How to Provide Good Customer Service
To ensure repeat customers and avoid bad publicity, groomers should make sure their customer service abilities are on point.
One aspect of salon management that can’t be emphasized enough is customer service. Pet grooming is a service industry; groomers and stylists provide a service to their customers and many of us make the mistake of believing that service is simply to groom pets well. This is true, but it’s only part of what salons provide to pet owners.
We’ve all heard—and probably been annoyed by—the saying, “The customer is always right.” Clearly, they are not.
For example, I recently had a client tell me that her dog didn’t get fleas because it was two toned—black and white—and the fleas didn’t like going from one color to the other, so they stayed away. I’m pretty sure this isn’t found in any scientific study—although I could be wrong.
Another customer insisted that her cast-matted dog had been brushed daily and had been mat-free until that morning’s trip to the beach to play ball. While it’s not true that customers are always right, it is true that the customer is always the customer, and they should always feel special and valued. It’s the job of every staff member that comes in contact with a customer to make them feel that way. That’s a big part of what the service we provide to customers is really all about.
Everyone has their own ways of making clients feel valued and special. Some of these ways are adding a bow or bandana that is holiday themed or the color of a local sports team, and making sure each person entering the premises is greeted with a smile and treated with respect.
Daryl Conner, noted industry author, speaker and owner of Fair Winds Grooming Studio in Appleton, Maine, provides one-at-a-time grooming services for pets while customers relax with fresh coffee and homemade cookies in part of her studio that is set up as a waiting room.
Laura Jayne Taylor, proprietor and stylist at Hair of the Dog mobile grooming, serving Manhattan and the Bronx, N.Y., has put a lot of thought into making her clients feel special. With a strong background in the hospitality industry, she’s very aware of how important the way you treat people—and the way you make them feel—can be to a business. One difference Taylor has noted in customer expectations in the last five years is how they want to communicate.
“Customers now want quick responses and prefer communicating through social media and texting,” she says. “They have a sense of urgency; if they message you and don’t get an answer within 45 seconds, their anxiety increases. If you don’t contact them for 60 to 90 minutes during a grooming session, they think something is wrong.”
In order to prevent misunderstandings, before a new client’s first appointment Taylor makes sure, by using text and email to communicate her policies, that a customer knows exactly what to expect, including how often they will be contacted. There’s a consultation appointment prior to any grooming, which includes meeting the customer and pet one on one. We all know that you never get a second chance to make a good first impression, so that initial consult is key.
In a clean van, the dog is put on the table and gone over point by point, so the customer understands what to expect. Clients can immediately see extras—like the hot towel machine—and that makes a great first impression and sets up the expectation that their pet’s comfort is a high priority. This is also when concerns should be addressed. If a customer wants the “shorter but not clippered puppy cut” look, now is the time to explain.
“People think clippers means bald,” says Taylor. “I explain what a guide comb is and that a clipper doesn’t mean bald. I may have to clench my teeth and take a couple of deep breaths, but I try to let them finish and not feel ignorant. I explain that ʻpuppy cutʼ means something different in each state or area and ask them what it means to them.”
Working with photos is more accurate, and most people have images of their dog right on their phone. Ask what they did and didn’t like about previous trims.
“I try to think about how I'd feel if I went into a hair salon and tried to ask for what I wanted and the stylist told me that I was wrong, or that the cut isn’t a real thing. I’d feel dumb, and then probably angry,” says Taylor. “You’ve got to have empathy for the customer and redirect and inform them in a fun or kind way. The customer isn’t always right, but they also don’t deserve to be talked to as though they are foolish.”
Taylor also provides every client with a treat bag, sometimes texts pictures taken against a nice backdrop, gives out toys randomly, provides a report card and sometimes includes product samples. The cost is minimal against the reward—a customer who has been made to feel special and valued.
Set up realistic expectations with the customer. Give them options. That way they aren’t being told what to do, which can make them feel less than special. That doodle owner that wants to book every six weeks and stay in full coat has to understand what’s involved.
“It has to be short enough to lessen the work load. If you want long and fluffy, either you can put the work in or you can pay me to put the work in,” Taylor will tell her clients. “A dog doesn’t have the mental capacity to handle being on the table for more than two hours.” She might suggest a salon, where the dog could be given breaks while the groomer works on other clients’ pets, but it’s made clear exactly what the options are.
It doesn’t matter what issue the customer might have, the method for handling it is likely to be the same. It can be hard not to take comments personally. “Don’t hurt him, okay?” “He’s so afraid, what do you DO to him?” “He always hates coming here.” Instead of hearing an accusation, learn to listen to what the customer is really saying. In these instances, they are worried about leaving their beloved pet in, essentially, a stranger’s hands. This anxiety is probably made worse by all the poor publicity groomers have received in social media.
Groomers can solve the problem, but how? Every customer is different. One might feel better knowing that you have cameras in the grooming area that can be accessed via your website. Another might simply need to have their dog’s behavior explained; liken it to dropping a child off at kindergarten—if you show anxiety, so will they. Explain how their matter of fact demeanor can help their dog remain calm. Some will respond well to honesty.
Addressing a customer’s concerns can help. “No, he doesn’t really enjoy some of his time here. If you’d like to improve his experience here, let’s make an appointment to discuss what we can both do to help him.” This could mean more frequent grooming with lots of treats, a shorter trim, an express groom or booking on a different day. Tell the client what the pet doesn’t like and what you can do to help.
