Learning from Mistakes...





I recently had an unhappy customer, and I didn't like it one bit. (Note, the above cat is not the one in question, just something to catch your eye. The cat in the story was a young, medium haired black cat.) 

Here is the story. I groom a lot of cats.  In fact, I am a certified Master Cat Groomer. I'm good at it, and have many happy clients who seem amazed  by  my cat handling skills.  Last week I had a new client that needed to get her cat groomed.  She told me on the phone that the cat had a lot of mats on its stomach and she was unable to brush or comb the cat in that area.  She had a work schedule that made her unable to come in during my normal hours, so I agreed to open an hour early to accommodate her and make her poor kitty comfortable.  Many of my customers stay while I groom, but she chose to leave the cat with me and run an errand.  Her cat was small, and as she had described, had extensive matting from armpits to groin, and some lime-sized mats on the back of her thighs.  

I asked the woman what it was she had in mind for the days grooming and she said, "Get those mats off, give her a bath, and you know, groom her."  The cat was declawed in the front, and people who are familiar with feline behavior will tell you that many declawed cats are on the defensive, and are more apt to bite. This was true of this young cat. She tolerated having her belly and thighs clipped, but was anxious and on edge the entire time.  I decided she was not a good candidate for a bath, sensing it would overstimulate an already unhappy animal.  Her coat was quite clean, and I was able to comb out loose hair. I felt very happy and satisfied with my work.  We had quickly and safely removed painful tangles, and though the cat was tense about the process we had managed to get her done safely and tuck her back into her carrier before she became overly stressed.  To me this was a win.  

Her owner picked her up, was fine with my decision not to bathe, commented on the pile of matted hair we had saved to show her, and left, promising to be back.  Later that night I received an email that said, "when I got home today and took my cat out of the carrier I was HORRIFIED at the hack job you did on my cat's rear-end! and to then see that you did NOT groom my cat at all!!!!!!!, just shaved belly and ass.. I will never recommend you . I am totally disappointed! If I hadn't had to get directly to work, i would have returned for my money.. shameful"  

Ouch. What we have here, folks, was a failure to communicate.  I clearly did not question this lady enough to understand what it was she wanted. I assumed that I knew, and I was obviously mistaken.  I replied to her email that I was distressed to learn she was not satisfied with the groom. I said that clearly I had misunderstood what she desired as an end result of the grooming. I told her I would be happy to re-groom that cat for no additional charge, and/or refund her money.  She sent a terse note back with her mailing address and closed with, "I will never come back."  I put a check in the mail that day, and have been pondering how to make sure this does not happen again ever since.  Here is what I have come up with so far: 

  • Ask more questions.  Especially in the case of a first time customer, I should have probed further than I did.  What, exactly, did she mean when she said, "You know, groom her."  In my mind, getting the mats off the cat was the primary importance.  But she wanted more, and I will never know exactly what that "more" was.   I suspect, in retrospect, that she wanted me to trim up and tidy the cats body coat.  
  • I should have asked if the cat had ever been groomed before, and if so, how that went.  I also should have asked if she was pleased with the end result, and why or why not.
  • I should have explained to her, before the groom, that when working with cats, sometimes just removing the mats and tangles is all we can do. She had forewarned me that she was unable to brush or comb that cat in the areas where the matting was, and I should have discussed this with her.  In an ideal world I would have explained that if her cat had little tolerance for being handled for grooming at home, it probably would have even less when being handled by a stranger in an unfamiliar place. 
  • I should have taken the cat out of the carrier when the owner returned, and shown her what we had done. That would have given me an opportunity to change things she was not happy with. 

Those are the things I did wrong. Here is what I think I did right: 

  • Removed the cats matting swiftly and painlessly. 
  • Took the cats tolerance and stress level into consideration when I opted not to give the request bath. 

And after the customer communicated her displeasure I: 

  • Responded swiftly, apologized that I had not satisfied her, and offered to re-groom the cat and/or give a full refund. 
  • Sent a refund when requested. 

I wish that things had gone differently.  I don't like it when I have an unhappy customer, and luckily for me this a rare event.  I wish that the owner would have been open to allowing me to have a second chance to find out what she really wanted from the process and deliver it for her. But I am going to take the whole unpleasant experience as an opportunity to learn and (hopefully!) grow.  And I am sharing this with my fellow groomers in hopes that I can save you from such an unhappy outcome. 

Most times any customer of any business is unhappy it is because the service did not meet their expectations. Taking time to make sure you understand the customers expectations before you groom their pet is of utmost importance.  If you cannot fulfill their expectations, the time to explain that is before you provide the service.  

Averting Accidents...




