Groomer talking on a phone with client

Many of the most common complaints from groomers are about those customers—or prospective customers—who have wildly unrealistic expectations. It’s a source of huge frustration. Take, for example, the customer who, even though we’ve done exactly what they asked, suddenly turns irrational when they pick their finished pet up and demands a refund because it’s NOT what they wanted. Another example is the customer who comes an hour before their animal is completed, even though they were told that you’d call when he was done. 

It’s difficult to see a situation from a non-grooming perspective, but that’s what we need to do. Despite all the advances we've made in being viewed as professionals, many of us forget that we are the trained authorities with a wide base of knowledge—and that our customers usually don’t have that knowledge. 

Most of us own pets, so it’s easy to feel as though we are on equal footing with our pet-owning customers, but that just isn’t true, generally. If you are not a groomer and have never seen an unbrushed dog that’s doing a spring shed, you might not know what it is. Don’t assume that owners know what we think they should do with their breed—and don’t assume they are stupid if they don’t. 

As far as grooming customers go, they are the laymen, and we are the experts. We need to be that helpful person willing to educate our customers. This allows us to create the right expectations for them, and it’ll be easier to meet their expectations, and that leads to satisfied customers. 


Setting Expectations

Of course, reaching a common understanding is all about communication. Most pet owners don’t speak “groomer,” so we need to be sure we are saying things in a way they clearly understand. 

First, find out what they want. If a customer asks for a “puppy cut,” you need to find out what they expect the final result to look like. If they say “short,” that’s going to mean one thing to a groomer who works in a salon that does a lot of #7 strips, and another to a groomer that specializes in hand scissored Bichons in breed trims. The customer may even envision a result that’s different from both of these options. 

Megan King, owner and stylist at Home Away Pet Grooming and Day Boarding in Union, Maine, asks specific questions until she’s sure she knows what the customer wants. 

“You consult with the owner initially, determining what sort of look and length they are envisioning,” says King. “For example,'Would you like him short like the top of his head? Or more like the fronts of his legs? Or shorter? Or longer?'” 

Some salons have a board with faux fur that has been shaved to various blade and snap on comb lengths to give the customer a visual approximation of what length you are discussing. King says it’s important to try to see the customer’s vision while giving them the reality of what can be achieved with their dog’s coat and features. 

“They might show you a picture of a Lhasa with a long flowing coat and a topknot, and they have a scruffy looking little Yorkie mix with curly coat,” she says. “It may not even be that dramatic; it might be that the dog’s ear set is different to the dog pictured.” 

In cases like these, King just points out what may be a little different on their dog and how the look they’re going for can best be achieved. 

Meeting, or exceeding, customer expectations is much easier when you help keep them realistic. Once you have determined what they want and groomed the dog, if they love it, King suggests, “put that haircut on file in detail and execute it exactly the same the next time and you exceed expectations.  

“If the customer lets you know at the next appointment what they liked or disliked about the groom, take note, execute all the requests and make sure to follow through at pick up,” she adds. 

Of course, a recurring issue many groomers face is a customer with a matted pet who is incensed at pickup that the animal has been shaved. Again, handling this correctly is a matter of being clear and creating the right expectations of what can be accomplished. Owners don’t generally realize that we have no magic wand and that the dematting process is not tolerated well by all dogs. 

Tamla Miller, groomer at Happy Pawz in Overland Park, Kan., has learned to be very specific with customers about what can and cannot and will and will not be done.  

“My ‘dematting’ is typically for those really loose mats that are really just glorified tangles and aren’t covering a large surface area,” she says. 

Miller won’t even discuss dematting fees unless she is 100 percent sure it can be done—and if not, she just tells them it will need to be short. Still, you need to specify what short is—quarter-inch, bald or crewcut are good descriptive terms that ensure the customer understands what it means that you’ll be shaving their pet with a #7 blade. 

“If it happens to loosen up and come out better than expected in the bath and dry process, the client gets a happy surprise,” says Miller. “Always promise less than you think you can deliver.”  

Miller also suggests using a comb to clearly illustrate that extensive matting exists. “If I can’t get a fine tooth comb through it at the skin, it has to be shaved,” she tells customers. 


