The Art of Setting Expectations - Groomer to Groomer

Grooming Matters

The Art of Setting Expectations

By Daryl Conner

Sometimes a customer is unhappy with your grooming. In my experience, a huge percentage of the time this is due to the pet owner having an expectation of what the end result of the groom is going to look like, which is different from what the experienced groomer knows the pet will look like.

Here is an example

A customer comes in with a 9 month old Shih Tzu puppy for its first groom.  The dog has not been brushed or combed since birth and is encased in some very impressive matts and tangles.  The owner brandishes a photo of a Shih Tzu, in long flowing coat, with the hair on its head tied up in a sweet, neat, little blue bow.  “I want him to look like this,” she says. Now, let’s see this groom through its natural conclusion, with two different scenarios.

Scenario #1

The groomer says, “Oh, well, he’s kind of matted, I can’t make him look quite like that.  He’s going to be shorter than that.”  In her mind she is envisioning how the dog is going to look when she peels that coat off with a 7f blade.

“I don’t want him too short,” the owner says. The groomer, wanting to avoid an unpleasant confrontation says, “I’ll do the best I can.” The owner goes happily tripping out the door, picturing her puppy looking just like the dog in the picture she left, right down to that cunning little bow.

All day long she gleefully looks forward to picking up her puppy, clean and pretty, and showing him off to her family and friends.  At the designated pick up time, she flounces into grooming shop, all smiles.  But the smile fades fast when she is presented with a wiggly, smooth coated dog, without enough hair for even that bow!

This is where the fireworks start.  And the storm doesn’t just stay in the grooming shop; it splashes out over the internet.  The echoes of her displeasure are far flung, reaching hundreds, maybe even thousands of people. People who might have been potential clients, but they have now heard one unhappy person’s very negative thoughts about this grooming business.  It is all very unfair and one sided.  It’s also very preventable.

Scenario #2

The groomer takes the customer and her puppy to the grooming area and explains a bit about the process.  “In order for me to leave your dog’s coat long like in the picture, I will need to be able to get a comb from his skin to the tips of the hair.”

Placing the puppy on the table, and showing the owner the comb in question, the groomer demonstrates the severity of the tangles in the pet’s coat. She hands the owner a comb and lets her try it out. The dog will no doubt register displeasure with the process, since this is all new to him.

“Unfortunately his coat is too tangled to have him look the way you want him to this time. It would be painful for him to try to brush and comb these matts out. So today I will be clipping him very close, and when you pick him up, his coat will be short and smooth.”  The groomer is educating the customer, and then, she adds a bonus an option. People like options.  “After today we can get him on a regular schedule, and I’ll show you how to maintain his coat at home between grooming, as well.  Then we can grow his hair out to look just the way you desire.”

To really make sure the customer has the idea, the groomer shows her a few pictures of Shih Tzu that have been clipped close.  The customer may not been too happy, but she is able to anticipate what her puppy will look like upon pick up, and she leaves the groomer with a clear understanding of what to expect.  When she picks her dog up she can appreciate how clean and sweet and cute he is, despite her disappointment, because she expected the results she received.


As professional groomers we know exactly what the grooming process entails, and we have a pretty good idea what each pet will look like in the end, based on our experience.  It is totally unfair of us to assume that the general pet owning public understands our work.  Think about it this way; most groomers have no idea what goes into the process of replacing the brakes on our car, or preparing the evening’s food in a busy restaurant. Our Shih Tzu owning customer might be an excellent auto mechanic or fabulous chef, but we cannot expect them to know the ins and outs of grooming.  It is our job to educate them, kindly, just as we would hope someone would educate us about skills we are unfamiliar with.

To prevent unhappy customers, make sure that you:

Listen carefully to what the customer is saying they desire.

Repeat what you heard them say back to them so you are sure you understood.

If you cannot give them what they are hoping for, set clear expectations on what their pet will look like when the groom is completed.  Keep photos on hand to show them examples of groomed pets that look similar to their breed.

Take time to offer education to the customer so that they will understand a little more about how and why their pet will receive the grooming you anticipate you will be providing. The time you invest in this education will help build your relationship with the customer in a positive way.

Sticker Shock

It is not just the appearance of the pet that can cause an unpleasant surprise. Sticker shock at pick up time can cause people to become very upset, as well. If they are expecting to pay your small dog groom price, and are hit unexpectedly with an additional $60 de-matting charge, things can go badly, fast!

Here is an example about setting pricing expectations:  A new customer recently brought me an Australian terrier to groom. The dog is a retired champion, and he wanted it groomed to breed standard.  He complained that the previous groomer had charged too much.  That stopped me in my tracks.

“If you want your dog groomed to look like the champion he is, that requires hand stripping.  That is a time consuming skill and must be charged for accordingly.”  The man nodded his head, “I know, but it gets expensive.”  I offered an option, “How about this; you give me a budget and I will hand strip some coat to preserve some of the color and texture.  Then I will use clippers and scissors to create the proper outline, but not go over your budget.”  His eyes lit up.  He gave me a generous budget to work with, and was very happy with the end result.  He knew exactly how much I was going to charge before he left his pet with me, and I knew just how much time to invest.  It was a win/win situation that left us both happy.

Being clear in your communications can be tricky, challenging, and downright scary sometimes, but is a corner stone to building happy clientele that not only come back on a regular basis, but also sing your praises to their friends.

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