Delivering Great Customer Service
The ability to deliver a high level of customer service is just as vital to the continued health of a grooming business as the quality of the grooming being done in the salon.
There is no denying that customer service is an important part of the grooming business. However, far too many groomers view customer service as simply dealing with complaints. The reality is, delivering a high level of customer service goes well beyond a grooming professional’s ability to effectively handle dissatisfied clients—although that is certainly one element.
Customer service is all about how a grooming business serves its clients—in any and every part of their experience in purchasing the salon’s services. Excelling in this part of the profession requires a specific skill set that does not come naturally to everyone. Many salon owners and managers have had to learn how to handle this aspect of their business, just like they had to learn how to groom. And learning how best to serve customers can have an impact that is equal to—if not greater than—the quality of grooming services offered when it comes to deciding the ultimate success of a business.
One way to learn how to provide customer service that will leave clients feeling good about the business and the way they have been treated is for groomers to put themselves in their customers’ shoes. Megan Anderson, owner of Pet’s Envy Mobile Pet Spa in Allen, Texas, says it all goes back to the golden rule. “Treat people with the same respect that you expect from them,” she says, noting that it costs nothing to be polite and pleasant with everyone.
Kathy Salzberg, author, journalist and co-founder of the very successful Village Groomer in Walpole, Mass., also subscribes to the golden rule when it comes to delivering a high level of customer service. “My advice in dealing with customers is probably the same as your mother’s—smile and be nice,” she says. “A friendly smile goes a long way. Think about that cheerful flight attendant when you board or disembark the plane, or that elderly gent in the red apron who welcomes you to Walmart. They are there to smile and be friendly. No customer wants to feel like you are too preoccupied to wait on them. And remember that when you share your substantial knowledge about dog breeds and grooming, there are no stupid questions. Let me rephrase that: if there are, try not to embarrass the one doing the asking. After all, the most important question in customer service is, ‘May I help you?’”
Remember to be nice no matter where you are, including the Internet, says Kim Raisanen, president of the Professional Cat Groomers Association of America. “A mistake that some groomers may do unintentionally is saying something negative about a cat/dog on Facebook,” she says. “More than groomers realize, their clients are checking on their social media comments. This has happened to me, but luckily I said that I enjoyed the grooming as much as the cat did and we ended with headbutts and sandpaper kisses. Can you imagine if I said, ‘What a nasty cat?’ We should always think about the possible repercussions of anything we say, but remember that if you say it on the Internet it will never go away, so be nice.”
Along with creating a pleasant atmosphere for clients by being nice and going the extra mile, try to create an enjoyable physical environment within the salon as well. Whether it’s a cute picture on the wall, a lovely seating area or a complete spa experience, the salon’s surroundings contribute to the feeling of well-being and warmth that you want to foster.
There are plenty of potential pitfalls on the way to providing superior customer service. Communication—clear and understood by both parties—is the most important aspect of the service a grooming business provides. Groomers have their own jargon, as do the people in any profession, but we somehow assume that a pet owner will automatically understand it because they own a dog that needs grooming. If most of us walked into a new salon and saw on a Shih Tzu’s card, “#4F a/o, short round head, 2comb ears, flag tail,” or a Poodle with “c/f, c/f, Miami #7F,” we could probably provide the groom the owner is expecting. However, customers don’t understand the difference between the length of a 4 blade and a 7, or what clean face or feet are. Groomers know what shaved with a #7 looks like, but the customer is likely to need to hear terms like “smoothie” and “military buzz cut” or “naked” to understand.
It is up to the groomer to be sure the client understands before putting tools to their dog. Otherwise, the business is being set up to disappoint—and that is not good customer service. With this in mind, try to avoid groomer-speak when discussing trims with pet owners.
Linda C. Claflin, founder of DogGone Beautiful Pet Styling Salon in Keene, N.H., is a veteran grooming professional who has served on the boards of both GroomTeam and New England Pet Grooming Professionals, as well as being a Learn2Groom Training Partner. She says that groomers should strive to be great listeners. “Develop a habit of listening to your customers for a few minutes, then re-state what you heard—‘Did I understand that you wanted Lilly this long all over with a short round face and feet?’—while holding your thumb and index finger to the length of body hair,” Claflin says. Once the customer agrees, write it down using shop jargon.
It is also vital that groomers communicate pick-up times as clearly as possible. Every groomer has had customers arrive to pick pets up early, and some clients make a habit of this, perhaps in the hope that it will magically enable the salon to get their dog done more quickly. The time to prevent this is at drop off. What the staff member doing the intake says is not necessarily what customers hear. For example, if they are told that the pet will be done at 3:00, but the salon will call to let them know for certain, the customer likely only hears 3:00. If they are told that their dog is usually done in two or two-and-a-half hours, but the salon will call when everything is done, the customer only hears two hours.
To avoid these types of miscommunications, groomers must always follow up with something to cement what they want the client to hear—like, “Will you be available at this phone number for my call telling you what time to pick Fluffy up?” or, “Good, we’ll use that number to let you know when it’s time to pick up.”
For problem clients, it might be a good idea to add, “Please wait for my call before coming in, or call from the parking lot to be certain we are finished. We don’t want Fluffy so happy to see you that we can’t finish his groom.”
The cornerstone of good communication in this business is getting the point across to clients that the groomer cares about them and their pets. They should be made to feel important; and they are—after all, they pay the bills. And regular customers pay the majority of those bills. Teri DiMarino, popular and award-winning judge, speaker and industry spokesperson, has owned salons and mobile grooming businesses in her 35-plus years as a groomer, and she believes in rewarding loyalty.
