, “personality”, and “luck” are too variable to produce a consistently world class experience. It’s not that we don’t want the best people with the best personalities working on our team. Of course we do! But they are rare, hard to find, and sometimes hard to keep. And typically they don’t want to work in a service industry that starts off with pay at or near minimum wage.

So what’s needed is a process that everyone—at all levels of experience —can easily follow. Something so well designed that it’s virtually impossible to mess up. Now I’ll be the first to admit that a great system is only as good as the discipline of its user, but we’ll save mining that golden nugget for another time.

For this article we’re going to focus on the system itself. I call it the “Concierge Strategy” and it has been implemented by one of the most successful customer experience companies in the world. In the 10 years from 2001 to 2011, they have seen year over year revenue rise by as much as 95% and have expanded to over 300 locations with per store revenue up an average of 67%.  Before I tell you who it is, I want you to learn how they did it!

The question was simple: How can we give our customers a WOW experience at our front desk? Not an acceptable, typical, or “normal” experience. We need to make a statement that sets us apart from our competition. How can we do that?

The best innovations are always driven by the best, and usually, the simplest questions.

The leader of this discussion asked his team to tell him about the best customer experience they had ever had. Most of them talked about hotels like The Four Seasons.2

And from there, Apple created one of the most successful retail, onsite experiences ever achieved in any industry, much less the complex computer industry. If you think about it, Apple fan or not, their stores are laid out just like hotel lobbies. They are clean, elegant, and feature no cash registers, no log jams, and no spinning plates! They have a concierge service just like a hotel where your problems are solved and relationship is job #1. 3

How To Adopt Your Own Concierge Strategy

• Step 1: Ask the same question that Ron Johnson of Apple, along with Steve Jobs asked…how can we enrich our customers’ lives? 

In order to get the real answer here, don’t think a simple “survey” will work. It won’t. Customers are terrible at predicting what they want. They need to see it and experience it and you need to track their responses. Also don’t go with YOUR opinion of what they will want. You are NOT your customer. No matter how long you’ve been in business and how well you know all your customers, you are not them. You do not have their same purchase preferences, psychographics, demographics, etc.

So what to do? I recommend the book Getting Inside your Customer’s Head by Kevin Davis. And start making small incremental changes based on the role you are playing for your customer at different points along their service experience. Any changes must align with your core values and the “take–aways” every pet parent wants: safety, courtesy, professionalism, value, and individual attention.

• Step 2: Streamline the most important experiences.

Consider removing the phones from your front desk area and limiting any transactions or paperwork. Yes, this process alone takes more explaining than we have space for in this article, but the basics go back to the multi–tasking problem. If you have someone who is great on the phone, put them on the phone in a quiet, undistracted environment. Let them take all the inbound calls like the pro they are.

When the phones are not ringing let them make your outbound calls in the following categories: Thank You’s, Reminders, We Miss You’s, Event Notice, etc. You should be in phone contact with each customer or prospect about once every 90 days. Since most of these will be voicemails, it takes very little time but has a huge impact.

The same goes for your in-person greeters and dog runners; let everyone do what they do best!

• Step 3: Remove anything that can be done elsewhere or can be automated.

Think new client forms, paperwork, releases, waivers, vet records etc. All these can and should be automated. Create forms on your website (No, not scanned documents people have to download and fax in!) You need actual forms that can be filled out online so that:  1) It’s legible, 2) All fields are completed, and 3) You and the customer get an e-mail with the information so communication is clear and confirmed the first time.

Some will say, “But my customers don’t use the computer.” Well, in some cases, that’s true, but it’s not likely for the majority of cases. But if a customer can’t or won’t use the computer, have one available in the front area and ask an employee to assist them by filling it out for them. The customer feels supported and your business doesn’t get bogged down by making the exception to the rule.

• Step 4: Measure.

Your business is a series of measurement points (key performance indicators) that will tell you everything you need to know. But you have to actually know what to measure, how often to measure, and how to measure. Finally, you have to know what to do with the results you get – what do they mean and what should the response be, if any. This is a big part of getting your business to full potential. But for starters, consider measuring the following items as they relate to your front desk:

  1. How long does it take on average for a customer to check in? Just watch your lobby video for 15 min and create an average or just be in the lobby for 15 minutes.
  2. How long does it take on average for a customer to check out? (same method as #1)
  3. How many missed phone calls happen day by day for a week?
  4. How many reminder calls result in an extra being purchased?
  5. How many problems were kept small by reaching out to a customer to say thank you?

Don’t let “How could I ever measure that?!?” stop you. Get creative. What’s important is not scientific level accuracy. Consistent measuring will help you see the trend. Some measuring is always better than none! Follow the trends and you’ll see with much greater clarity than trying to perfect micro-measurement.

• Step 5: Refine

Using the Add, Remove, Maximize, Minimize method, look at the results you are seeing and take incremental steps to refine the process. Remember to be systematic and track what you are doing. If you do it randomly or haphazardly, you won’t know what is and is not working, which makes us all susceptible to falling into what I call “mythologies of perception.” A business is no place for superstition!

• Step 6: Repeat.

I often get asked at conferences and in webinars, “What are the things the best facility owners do in any given week?” My answer: consistent strategy time. Strategy time is best done daily or weekly and includes the following actions that are done without fail and without distraction:

  1. Read your Strategic Vision / Perfect Customer Experience Story.
  2. Review your top 10 KPI’s.
  3. Review your manager’s performance.
  4. Review your current projects.
  5. Review the effectiveness of any new processes.

The Concierge Strategy can make your facility not only stand out but create a “one of a kind” experience that builds loyalty, keeps great customers happy, and inspires your team to rise to new heights.

This article was based on a module in the MasterPlan Pet Care leadership program called The Concierge Strategy. Eric Beck is the founder of MasterPlan Pet Care  and the Total Integration Leadership Program