By Khris Berry
Groomers nowadays face many challenges. They face the growing pains of a burgeoning industry mixed with the emergent need to become recognized as professionals. Many groomers are concerned about looming regulation from their city, county, and state governing bodies.
Great strides are available for groomers and grooming shop owners to gain the knowledge they need to be successful in the Pet Services industry. There are several certifying bodies available which offer advice and validate the professional pet stylist along their journey by offering advice, education, and support as the industry becomes more structured and standards develop.
One such standard that is emerging in dialogues between groomers is the concept of “firing” a customer. Stories such as the following are shared by groomers and how you handle this client can determine the overall health of your business.
Sharon is the proud owner of a Cocker Spaniel named Lilly. Lilly is the second Cocker Sharon has owned—and she kept her former Cocker in full, flowing coat for the 14 years. Sharon came to you a few years ago when Lilly was about 18 months old with tales of leaving her former groomer because they shaved Lilly without her permission. You’ve done your best with her—you’ve suggested a regular grooming schedule. You’ve de–matted Lilly when she showed up after 10 weeks with downy soft dense matting near her skin. You’ve shown Sharon how to comb her; how not to bath and towel dry her. She makes irregular appointments, cancels occasionally, and demands that you offer your skill and time at a discounted rate to correct her neglect of her dog’s coat. She doesn’t answer your call when you finish her dog and picks up late. Sharon is the queen of making excuses for her bad customer behaviors and leaving you feeling angry, abused, and undervalued.
What you choose to do with the customer may determine how you feel about yourself, how your staff views you and your business, and how you interact with other customers in the future. Informing a customer that you aren’t willing to offer them services in the future is both intimidating and frightening. Learning to do so in a polite and concise manner is a necessary part of growing as a professional. The “firing” of a customer does not have to be argumentative, combative, or inflamed.
First, identify if you feel the client/professional relationship has been severed to the point that it cannot be repaired. Consider this without emotion; would you be willing to refuse service to every customer who may commit the same infraction? If the answer is no, then you should likely reconsider the decision.
As a professional service provider, if you feel that the actions of the customer are costing you revenue or taking unfair advantage of your time or resources, it may be time to sever the relationship. I prefer to think of “firing” a client in terms of setting them free. The consumer/provider relationship is based on the premise that you are offering a valued service in exchange for compensation. When the client no longer values the services you offer or the compensation is skewed (for example, she cancels appointments, thus costing you revenue), that relationship is no longer functioning as it should. It makes sense that if a client doesn’t value your services they would not continue to request them, but all too often it doesn’t happen that way. That is the point where you decide to actively severe the client/groomer relationship.
When you’ve decided to “fire” Sharon, you should let her know that you will no longer be offering her your services and why you have made that decision. Expect that you are delivering news that won’t be welcome and anticipate an emotional response from her. Have your reasoning laid out and let her know in very condensed terms why you have reached this decision. A simple statement that you are a professional and your time and resources are being affected by her habits may be enough to relate your point. Letting her know “This is my livelihood and I have to focus on other customers who are a better fit for my business,” is often a great start.
When I fire a customer, I like to be ready with a recommendation of someone who I feel will suit them better. Perhaps there is someone in your area who can better handle her personality, dog, or scheduling limitations. There may be another groomer in your area who will appreciate her and be willing to commit the time and attention she requires. This is not the time to place blame or hone in on her shortcomings in the client/provider relationship. You should assure her that you are interested in her continued satisfaction and are hopeful that your recommendation will better suit her needs. In fact, in many cases, clients such as Sharon become model clients with another provider—whether she learns from her past transgressions or someone suits her better, ultimately we look forward to hearing that she is a happy client elsewhere.
By establishing boundaries with your clients, you and your staff will realize many benefits. You will remove the clients and dogs from your client base who are costing you more to service and increase your own profits. You and your staff will be released from the stressful interactions which inevitably occur when you have a client who wants to constantly negotiate your service, attention, and dictate how you perform your job. You will begin respecting your own professionalism and learn that your time is a precious commodity—you can only groom a finite number of dogs in a day. And finally, your co-workers, staff, and other clients will learn that you respect and value the service you offer.
It is never an easy decision to set a client free and even harder to navigate the process; as groomers we are wired to love our clients, their dogs, and try to please them. Learning the art of letting them go gracefully will benefit you, your staff, and ultimately improve the experience for the client and their dog. ✂
Khris Berry has been involved in the Pet Services industry since the early 1990’s. She has owned grooming shops, boarding kennels, and obedience training schools and is a Certified AKC Canine Good Citizen Evaluator. She is the co–founder of See Spot Grooming & Daycare which currently operates 3 locations in 2 states. Her vision has led her to create a Groomer–centric company which provides education, a positive work atmosphere, and benefits for all Spots. She owns and competes in a variety of events with Wirehaired Vizslas including dock diving and obedience.