“As a consumer, I object to a company that gives special offers to new clients while I, a loyal customer, go unrecognized,” she says. “Many groomers get so wrapped up in bringing in new customers that they forget to pay attention to the old ones that frequent the business all year long. What happens when you don’t see a good, regular customer for a while? Do you just ignore them and hope they will eventually come back? Or do you go after them to see what went wrong and why they haven’t been in lately? Sometimes you may hear something unpleasant about a previous visit, but feedback is good, and it helps us become better business owners. Getting the customer in the door is one thing; keeping them from going elsewhere is the key.
“Also, I am a firm believer in the ‘80/20 Rule,’ which says that you get 80 percent of your business from 20 percent of your clients. Take care of the people who take care of you all year long.”
Whether it is a random coupon for a discount or retail item, special accommodations for booking requests, or a sincere “thank you for your business,” grooming salons must make sure their regulars know how much they are appreciated.
Another key to delivering great customer service is to educate the salon’s customers. The more they know, the more they will appreciate the work done in the salon. “All of this builds a solid and lifetime relationship between the groomer and the client,” says Denise King, a veteran professional dog groomer who has helped clients with information on all sorts of subjects—which breed might suit them, the importance of training, nutrition and health care decisions, plus grooming, of course. “I have been grooming for 40 years now and I still have some of my original clients,” she says. “Of course, they are on their third or fourth dog. And I have some of their children as clients. To me, this is how one builds a business.”
Of course, it can be easy to get a little hot under the collar when dealing with difficult client interactions—for instance, when customers indicate that a salon’s prices are expensive. Such complaints can make business owners feel as though their work is being devalued, but that is probably not the intent of customers looking for a discount. “You probably look at prices before you buy, too, especially for something like grooming that is a repeated, fairly frequent cost,” says Anderson. “It’s natural for customers to price shop and try and get the best price. Even someone who cannot afford your services may have friends that would be a perfect fit [for your business]. I like having an excellent reputation, not just an expensive one.”
In many cases of dissatisfaction, a customer may just want to know that the business owner is sorry. Expressing that to them is not an admission of guilt or culpability—it is an emotion, and one that might help defuse a charged situation. It is important to be careful of how this is expressed, though. There is a world of difference between “I’m sorry Fluffy was injured” and “I’m sorry we hurt Fluffy.”
It is also important that groomers avoid falling into the emotional trap of being defensive. It does not matter that the salon did exactly what the customer asked for if that customer is unhappy with the finished result. Saying “I’m sorry you are not satisfied” does not mean the customer is justified in their dissatisfaction; it means the groomer or salon owner is sorry they have an unhappy customer and want to fix it. How far the business is willing go to make it right depends on how much of an impact the client’s negative reaction will have on the business. For example, an injured dog will require more damage control than an accidentally shortened trim.
Daryl Conner of FairWinds Grooming Studio in Appleton, Maine, understands the importance of knowing how and when to apologize. “This does not come easily to many people, but if you make a mistake—and we all make mistakes—apologize like you mean it,” she suggests. “It is common to become defensive when caught making an error, but that is the worst thing you can do. It makes the other person hostile and builds a no-win situation.”
Conner solidifies her point with a real-world example. “I recently scheduled two difficult, time-consuming dogs and somehow totally forgot to put the appointment on my schedule,” she recounts. “The client showed up on a day that I was not only fully booked, but I was also battling a stomach bug that had me dragging. She was understandably unhappy and showed me the appointment card. The error was all mine. I apologized sincerely, saying, ‘I have made a terrible mistake and wasted your time. I am so sorry. To make it up to you, I will groom one of your dogs for free. Let’s look at the calendar and find which time works best for you to come back.’
“Because I owned the error, said I was sorry, and made an effort to find a solution to the problem that worked for her, she not only backed right down, she even smiled a little. ‘Oh, everyone makes mistakes,’ she said. She re-booked, came back, and even brought me homemade pastries. This situation could have caused me to lose a regular customer, but because I humbly admitted my fallibility and offered her something to make a trip back to me worthwhile, we still have an excellent working relationship.”
Whatever customers do or say, grooming professionals should avoid taking it personally. A grooming business is—after all—a business, and that is what the customer is dealing with, not the person running or working for the business. With this in mind, groomers should try to keep their feelings out of it. Delivering good customer service is all about the client’s feelings, not the salon owner’s. The owner’s job is to ensure the customer always leaves happy.
Being nice and apologizing when you are wrong does not mean kowtowing to a customer’s every desire. If the salon is booked, don’t accept that insistent customer, as overbooking is likely to lead to both sides being unhappy. Instead, apologize for being unable to give them the time they want and offer what is available, with a smile.
As for the customer who demands a refund for a poor groom or they’ll plaster it all over Facebook, or give the business a bad review? Don’t just say, “I can’t accommodate that request;” add something positive to the refusal. Tell them what the salon can do. For example, a business owner can say that they are sorry the customer is unhappy and would like the opportunity to make them satisfied, perhaps by offering them a discount on their next groom. That will help retain the customer and lets the business demonstrate that it cares how its patrons feel. If a refund is issued and the customer never comes back, it’s a loss. Offering a discount next time ensures that the customer will come back and will only set the salon back a little.
And don’t take it personally if a client ultimately decides to go elsewhere. Sure, make a call to say the salon has noticed that the client’s dog has not been in for a while, and ask if there was a problem. That may prompt some valuable feedback. However, it is just as likely that the client found a better price or more convenient location, or their circumstances changed. Even groomers change car mechanics or grocery stores from time to time, don’t they?
Remember that customer service is part of every interaction you have with the people who patronize your business, and work to make sure that every experience they have is a good one. These people pay your salary and keep your business strong—you should indeed serve them well.