Does it hate the tub? Change the way you bathe, using a facecloth to soap and rinse the face. Is it afraid of drying? Change your methods to include more air-drying, more toweling and a human hair dryer instead of a high velocity—all of this will be an extra charge since it takes longer. Do nails bother the pup? Bring the pet in for filing or dremeling once a week. Look for the solution and offer it. That’s why we’re in business—we’re the experts.
Here are some key points to remember when dealing with any of the scenarios that customers can present to us:
• Listen, actively. Take notes if you have to, or mentally ping important facts while they are speaking. If someone told you that they weren’t available Thursdays and you offer them an appointment on a Thursday, they are going to be angry, as it’s important to them and they already told you that. Don’t make them tell you twice if you can avoid it.
• Apologize. An apology does not mean you are taking responsibility or admitting error, it means you regret the problem occurred. Think of it that way. “I’m sorry you had to wait, didn’t get the appointment you wanted, didn’t like the results of the groom, your dog had an injury, etc.”
• Repeat the issue back. Use different words, to be sure you understand what their real issue is. Unhappy customers may talk a lot, and give you a lot of unnecessary information. “And it was awful because my husband had to be at work and we only have one car and it was cold out...” Restate the problem. “Let me make sure I understand. You were unhappy because Fluffy wasn’t done at 10 and that’s when you expected her to be done?” Don’t argue, even if you KNOW you said she’d be done at 11 and you’d call if she were done earlier. Apologize, and fix the issue for next time. “I’m so sorry that you were inconvenienced, next time I’ll give you a card with her pickup time on it so we won’t have any misunderstandings.”
• Empathize. Tell them that you understand or could see how they would be upset. (Without saying “I know how you feel,” because people tend to blow up saying, “No you don’t!”)
• Avoid saying “no.” It puts people in a contentious frame of mind. Instead, tell them what you CAN do. If the customer is demanding their money back and that isn’t your policy, say “I can discount your next appointment by 20 percent as long as it’s within six weeks.” If they insist you book their appointment tomorrow, don’t say, “No, I can’t do that.” Instead say, “I can offer you appointments next week on Thursday or Friday.”
• Be professional. Watch your tone of voice and expression. This is my personal downfall. I can make “thank you for your business, have a nice day” sound like an insult if I’m annoyed. Not good customer service. Think of it as a game if it helps. If you don’t get snippy, you win! If you keep the customer or avoid crazy reviews, you win! Use thank you, please and good day generously. Be real. Say I hope the rest of your day is good, pleasant, improved, etc.
• Get Personal. Use the person’s name, and their dog’s. It tends to personalize the experience and makes them less likely to be angry.
• Use keywords. Positive, encouraging phrases such as great, perfect, wonderful, absolutely, and I’d be happy to, will make the customer feel appreciated.
• Don’t ask open-ended questions. “Is there anything else I can do for you today?” This opens the door to another diatribe. Try to frame your questions so they require yes, no or specific answers only. Or stick to statements.
• Mimic your customer’s delivery speed. If it’s someone that speaks slowly, deliberately and enunciates clearly, they will be annoyed if your delivery is too fast. If they are zooming at Mach 5, speed up to come closer to theirs as this one will lose patience waiting for you to finish a sentence. This makes people unconsciously feel more in sync with you, and more likely to be reasonable.
Everyone will find the style of customer service that suits them best. I use honesty, leavened with a bit of humor where appropriate. Taylor uses a direct, NYC delivery that just seems to invite the client to agree. Conner uses total honesty, but specializes in a delivery that is non-confrontational, non-threatening, and yet very definite. Find what works for you. Not what makes you feel better, but what your customers respond to best.
Last but not least, what about the customers that you just can’t make happy? What do you do then? That’s up to you, but while each and every client is valuable to a business, it’s also true that 10 percent of your clients give you 90 percent of your headaches. This takes time from your already busy day and create stress for you, your staff and sometimes the customer’s own dog.
How would it affect your business if you simply didn’t groom the absolute worst 10 percent? It may be that the impact of the social media stand they’d take would affect you too negatively, but most bad social media can be defused by handling it in a short, concise, totally professional manner. It might be worth it in the end.
One of Taylor’s customers was one that she just never could make happy, and it bothered her every time. After some time of being stressed about this dog’s appointment and a particularly unpleasant exchange with the client, she went home and thought about it for 24 hours to be sure and then sent a text saying, “I appreciate your business and your dog, but at this time I need to end our business relationship because it seems we just can’t make you happy and that’s important to us.”
Taylor provided referrals of groomers she thought would be a good fit. “Knowing when to cut people off is important,” says Taylor. “It may not be anything to do with you or your grooming, but if your mood or even your ability to perform is being affected, at a certain point it’s not worth it.” Sometimes, ending a business relationship while it’s still on a reasonable footing may be preferable to continuing on until both parties are truly unhappy.
Serve the customer well in every way and your business will continue to thrive, but make sure you and your staff are being served well, also. That way everyone continues to enjoy our wonderful industry. PB
Carol Visser has been involved in the pet industry since 1982 in various capacities, including grooming in and owning a busy suburban shop, working as a product expert for PetEdge, teaching seminars and training dogs. She certified as a Master Groomer with NDGAA in 1990 and as a Certified Pet Dog Trainer in 2007, and she continues to enjoy learning about dogs and grooming at her small salon in rural Maine.