You’re Fired: Is It Ever Appropriate to Fire a Customer?
By Khris Berry
Consider the pet professional’s typical day at work; time management, extensive recall of canine and feline breed and health information, basic animal handling skills, technical knowledge regarding proper tool use and maintenance, facility maintenance, problem solving…and these are just some of the talents that pet industry professionals draw upon daily when completing their daily chores. Many kennel and daycare attendants and owners may add customer service skills to that list as a necessary tool for maintaining long-term, successful client relationships.
Customer service is not just a practice for some pet professionals but a mantra. These caretakers pride themselves on their long list of regular clients, frequency of visits, and the relationships they develop with their customers and their pets. These are the caretakers who go above the demands of the job—often spending extra time and effort to achieve the best results without regard for compensation. True customer service begins with a desire to please the customer.
And that’s where our story takes a small detour. Enter Amy. Amy is a mother of four beautiful children who go to a private school. We know this because she posts photos of her ambitious children on Facebook often. She includes the family’s Goldendoodle, Max, in most, if not all, of those photos. Max is always pictured in various states of dog–ness, such as playing in mud puddles, swimming with the children and hiking through the local nature trails.
Amy calls last minute due to her hectic family schedule on the occasional Friday afternoon and needs to get Max boarded last minute—every time. She shows up in your lobby five minutes after you close with children in tow and a leashless Max leaping and bounding at the anticipation of staying with his favorite canine friends for the weekend. As her children are attempting to fish your Nemo fish from the aquarium while standing on your lobby furniture, she explains that she didn’t have time to prepare his meals—just feed him whatever. You get his paperwork set, wrangle him with a slip lead, and as his family leaves in a flurry, Amy mentions over her shoulder to please have him groomed before they pick him up.
Fast forward a few days, Max is now clean, comfortable and mat free. His family returns to pick him up and proceeds to greet him with gasps of disappointment which turn into tears from the smallest two children. Amy provides her credit card to the receptionist while addressing only her dog saying, “What did they do to you, Max?” The interaction ends awkwardly and everyone moves on with their day.
On Tuesday, the review hits Yelp and Facebook, simultaneously. Amy explains to her adoring Facebook following that Groomer Michelle scalped Max and gave him a ridiculous haircut. She continues to explain his extreme mental distress at being shaved as well as his sudden onset of devastating diarrhea which must be caused by your lack of cleanliness.
What do you do? Because you are a customer service–oriented professional, your first instinct may be to respond, or reach out to Customer Amy by phone, text or email. Your groomer insists that Max’s coat was so neglected that she had no choice in his style. You are certain that Max suffered from a sudden diet change upon his return home. This is the pivotal point where every pet professional must make a decision—do you fire this client?
Here are some basic considerations to help you choose if you should offer services to a client in the future:
1. Can you afford to lose the client? Before you say yes, weigh the options. She is one client, and she may be connected on average to ten other clients. Her bad reviews however, may reach dozens of potential clients.
2. Can you educate the client? Often times, your most difficult clients can become your biggest advocates and most informed with some “client training.” This would include having a clear and open conversation with the client about general pet care including sudden diet change and routine grooming schedules.
3. If you choose to fire the client, you are passing the problem on to another provider. On the other hand, another provider may have an easier time communicating with her about the pet care process.
4. Most misunderstandings and tension between animal caretakers and clients occur because of a lack of communication. If you choose to fire a client, you should explain why you cannot offer the service she wants, but be prepared to recommend someone who may suit her better. It is easier to black list the client and not provide her future service, but she may never know what she is doing wrong to end up on the “no service” list.
Keep in mind that pet care is a luxury service. Many times, the clients who end up on the potential “firing” line are the ones who are budget–minded and trying to stretch their pet’s care budget too far. When you notice that a client is trying to stretch the grooming service too long (resulting in matting or other coat issues), it’s acceptable to point out that a different cut is offered for her breed to extend her grooming budget. Often times, clients are struggling to afford the luxuries they wish to provide their pets. Some suggested conversations are:
“I understand that Max would benefit from extra walks, but we can only provide them for an extra fee. That allows our facility to afford the personnel to provide more private services.”
“I understand that you want to bring Max every 12 weeks. However, you are asking me for a 4 week style. Let’s work together to decide which of those options suits your lifestyle better—it’s your choice.”
“I understand that you have a busy schedule—I am fortunate to have a lot of clients just like you. Let’s talk about your next few trips so that we can make sure we have a room booked for Max.”
These are just suggested ways to approach training customers like Amy to become better clients and, ultimately, better pet owners. When you’ve exhausted your strategies, you may need to finally sever the relationship. It’s an easy phone call to make, and best done on your time and schedule instead of waiting for her to call or worrying that she will show up on your appointment book mysteriously.
“I’ve enjoyed caring for Max, but I think that you would be better served by another caretaker in the future. There are several facilities in the area who manage clients with your time constraints (insert any problem here) and may suit you much better. I can provide a few names if you like. I want to make sure you get everything you want from a pet service provider—I think you will be happier elsewhere. Give Max a pat for us and thank you for your past business.”
For the customer service–oriented pet professional, the day you release a client who has plagued you and your business is very liberating. Realizing that you can’t and won’t please every customer is a huge step in becoming a better professional.