Engaging Tech: Reaching a New Breed of Pet Owners
Changing consumer behaviors requires new technology to attract, engage and retain your customers.
Maybe it was the first text you got from a client telling you they were running late. Or maybe it was when your customer’s pet surpassed you in the number of Facebook friends she had. Regardless of when, you’ve probably noticed that technology has quickly changed how you interact with customers. This is an age when people can request a ride on Uber, book a restaurant reservation on OpenTable and rent a vacation apartment on Airbnb—all in a matter of minutes at any time day or night.
Which means playing voicemail tag or requiring customers to call you between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. to check appointment availability is no longer an acceptable service experience.
But this is good news. The truth is that whether your business is a one-woman mobile grooming salon or a 100-room pet hotel, you can take advantage of this shift in consumer behavior to deliver even better service.
But time is short, and you don’t want to fall behind the tech curve or your competition. Read on to see how pet businesses like yours can use technology to exceed customer expectations, make your staff more efficient and reduce costs in the process.
Easy Online Booking Wherever and Whenever Clients Are Looking
Ease and convenience are the new requirements for appointment booking. Your clients might only have a minute between meetings at work or after putting the kids to bed, and a full 25 percent of millennials, one of your most important customer demographics, say that they will only go to businesses where they can book online. You want to provide a booking experience that signals to your clients that your pet care business is easy to work with, cares about their time and is ready for their business.
Accepting bookings online from your website is important, but according to data we recently collected at MyTime, pet care businesses get 20 percent or more of their appointments directly from booking integrations with search engines (Google and Bing), social networks (Facebook) and review sites. In addition, 42 percent of online bookings happen outside business hours, and a whopping 65 percent of online bookings are made on a mobile device. Paper phone books are virtually unused, so you must be discovered online to be booked.
Listing management is a critical piece of software that makes sure you have an accurate and up-to-date listing on the sites that matter. Even better is to have a Book Appointment button on these sites so customers can take action with zero friction. By enabling online booking for your business at as many places as possible and ensuring that the online booking experience is mobile-optimized, you maximize the chance that an online searcher will turn into a paying client.
Text Messages Are the New Email
Texting has become a universally preferred communication method, with 98 percent open rates (as compared to 15 to 25 percent for email). It might not be a good idea to share your personal mobile number with hundreds of clients, however, for obvious privacy reasons (not to mention angry spouses annoyed that your phone won’t stop buzzing). Instant messaging also has become a powerful alternative way for business owners to engage clients with messaging rather than calls, especially in the pet care industry. According to the Global Mobile Messaging Consumer Report 2016, nine out of 10 consumers prefer to interact with local businesses through messaging, more than any other channel.
For example, the staff at AZ Pet Stylist in Gilbert, Ariz., uses text messaging to share pictures of each newly groomed dog with the pet owner. This shows off the skill of the groomer and puts the owner’s mind at ease, while at the same time letting the owner know that their dog is ready for pickup.
Text messaging leads to better customer engagement as well because it is so easy and convenient to send a message. Anything that facilitates customer interaction outside of visits to your business is a good thing—it keeps your services top of mind and moves your customers and potential customers down the funnel to actually making an appointment with you.
Automation Is Your New Best Friend
You already know a lot about your clients and their pets. The key is to organize and use that information to help you manage and grow your business.
Interactive, automated appointment confirmations via email or text ensure that clients show up, reducing no-shows by 50 to 75 percent, according to MyTime data, and eliminating the need for staff to call clients. Automated re-booking reminders based on the expected time between appointments can re-engage lapsed clients or make them book just a little sooner than they otherwise would. Required intake forms and waivers can be sent automatically to new clients or included as part of the online booking process, saving your staff and clients time when they arrive.
Marketing experts have shown that it costs five times as much to attract a new customer than to keep an existing one. As a result, it is far more cost-effective to focus your time on retaining your current customers rather than acquiring new customers. When done well, automated marketing helps you be more personal with your clients and increase their loyalty and annual spend with you as a result.
Control of the Review Conversation
Consumers trust online reviews. In fact, one of the scarier stats is that 88 percent of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal referrals. A Harvard University study revealed that a one-star increase in a business’s Yelp rating resulted in as much as a 9 percent increase in sales, so every action you take to get better reviews has a direct impact on revenue for your business.
That doesn’t mean you have to be at the mercy of fickle reviewers. Your happy customers want to help you succeed—you just have to ask them. Using technology, you can get pretty sophisticated about it, surveying customers for their satisfaction after an appointment and directing happy clients to leave a review online while directing unhappy customers to a private feedback form. Monitoring tools can notify you whenever a new review is posted, helping you respond quickly and appropriately.
And That’s Just the Tip of the Iceberg
At MyTime, we’ve seen pet businesses use technology in all the ways above to successfully attract and engage their clients as consumer behavior changes. These ideas just scratch the surface, though. As consumers and your staff get more and more savvy, and as your business gets more complex, technological advances open up new ways to simplify and amplify what you do best in serving your clients and their pets.
Ethan Anderson is the founder and CEO of MyTime, which produces the leading cloud scheduling and marketing application for pet service businesses. Prior to MyTime, he was a product manager at Google on its Consumer Search team and founder of Redbeacon, which allowed consumers to request bids for home service jobs, prior to its acquisition by The Home Depot. Ethan holds an MBA from Harvard Business School and a BA from Duke University.