Clients can leave you baffled. They bring expectations, demands and needs—and complaints when you fail to meet them. I have an open invitation to any groomer to send me a copy of their clients’ pictures and grooming notes that are brought in for Fluffy’s groom; I believe in my heart these things need to be compiled into a coffee table book.
On the other side of the coin, clients bring the money. It is necessary to develop the skills it takes to make the exchange of grooming for dollars a smooth and easy event in your daily salon life.
Altercations or Misunderstandings
Every time there is an “event” concerning a groom that may or may not be what the client asked for, I always examine how I could have handled it better; what could I have said that might have put them at ease, or what should I have looked for in a client who is walking the edge towards a nerve? The better part of all failed interactions comes from unclear communication at drop–off. The more specific you are, the better the client will understand how the day will go.
I work with many groomers who already feel undervalued and have taken to heart “the customer is always right” mentality, so they shy away from confrontation. Instead of telling a client with a matted dog that needs to be shaved down, “I will leave him as long as I can,” they really should be saying, “This dog will be smooth today.” The first statement leaves hope in the heart of a client, laying a foundation of expectation that the dog will have some fluff left. The second statement will leave the owner with a good idea of what they will be picking up in the afternoon. Bonuses are always won when you can under promise and over deliver! If you can save some length, let it be a bonus instead of a promise.
Many groomers report that they fear being honest and blunt, and many of them say they are afraid of making the client mad. I gently remind them that the client will always be mad if they feel that they have been misled. Rip the Band–Aid off and try to be as compassionately precise as is necessary.
I have had clients choose to leave because I refused to de–matt their horribly tangled dog, but the options were all discussed so the client could make a better decision for their circumstances. The bridge back to my salon is still intact for this client.
Offer them science and exactly the services you are willing to give to their specific pet and let them decide if your salon is right for them. Staying calm and objectively informative will always leave an impression of respect for your ethics and knowledge. And if not, then they were not a good fit for your salon in the first place.
The Client’s Viewpoint
Clients come from many diverse backgrounds and have individualized views on what a pet means to them. Everyone has a unique relationship with the animals in their lives. Sometimes as groomers, we become so saturated with the care of animals, we sometimes forget that we have learned by years of immersion and study but our clients have not.
Many times we get frustrated with them when we fail to realize that they are not as knowledgeable as we are, and that is not their fault. They have pursued different lines of work and may have only a rudimentary education on the care of their animal. If they lack knowledge, it is very much a part of our job to educate them about grooming care or point them in the right direction for more specialization.
Meet in the Middle
Sources of qualified science are not hard to find. A great way to start is with the online Merck Veterinary Manual1. Perusing peer–reviewed articles and subscribing to scientific journals are excellent ways to find broad and specific information. And depending on how deep you are willing to go, veterinary and technician textbooks are always a fun Sunday read.
The point of finding accurate information that can be trusted is so it can be used to educate your clientele in an intelligent and professional manner. Even if they do not agree with what you are saying, they will have a better understanding of the procedure just for you having said it.
Put Together Educational Materials
When educating your clients, make sure to have diagrams and resource materials readily accessible. I found it handy to create a little science booklet that I use as a teaching tool and distribute to every concerned client and new puppy owner. This gives them the foundation of knowledge to understand even more advanced concepts in grooming, should issues arise. I cover the hair cycle, a little bit about the needs of the coat types, and what coats should and should not be shaved, while also discussing why these things make a difference to the beauty and health of their pet.
If you do not shave down pugs, you should say so, and then provide solid reasons why or why not. If you do not de–matt at a certain point, the intricacies of shaving a pelted coat should be discussed. If you no longer express anal glands, you should be able to communicate to the client why you no longer provide this service. I end every educational interaction with a printout or diagram for the client to take home.
At the end of the day, there will always be clients that do not understand, that get mad and leave, or are just insistent that you do something you do not believe in. You are not a mindless drudge meant to bend to their wishes; you are a professional who has the responsibility to decide how to practice your trade, ethically and functionally.
The more you stand by your standards, the more you will be respected for doing so—even if the client chooses to leave. A calm mind and an objective intent to educate will win the day and let you rest, knowing that you did the absolute best that you could. ✂️