Timing is Everything

Now, what about those customers who show up early before their dogs are finished? This is another example of how important it is to create the right expectations through clear communication. If we say, “He should take about an hour and a half, so it should be around 2:00 p.m., but we will call you when he’s ready to go home,” all the customer has actually hears is “2:00 p.m.”  

As an alternative, try saying something like, “While I can’t give you an exact time, as we are working with live animals with different personalities, just to give you an idea, it should be a couple of hours. However, please don’t come to get him then, as that is only an estimate. We promise that we will call you as soon as he’s done and ready to go. If you arrive when he is still being worked on, he will be so excited to see you that we won’t be able to finish him safely, so you’ll need to take him as is—unfinished.” 

Some businesses have developed extensive policy statements that customers are asked to read and sign that may include that if they show up before called, or before the time given, that their pet may not be finished.  

Most service industries are not handling people’s beloved pets, so there isn’t as much emotion connected with how long the service takes. People worry about their pets being left with someone else and they want it to be as short a time as possible. Sometimes, just acknowledging that is helpful. 

Greg Crisp, industry expert and president of Double K Industries (manufacturer of grooming supplies and equipment) knows that grooming customers frequently misunderstand or misinterpret what has been said. He suggests being clear and concise when speaking, and using proper grammar and avoiding slang to minimize those issues. At the same time, it’s important to continue consider their perspective. 

“Your customers will almost universally respond to warmth and graciousness born of empathy” says Crisp. He also points out that business owners also need to listen carefully and attentively to customers—doing so can avoid difficulty and conflict if you understand what they are saying. 


Creating A Welcoming Environment

Attitude goes a long way towards creating the right expectations from your customer. If a receptionist doesn’t smile, a customer may not feel welcome and valued. A hesitant or questioning tone of voice when giving prices almost invites a customer to expect to be able to negotiate. 

Keep your attitude matter of fact, professional and non-judgmental at all times, and your clients will be less likely to challenge what you have said—from pricing to what is in their pet’s best interest. This works well with scheduling, especially if customers are unhappy they can’t get appointment right away when they call. Saying anything more or explaining why you are busy creates the expectation that this is a discussion or negotiation. Staying pleasant, on target and in control of the conversation creates the expectation that they can either book that appointment, or not. There are simply no other choices.

Just as groomers communicate with dogs through body language, it often happens that you are communicating with customers and helping to create their expectations through other means. It may be intentional on the salon’s part, or it may not, but rest assured that clients are picking up on your non-verbal communication. The total care and finished product of a grooming session depends, in great part, on the quality of the equipment and products used. Customers receive impressions of the salon based on the appearance of the equipment, the cleanliness and organization of the shop, and how well the prep work is done. The right dryer, for instance, can make the difference between a scissored Bichon that’s just okay and one that is perfection, if the coat is fluff dried with enough air stream and the proper amount of heat. The right force dryer can provide desheds that amaze customers, cage dryers with timers and thermostats can provide safety factors that communicate the salon’s dedication to pets’ safety—wall colors and décor send a powerful message as well. 

“Grooming customers are concerned with their pets safety and comfort so it is wise to present clear ways in which your equipment, products and processes ensure their pets safety and minimizes risk,” says Crisp. “Referencing the use of dryers with good safety records that are also designed to minimize acoustical insults for pets sensitive ears help to create the assumption that you are aware of the safety aspects of grooming”.

Noise is a factor that can influence customers, as well as dogs, and according to Mike Forcelli, president of Poly Pet Tubs, the material a tub is made of has the biggest impact on noise.  

“The Poly Pet tub is made of high density polyethylene, so not only does it not leak, water or a metal sprayer hitting the sides is much less noisy,” he explains. 

The right products can make a difference to a customer—a truly clean pet that smells great for an appreciable span of time, or one whose skin or coat is improved by a product, tells a customer that a salon is experienced and competent. 

What are the biggest sources of dissatisfaction from your customers? Identify them and work to create the right expectations. Don’t know what those issues are? Your customers do, so create a short questionnaire to be filled out at pickup. This will help you create the right expectations so they will be satisfied. 



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.