Staying Connected to Your Clients During a Crisis

By Jennifer Bishop-Jenkins

No doubt the Coronavirus Pandemic has changed our lives and our profession in ways that will take a long time to fully assess. So first, I truly hope that everyone is well and safe.

Groomers who have had to close temporarily are likely in for long hours of work to clean up the resulting messes on lots of pets—not to mention our appointment and financial books. We may even have rifts to heal between industry colleagues over the “essential versus non–essential” chaos that was imposed on us from outside our profession by differing levels of government. 

One of the biggest surprises for me in this historic crisis was how client connection became a big part of my days while staying home. Staying connected to my clients while being forced to be away from them was so important to them—and to me. 

COMMUNICATION FIRST

During the public health emergency, the state of Illinois deemed pet grooming non–essential. Within two days after the Governor ordered us to shelter in place, I knew that my clients would still be trying to reach me. Having the many options of virtual connection to fall back on turned out to be more useful in serving them than I ever could have imagined. 

I acted promptly to communicate to them in any way I could. I used my grooming software system to send out a mass email to all active clients. I changed the answering machine message on my shop’s phone line, and also changed the front page of my business website. I explained that rescheduling appointments once we reopened would have to be done by e–mail and not by phone or pre–booking, as usually was the case. I hung a sign on my front door with the e–mail address. 

I went on neighborhood apps like NextDoor and Facebook’s neighborhood groups. I used Instagram and shared widely with other groomers in my state. I posted on my website and Facebook page how to reach me and reschedule appointments.

But most importantly, I quickly wrote a blog for my website with helpful instructions for short–term home grooming. I made two 15–minute videos and posted them to YouTube. One was on bathing at home and one was on brushing, combing and nails. I shared the link widely. (The videos can be seen at www.LoveFurDogs.com/blog.) I wasn’t trying to teach them how to groom; the videos I made instructed my clients how to do some basic home maintenance—just enough to get through until the emergency order was lifted. 

The technology was surprisingly easy to use, and the positive feedback I got from these videos was truly overwhelming and heartwarming.

Only two days after the stay–at–home order began, and continuing for several weeks, I received many calls and emails from my clients. Much of my time was spent answering them, especially for the first few weeks. I updated my blog with additional advice as the order was extended beyond what we were first told.

PERSONAL, BUT FROM A DISTANCE

When some clients needed a little more attention, I walked them through their fears and discomfort by text or phone, and I never charged them for the service. Almost every day I would use FaceTime to help someone as they attempted to trim a sanitary or the nails. 

Many needed advice on where in the home to groom their pet and I made suggestions such as the top of a washer or dryer, or on a picnic table. Many also needed demonstrations on correct brushing techniques and getting their pet to hold still for grooming. In addition, I helped many of my clients order equipment and tools online—personalized to their home–grooming needs. 

They told me repeatedly how very valuable they found my advice. In particular, they seemed most appreciative of me helping them to prioritize which things they should do now, at home, and what could wait a month or more until they could return to my shop. 

Above all, I stressed the importance of preventing matting. Many of them were causing the very mats they were trying to prevent by washing their dogs without using proper conditioner, or towel–drying afterwards without blowing or brushing them out. I explained undercoat removal to the heavier “fur” style dog owners and line–brushing techniques to my “hair” dog clients. 

THE DESPERATE SEARCH FOR HELP

It was clear in my area that some pet owners were getting desperate. They were beginning to realize just how important our industry is to their pets’ welfare. One day soon I hope we can reflect together on the impact this realization will have on our industry and our professional status. This will be our “new normal.”

Word of mouth being what it is, I began to get some calls from non–clients. If they were in my local area, I asked them if they had been able to reach their regular groomers. If they had tried and not been able to, I coached them as well, as a courtesy. But I always made it clear that their regular groomer would be glad to see them again when they re–opened. 

I did ask non–clients, who somehow found me from all over the nation (and there were a surprising number of these calls), that, in exchange for my time, they at least write a nice on–line review about my willingness to help guide them through some basic home pet care.

THE SCHEDULING CHALLENGE

My front desk receptionist and I began triaging scheduling requests for when we were to reopen, with all the long–term and standing scheduling shot to hell. My new schedule prioritized our most regular clients, older seniors, puppies facing coat–change matting and “hair” dogs over “fur” dogs. By the time this goes to print, I should know what other scheduling wrinkles we are facing. 

UNEXPECTED BENEFITS

My efforts to help ended up making the local news. The Chicago ABC news television channel heard about what I was doing and called me. They ended up filming a feature news story on my coaching needy pet owners about basic grooming at home. They told me right away that their national affiliates were also very interested in the story and they were sharing it with them.

This pandemic has been rough in so many ways, but the silver lining for me is a deeper, more genuinely appreciative relationship between my beloved clients and my shop and staff. They are already telling me how much more they understand and appreciate what we do. The level of emotion in our communication is quite moving. I know that this difficult time will end up being an industry watershed moment, after which our client relationships will be profoundly strengthened.

Once again, the adage proves true that you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone. ✂️

Jennifer Bishop–Jenkins, ICMG was named “Best Groomer in Chicagoland” by the Chicago Tribune. You can find her discussion Group page on Facebook under “Groomers Guide” and more information on her at www.groomersguide.com. Jennifer is currently writing a user–friendly book based on her popular workshop, “The 15 Coat Types (and How to Correctly Groom Them)”. Jennifer is the owner of Love Fur Dogs in Glencoe, Illinois, the Founder and Co–President of the Illinois Professional Pet Groomers Association (www.ippga.com), serves on the NAGA (National Alliance of Grooming Associations) leadership team, and is a retired teacher who shows Miniature Poodles and Australian Shepherds.