The patience of Job... the eye of Picasso… the dexterity of Dr. Christian Barnard.... the strength of Hercules… these are just a few attributes we, as professional groomers, must possess to be proficient in our craft. Just as grooming is a balance of theory, science and art, so is client communication. Most of us are well versed in dog lingo, but when was the last time "GiGi" called to make her own appointment? As talented as many of our four-legged clients are, I've yet to know one that can dial a phone! That means we need to be as talented in communicating with clients as we are in dealing with dogs. People speak of doctors with a "poor bedside manner," which is a big turnoff. Professional groomers need to develop a positive table-side manner and your ability to communicate effectively and professionally says a lot about you and involves more than words.
Hone your phone skills
The first contact most clients have with you is via telephone. Tone of voice, background noise and your willingness to offer information and answer questions will have a direct bearing on the client’s attitude when he or she enters your shop.
Many pet owners are worriers. Emotions control their decisions regarding their beloved pet and it’s important to keep in mind that they may in fact regard your services as a “necessary evil” and may be defensive as a result of past experiences.
Answering the phone in a cheerful, relaxed voice will be a great relief to your potential client. Having self-control, no matter how stressful your day, will pay off. (I keep my happy voice in a vase next to the phone.) No doubt, a busy grooming shop can be a noisy place, but keeping background noise to a minimum is crucial for reducing stress and enhancing client comfort.
Offer up more information about your services than the caller may know to ask. This is your opportunity to win the business. First, state all of the individual procedures your grooming sessions include. This adds value to your service. Then quote a base price for their breed, explain that the price is contingent upon, size, condition, temperament, and type of clip. Quoting an absolute price over the phone is dangerous because you never know what will walk through the door. Let the potential client know that you will provide a firm price before they leave their pet.
If your new prospect decides to make an appointment, it is very important to get the following information: name, home and work phone numbers, breed, name of pet, price quoted, how the client found you and any other specifics you have discussed with the client.
ALWAYS repeat the date and time to reduce the chance the client misunderstood you. Whether an appointment was made or not, NEVER forget to say thank-you! Your gratitude for their consideration speaks volumes about your customer service. It pays to be pleasant.
The critical first impression
A first impression is made in 15 seconds. That means your new client will have made a decision about you by the time he or she walks through your door. You must take every step possible to see that your shop and staff convey a positive first impression. Take a good look at the outside of your salon. Does the building or storefront look clean and inviting from the outside?
Now consider the inside of the shop. Everything about the environment should appeal to the client’s senses. The smells, sounds, visuals, and temperature should be appealing, not appalling. Is last week’s hair on the floor, on displays or retail items? A client will be hard-pressed to believe you can get their dog clean in a dirty environment.
By this point, you may be thinking, “I just groom’em, I don’t operate on them.” But it is pertinent that you keep high standards, so you can cater to clients from all walks of life. Working with animals is no excuse for filth. People can see and smell the difference between surface dirt of a busy day and the deep grunge of neglect.
Is your staff a good representative of the image you want to convey? Are they dressed in worn jeans and “Groomers do it with style” tee-shirts? Are hair and jewelry practical for the tasks being preformed? Do your employees project the professional image we as an industry are striving so hard to achieve?
It’s how you say it!
Assertiveness and communications instructors stress the importance of eye contact, tone of voice and body language in conversation. Words should be carefully chosen so clients are not offended and become defensive. Clients will not believe that you are kind with their pet when you are rude to them. For example, what you want to say as your throw your arms up in disgust is: “Don’t you know how to use a brush?” (Implying that the dog is bullet proof from matting.) Instead, you may opt to ask them what type of brush they are using. This should open a dialogue that will provide you an opportunity to educate the pet owner. Of course, talking is only part of communicating, listening is the other. What people say and what they mean are often two different things. So listen carefully to the client and ask questions if you are not totally clear on their requests. And yes, ESP helps.
You should ALWAYS make eye contact, smile and greet the client by name, if possible. Eye contact says “I know you are here.” A smile says “I’m happy you’re here!” Greeting the client by name says “It’s important to me that you’re here!” Everyone loves to shop where they are known and appreciated!
When greeting a client, or “guest” as we say at my salon, I prefer to stay away from “Can I help you?” That phrase sounds cold and can easily come across as condescending. After the salutation, I prefer to ask the person how they are that day, or give the pet or the client a compliment (heartfelt, of course). Just because we work with dogs should not mean our conversational skills are limited to that single topic. Try not to forget your own species.
Get necessary information
After greeting your client, you need to get information for the pet’s file card. Being thorough and confident in this routine will reinforce your professionalism and take the focus off the pet. This gives your client an opportunity to relax.
The following information is pertinent when checking in a new client:
- Correct spelling of the client’s name, address and home and work telephone numbers.
- Emergency number and name of veterinarian.
- Pet’s name, breed, sex, age, and color. This helps to eliminate the possibility of getting dogs confused.
- Any health or behavior problems. Clients seem to forget to mention these things.
- Any previous grooming problems. This can keep you from making the same mistake.
After this phase is completed, it’s time to focus on the pet. Many times a confrontation with a client develops over a misunderstanding about what the dog will actually look like after it is groomed. It is extremely important that you speak specifically about what you will be doing to the pet and what it will look like. A photo album of your work or magazine pictures can be very helpful in this regard.
First time clients with matted dogs need special attention. Simply stating, “Sam is so matted that he must be shaved down” doesn’t describe the finished product. There has to be a visual for the pet parent to fully understand and to prepare for Sam’s new “coat hanger” physique. A sobbing client can really ruin the day! Having sincere concern and being honest about the pet’s condition is the basis for developing a loyal clientele. I feel it is our responsibility to explain the health benefits of routine professional grooming, and to provide the client with tips for successfully caring for the pet’s coat at home.
Be sure to keep complete records of the style, price, products used and the behavior of the pet.
If you find yourself running behind, make every effort to contact the client at least an hour before the pick-up time. It’s common courtesy and shows respect for your client.
Reinforce client loyalty
We’ve touched on phone skills, your shop and staff and your ability to communicate effectively with your clients. What else can be done?
A pamphlet describing your background, your policies and what is entailed in a day at the grooming shop may be beneficial to and enjoyed by your new client. Most people have no idea what actually happens at a grooming establishment.
Other items to consider are:
- An explanation of the health benefits of routine grooming. Most dogs are seen more frequently by groomers than by veterinarians and potential health problems may not be noticed by owners. Groomers need to know what to look for and report and findings to the owner.
- Sell professional products. Why send your client elsewhere when you have them captive in your shop. Stocking and recommending a line of professional products can reinforce your credibility with customers and add a nice profit to your business.
- Sending a thank you note to clients is a great way to follow up after their visit. They’ll remember you and you can never say “thank you” loud enough or often enough! Reminder cards are also a great way to get repeat business on a more frequent basis. They let clients know you haven’t forgotten them.
Occasionally, no matter how proficient we are at our craft, an accident happens. It is crucial that these matters be handled in a responsible and ethical manner. Anyone can make a mistake. But, how you correct the mistake is the crucial part.
Remember the four C’s
Cleanliness, courtesy and consistency are the three C’s of success. To that list, I add the fourth C… communicating effectively. Practice these 4-C’s and they will surely bring you the all important fifth C… Clients!