I was recently contacted by a very  nice person who asked if I knew of any articles that contained ideas on how to prevent grooming accidents, especially for newer groomers who could, perhaps, learn by reading and not by dreaded trial and error.  I thought it was a great idea, and have been mulling it about ever since. I also asked a few experienced groomers if they would suggest ideas, as well.  So here goes, a handful of suggestions on ways to prevent injuring the pets in your care. 

  • I learned this tip many years ago while watching a video for advanced grooming techniques about hand stripping terriers.  The woman narrating the video had a marvelous British accent and I was enjoying watching and listening.  I laughed out loud, however, when she was demonstrating trimming around the edge of the dogs ear with scissors.  "If you should feel resistance, stop," she said.  I thought that was a pretty obvious tip.  About a week later I was trimming a pet dog and I felt resistance.  I felt confident that I was just cutting through some thicker, un-brushed hair, and continued. When I saw blood I flashed back to the words I had scoffed at in the video.  "If you should feel resistance, stop."  It may seem obvious, but it's a great tip.  Sometimes resistance just means you are going through thicker coat, or a little burr, or even a tick, (yuck!) but seriously, if you are working and feel resistance between your blades, just stop.  Grab a brush or comb, go through the coat,  and examine the skin around the area you were working before proceeding. You may well save yourself from cutting the dog. 
  • The woman who suggested the article gave a safety example of "not using a 7 blade on ears."  She is right!  A 7 blade can be your best friend when you are trying to peel a matted coat off a pet, but it can also cause some wicked nicks.  The reason is because of the way the teeth on the blades are shaped. They are long, with sharper tips than some blades, and just enough space between the teeth that they can catch the edge of an ear, or the fold of skin under the foreleg in the "armpit" area, a nipple, or that flap of skin at the tuck up. Or, really, any little loose bit of skin. They are tools to be handled with care, best for using when doing "flat work," clipping the smooth, flat areas of a dogs body.  Switch to a different blade (a 10, for instance) when you are working anywhere there are folds, flaps, tricky to reach areas or even loose skin. 
  • Debi Hilley suggests that many groomers do not use grooming loops safely or properly.  She has made an informative video blog on the topic, which you can see here: Grooming Loop Safety.  The video is very informative but a few of the basic points are these; some loops are safer to use than others, some are downright dangerous, panic release snaps are a must, and a great explanation about how a dog struggling against a loop can damage their trachea, eyes, cause brain damage or even death.  Please watch the video. 
  • Speaking of loop safety, if you are grooming a dog that has trachea problems, be sure to place the loop so that it is behind one front leg. This will remove any pressure from the throat, and direct it over the muscle of the chest instead.  
  • Never step away from a dog in your bathtub or on your table. This is not new news, I know, but it's worth repeating.  It can be so tempting to leave a well trained, predictable dog sitting calmly for just a second.  But here is the thing... no dog is totally predictable.  
  • Scissors- Carol Visser reminded me of these important ideas: believe it or not, you are more apt to cause a bad cut on an animal if your shears are dull than if they are sharp. This may seem counter intuitive, but when shears are dull you will use a stronger grip and more forceful hand motion to cut.  If you grab skin when using this firm cutting motion, you will cause a more serious injury. When shears are properly maintained and sharp, you will use a lighter hand when working (easier on your joints and muscles, bonus!) and if you "feel resistance" and keep cutting, the chances are that any ensuing cut will be less serious.  Another scissor tip, be aware of where the tips of your scissors are at all times.  New groomers often concentrate more on the area they are cutting, (often towards the lower end of the blade) and don't pay attention to where those sharp tips are.  
  • Barbara Bird says, "When clipping the flank area, place the fingers of your other hand behind the skin to flatten it." This also works when you are clipping ears. By holding the skin flat and using blades with tightly spaced teeth, you will be lest apt to cause any nicks. 
  • Dryer safety. Every year we read of dogs that die at a grooming facility because they were overheated during cage drying.  Some dryers heat the air to 130 degrees or more. Most of these are stand dryers, designed to be used when the pet is on the table, yet  many groomers aim these stand dryers into a cage and let 'em rip.  Find out what temperature the dryer you use is capable of producing.  Only use heated dryers designed for cage drying  in open cages with plenty of ventilation. Only use a cage dryer when you are there to observe the pet.  Place thermometers in drying cages so you can carefully monitor air temperature.  Cage drying can be risky, and should be used with extreme care. There are plenty of articles about this topic on the web if you'd like to learn more. 

Do you have a safety tip you'd like to share?  This could be a multi part blog if people want to send me some feed back and tips. I am always grateful for blog ideas like this one. Please feel free to contact me if you have an idea on how to groom more safely or any topic you'd like to see written about.  Wishing you happy and safe grooming!  (To contact me directly, email yankeegroomer@aol.com)