Listening Our Most Valuable Tool

By Kelley Rose McNeilly

Clients are the lifeblood of our businesses; without them we could not keep running. So, our goal every day should be to grow and keep our clientele. What is the most important thing you can do to retain clients? Listen.

In the many years I’ve been grooming, I’ve always strived to find out what clients liked and disliked about their past experiences with other groomers. This can give me a lot of information on what it takes to please and keep this new client. The most common complaint I’ve heard lately is that they are unhappy with how the groomer treated them and their needs. In other words, the groomer did not listen or appear to care about what they wanted.

I gained a client last year that seemed very disappointed with his previous groomer. When I asked about it, his response was, “She was a very rude lady. She never smiled, never greeted us, never seemed happy about her job and it was frustrating. We are so glad to not be using her anymore!”

This client has been extremely loyal, keeps weekly appointments, and tips. That groomer lost a good client all because she didn’t smile and acknowledge them in a friendly manner.

It only takes a moment to smile and listen to your client. Customer service should be a priority for every person who deals with the public. Smile, learn their name—or at least their pet’s name, listen when they speak, even if it’s about their boring day, and be polite no matter how stressed you are.

I worked in a salon once with several other groomers. We had a woman come in with an adult Bichon Frise and ask that we give him a “puppy cut.” Oh boy! A groomer’s favorite words! The first groomer did what we typically did for “puppy cut” requests, which was a teddy bear head and one length all over. The owner returned and was very upset to find that we did not fulfill her wish for a puppy cut.

But for some reason she came back again, this time requesting a different stylist. This groomer tried a longer cut but was still unable to please the woman. She ended up circulating through all of the groomers in the salon, arriving at my table last. I made sure that I was the one to check her in and discuss the haircut. She brought a photo of an adorable 8 week old bichon puppy and explained that she wanted her dog to look exactly like the photo.

Now, I follow a lot of groomer groups on social media and I know this is the point where someone would post about the “silly” request the owner made and how the client was out of their mind. They’d post a picture of the finished groom and say the owner was unhappy with it, then other groomers will chide in to say “it looks good, ignore her!” No, that is wrong! Our clients, whether we own a business or work for one, make or break our paychecks. They are the boss and we are supposed to listen to what they say.

If the cut is truly not doable then we should kindly explain this to them, instead of mocking them. But no matter how beautiful the groom is, if it’s not what the client wanted, then it’s not correct. A perfectly groomed American Cocker in full length coat is stunning, but if the owner wanted a #7 over the entire dog, then your cut is not satisfactory.

In the end, I was able to achieve the literal “puppy cut” that she wanted by asking questions and paying attention to what she wanted. The owner was extremely pleased and I was able to write down the instructions so that any groomer could follow them.

Listening to your customers is important and they know when you do. We’ve all heard a client say they brush their dog, to look down and see something that resembles a wooly sheep. Try, instead of rolling your eyes, asking detailed questions. What do you use to brush him? How are you brushing him? How often do you brush him? I have discovered that many of my clients actually do brush their dog! But the majority are using the wrong type of brush or techniques.

If asked to see their brush, I’m often handed a bristle brush or something with rubber tips that will actually damage the coat. You could brush a Poodle all day long with a bristle brush and it will probably cause more mats than it removes because of static buildup and friction.

Take a few minutes to show them the correct brush to use for their dog’s coat, show them how to line brush through every part of the dog, and give them advice on dealing with a wiggly dog. These few moments help you to bond with your client and will also make your job easier.

Creating a relationship built on trust, kindness and the ability to listen does a lot to improve your client base. Clients are more loyal to a groomer that they feel a connection with and they are also more understanding of grooming mishaps or reschedules in emergencies. In the end, it doesn’t matter how good a groom looks if it doesn’t please the customer and meet their expectations.

My Mother used to say, “It’s not what you say, but how you say it.” Some conversations have to happen with our clients. We have to tell them when their matted dog needs to be shaved, when there’s a health issue, and when we can’t do a certain cut on a certain dog, along with other things. But say it with kindness and a smile. Your business cannot stand on good grooming alone, it must also have excellent customer service.