When Something Goes Wrong
By Laura Laaman
As you likely know, providing quality pet care includes a lot of sensitive moving parts. All pets have unique physical and emotional needs, and it’s your duty to ensure they’re consistently and continuously met.
Pet industry business owners strive to meet this demand by providing the best possible care to every pet that comes through their doors. Ironically, the furry guests aren’t the ones with the highest expectations though—they leave that for their doting pet parents.
While most pet care providers invest significant effort in excellent services for the pets in their care, many don’t put the same emphasis on the pet parent’s experience. This common shortcoming has led to a gaping void on proper staff training—especially when it comes to managers.
When something inevitably goes wrong, communication skills are a key to improvement.
Part of providing exceptional pet care means knowing exactly how to respond to the first signs that something’s wrong.
For example, staff members are often trained to monitor each pet’s feeding and consumption. Weighing a pet frequently is often done by top pet care providers. If a pet isn’t eating normally, staff are trained to alert a manager or owner. When a pet shows even the slightest symptoms of illness or injury, there’s a clear and effective protocol in place. Again, it’s likely to report to a manager, owner or veterinarian.
When the problem reaches them, a good manager responds with both the pet and pet parent in mind. It’s usually management’s responsibility to ensure and oversee exceptional customer service, especially when an issue arises.
Mishandling difficult customer situations directly leads to the loss of customers. Even just a few years ago, a lackluster attitude toward customer service may have sufficed. Not today. Competition is fiercer than ever, and your customers now realize they have tons of pet care options.
While the pet care business is growing rapidly, customers are more difficult and expensive than ever to obtain. Smart companies understand the importance of not just drawing in new customers, but also retaining them.
Do you know how valuable your returning customers are? Try pulling the top 50 customers from your own database and see how much they’ve spent with your company over time. It’s likely tens of thousands of dollars—or more. These doting pet parents didn’t announce (or even know) how much they were going to spend, but the quality of their experience with your company kept bringing them back.
So, how does a company set up a protocol for effectively dealing with a difficult situation?
First, establish a goal for your front desk staff. Is their job simply to go through the mechanics of checking a customer in or out? Or is it to make the customer feel welcome, appreciated and valued? If it’s the latter (and it should be), expectations need to be abundantly clear. Include that in the job description and employee training. Track their progress and provide meaningful feedback, especially praise for a job well done. They should clearly know their goal: to do everything they can to ensure an excellent customer experience.
When they’re faced with a less than happy customer, staff should be able to recognize cues, including body language. A measured, proactive front desk staff member will turn the situation over to someone trained and skilled in conflict resolution.
Next, establish the company’s attitude toward unhappy customers. When a customer is unhappy or complains, it can be easy (but unacceptable) to react defensively or place blame on the customer. You may have heard your own team saying things like, “They didn’t tell me that’s how they wanted the haircut,” or “They didn’t ask for help bringing their dog or belongings to the car.” Progressive companies consider these moments a chance to provide exceptional customer service and circumvent the same problem from recurring.
If a customer’s not happy with their pet’s grooming, they look to improve the situation going forward. For example, a proactive staff member might show pictures of different haircuts or lengths before grooming appointments. Similarly, a tuned–in and trained staff would anticipate a customer with two dogs or multiple belongings needing assistance to their car. This attitude is worth it in the long–term—and often the short–term as well.
Top companies not only communicate, but over–communicate. Consistent communication is key, especially when something is new (new customers, policies, hours…). Positive phrasing goes a long way to minimize the human customers getting their hackles up. Adding “For the safety of all guests” before “Dogs must be on leash” does wonders for the tone of the message.
With this is mind, it’s important to anticipate what information a pet parent needs from you—and what you need from them. When possible, explain why changes have been put in place. A pet parent may be disappointed by a sudden change in play schedules, but if someone explains it’s due to weather, they’re likely to understand, accept and appreciate your company’s pro–activeness.
Having verification procedures in place is also highly beneficial. If you do have a change in schedule, rather than assume a customer read an email or notice at the front desk, take the time to verify they’re aware of the change. The same principle applies to welcoming new customers. Verify they understand your facility’s vaccination requirements, cancellation policy, and other important information right away and at the time of drop-off. Confusion often starts with miscommunication and inconsistent protocol. Ensuring everyone’s on the same page keeps business flowing smoothly—for both employees and customers.
It’s difficult to deal with an unhappy customer, and the reality is most people don’t have this skill. The people who are talented enough to effectively turn a dissatisfied customer into a satisfied (or even delighted) one know the difference between responding and reacting. A knee–jerk reaction is a normal, untrained and undisciplined action. A proactive response is a calm, meaningful way to reduce conflict or prevent it altogether.
Laura Laaman is president of Outstanding Pet Care. Outstanding Pet Care guarantees to substantially increase the revenues of its clients with its proven services. If you’re interested in growing your revenues, schedule an individual consultation with Laura Laaman or one of her team members. Call Outstanding Pet Care at 1-888-735-5667 or go to www.OutstandingPetCare.com.