By Deborah Hansen
In the field of grooming, cats tend to bring out emotions and opinions. With strong emotions and opinions on the groomer’s side, how does customer service fit into your business model?
How do we successfully balance “the customer is always right” verses “humanity before vanity” so we can stay in business?
Growing up, I repeatedly heard “the customer is always right”. When I entered the grooming industry, I began to wonder…are they? We are in an industry whose motto is “humanity before vanity”. When your business focuses on humane grooming of every cat, it becomes impossible for every customer to get what they want. Matted cats will not always go home in full, flowing coats. Elderly cats will not always go home in a summer lion cut. When “humanity before vanity” is your motto, the customer cannot always be right.
Did I just say that? The customer is not always right? Yes, that is exactly what I said. That leads us to the next question. If the customer is not always right, how do we stay in business and keep them as our customers?
Education is the key to customer service in a field that focuses on always doing what is best for the cat. We have to educate our clients in order for them to understand why they cannot always have what they want. It is through client education that we get matted cats onto a regular schedule so they can have long, flowing coats. It is through client education that we help elderly cats gracefully move into the next phase of their grooming life; from lion cut to comb cut.
When a new client walks in the door, they usually have a picture or some idea in their head of what they want their cat to look like after the groom. Usually coat condition, age, genetics, living environment and/or diet limit what we can do at this first visit. You have two choices: you can agree to do what the client wants, or you can tell the client that it is not possible at this visit. If it is not possible at this visit, provide education so the client understands why their vision is not an option for today’s grooming services.
Providing education makes the difference between never seeing that cat again and that cat getting onto a regular schedule. So, how do we successfully educate a client? We educate by presenting verbal, written and online instruction.
That can be overwhelming and intimidating, especially for a new groomer. But remember, any step toward change is a step in the right direction. Don’t get overwhelmed. Start small and move forward at a pace that is right for your business.
Early in my house–call career, I had a call to groom a purebred Himalayan. The current owner was a very successful business owner and the previous owner was a very successful politician. After much name–dropping, I was terrified. As soon as I touched the cat, I knew it was not humane to provide the requested service. I also knew the cat was aggressive. I took a deep breath, the cat literally growled, and I started reciting everything I was taught as to why this cat needed a lion cut. To my amazement, the client agreed. To this day, that client is a five–weeker.
The first two years I dreaded his appointment. I always had to tell the owner that his newest request was not an option due to the aggression level of the cat. Since I could explain why I was declining his request, he would grumble and then generously tip me. Over the years, I have been able to slowly use verbal education to help educate him on what is best for his cat. Verbal education is the key that flipped this one–time client to a ten–grooms–a–year client.
About six months after I opened my grooming business, I started providing written information on why cats need grooming, humanity vs vanity grooming, and what to expect after a cat gets groomed. If you can write or gather information that supports these three key areas, it will go miles to helping your clients understand the entire cat grooming process. Written information is a great tool to present to a client at drop–off to help them prepare for pick–up. It will establish you as a knowledgeable professional and will decrease the questions you will receive at pick–up and in the following days.
Online education reaches your clients before you even know they are your clients. Using your website to refer (link) clients to educational information will not only show your clients you are a professional, but will also help them self–educate. When your website informs a client that elderly cats will not get a lion cut, then links out to another source, it raises your credibility and also helps build the relationship with your client.
Today I had a new client cat named Lemon. Lemon’s owner had spent extensive time on my website before they scheduled an appointment. From my website, the owner learned that older cats, like Lemon, may not be candidates for a lion cut. After I checked Lemon’s weight and hydration, and spoke on other topics that were not covered on my website, an instant respect was formed, which gave the client confidence that I would provide the best possible grooming services for Lemon.
In the grooming industry, the customer is not always right. We must use education to teach the client why they cannot have what they are asking for, and to teach them the alternative ways to get the desired outcome they were hoping for. Cat groomers should use client education to their advantage. Educating owners before their scheduled appointment by using your website to its full potential, then at drop–off and pick–up, using verbal and written information, will not only build your reputation, but increase your loyal and faithful client base. ✂️