Setting Client Expectations - Groomer to Groomer

Setting Client Expectations

By Mary Oquendo

Back when I was a baby groomer, a client walked into the shop where I was working with her two dogs. I had the client cards already out and knew what to do!


You’re new. Is Katie here?


No, unfortunately she is no longer working here.


Ok, do the same thing as last time.

As a new groomer, I did not want to make mistakes. I noticed that the German Shepherd looked like its coat had been clipped short in the past. The card read a 4 clip. That made sense. However, the American Eskimo was in full coat, but the card read 7 skin (Uh-oh foreshadowing).


Are you sure you want to go that short on your American Eskimo?


Yes, exactly what you did last time.

I had the foresight to have her sign the matted release form. Though it was obvious she seemed confused to do so.

It turns out, the card really read 7 skim. When the client came to pick up her dog, she was expecting a light trim. What she got was a shaved dog. Needless to say, the client was very unhappy. Fortunately for me, this was well before the advent of social media.

I failed on so many levels. I am now a wiser groomer and have instituted measures to prevent this from happening again.

It starts with myself

I look professional. I greet the client, including the pet. My hair is neat, with clean, appropriate clothing. I am aware of my body language. I stand straight. No leaning in any direction and offer my hand. I keep eye contact and smile. However, there are many long-term clients that are greeted with a hug. My attention is always on the client in front of me. The purpose of looking professional is for your clients to have confidence in you. Observe other professionals and how they interact with you when you are in their place of business. How do they make you feel?

“Grooming is all about making a pet look good. If your own personal grooming does not reflect a sense of style and good taste, why should I trust you to make my pet look good?”

­— Kristina N. Lotz,
CPDT-KA editor,

I act professional. It is my job to ensure the client is aware of my policies and procedures. I am responsible for providing clear communication. The conversation I had with the American Eskimo owner was vague. It is not the job of the owner to interpret what I mean. Any written instructions are legible. The handwriting on that particular client’s card was sloppy.

I am the professional. While looking and acting the part offers visual cues to the client, being the professional is a mindset. This is confidence in your skills and in yourself, so that when you inform your clients what needs to be done, it is accepted rather than questioned.

But where do unreasonable expectations come from?

Not setting boundaries 

Allowing the client to tell you what you will do, when the pet is ready, how much they’ll pay, being chronically late or a no show, and consistently rescheduling to name a few. This is where written policies and procedures need implementation and are consistently enforced. When I worked in a shop, we regularly had people show up after closing and expected us to wait. Initially, we did. Then we informed clients that our policy changed.  Any pets left after closing time would now incur a boarding charge. In addition, they could not pick up their pet until the following business day. A miracle happened. Clients picked up their pets before close of business from that day forward.

Over promise-under deliver

I cannot take a matted dog and turn him into a fluff ball. I use the word naked to describe what the matted pet is going to look like. I never agree to “try my best” because when an owner hears that they are now envisioning a fluffy pet and will be disappointed over your perceived promise. You over promised and under delivered. However, if they expect naked and you were able to wet shave and finish with a 5 – you are a hero. In this scenario, you under promised and over delivered. Huge difference.

Absence of non-judgmental options

I am not privy to other people’s personal life. Maybe they are uncaring owners, but what if they are dealing with a sick child, or a loss of job, or any number of other personal issues? None of which is my business. People like options because it gives them a sense of control. A matted dog always gets three options:

  1. I can shave it naked and we start over.
  2. I show them how to brush and comb and we reschedule so they have an opportunity to de-mat their own dog. This is a frequently chosen option. They try and are unable. They come back with a newfound understanding and respect for what we do. This pet usually ends up on a more frequent grooming schedule as well.
  3. I quote them my hourly de-matting price and the approximate time it will take. I have never had anyone take me up on this because it is usually several hundred dollars.

Lack of communication

There are times when we make a promise to a client in good faith, only to realize that it is not possible. This usually involves a shave down. If the style has significantly changed, I do not proceed without client approval. My preferred method is by text, as I will have a written authorization to do so. Phone approval can lead to a he said-she said type of situation.

There are clients that, no matter how professional you are, will never be happy and are often vocal about it. Clients that are encouraged to go elsewhere include those that: use abusive or foul language, and exhibit inappropriate behavior. A note on inappropriate behavior: an elderly client that suddenly engages in such behavior may be indicative of an underlying medical condition, which should be brought to the attention of their family members.

I learned from my “uh-oh” the importance of clear communications with the owner. It allowed me to put in place procedures to ensure that it would not happen again.

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