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Professional Grooming Marketplace: Groomer Service With a Smile

Posted: May 10, 2013, 9 p.m. EST


Being proactive and resolving problems as they arise helps ensure groomers’ clientele stay happy and loyal.
By Sandi Cain

Customer service may not be top of mind for groomers just starting out, but in an age of Facebook, Twitter and other social media, a customer service misstep could send negative reviews buzzing around the Internet in short order. By using good customer service skills, groomers can solve the problem while earning a client’s loyalty.

Today’s consumers want their pets to get the same consideration they get, reported Rina Myers of A Paw Spa in Littleton, Colo., including personalized service when they come to the salon.

Service With a Smile
Responding to a customer’s concerns and providing the best service experience possible leads to repeat business. Carrie Brenner/I-5 Publishing at Bubbles Dog Grooming and Spa

"People are passionate about their pets and treat them like family,” said Andrew Kim, co-owner of three Healthy Spot retail and grooming shops in the Los Angeles area. "When a customer gets upset…there’s a huge emotional component involved.”

Those types of situations provide an opportunity to resolve problems and earn clients’ business, he said, adding that if an issue isn’t resolved before the customer leaves the shop, it can lead to negative online reviews or losing the customer.

"For every customer who complains, you have five or six who don’t voice anything and likely will not come back,” Kim said.

That possibility is one reason why B.C. Henschen of Platinum Paws in Carmel, Ind., empowers every staff member to do whatever it takes to resolve a mistake, from providing a token merchandise gift to a full refund.

"If you can’t trust what your employee will say to a customer, then you need a new employee or better employee training,” Henschen said.

Preventing complaints starts with clear communication and good training, groomers reported. Some keep detailed records of every visit as backup, while others rely heavily on photos of what different cuts look like to avoid confusion.

"Document everything—not just injuries,” Henschen said.

At Platinum Paws, that includes changes in the dog from the previous visit, whether it’s weight gain or a lump under the skin, he noted. And if there’s any mishap during grooming, employees are instructed to make a note in the file and let the owner know—even if it’s just a minor bleed on a claw trim, Henschen added.

Other groomers, including Christina Crawfis, owner of Crawfis Creatures in Ft. Myers, Fla., send home a report card-style handout after every grooming session. Every pet gets a spa report of what was done and any issues the groomer may have noted, from lumps to rashes or torn nails.

"We review the spa report with the owners when they pick up their pets,” Crawfis said, noting that the review also gives the groomer a chance to educate the client about how often nails should be clipped, or how to spot a yeast infection.

Training employees to handle customers can be tricky business. Healthy Spot’s salons have new employees shadow senior staff to see how they handle issues and learn what’s acceptable in different situations, Kim reported.

"You have to allow some autonomy for staff to resolve problems themselves,” he said. "All such decisions are reviewed at staff meetings to reinforce what works and what doesn’t.”

Industry Voices
What’s the key to customer service?

"Conflict resolution is a big part of customer service.”
—Andrew Kim, co-owner of Healthy Spot in Santa Monica, West Hollywood and Marina Del Rey, Calif.

"Communication. That will avoid most issues because complaints start from misunderstanding.”
—B.C. Henschen, co-owner of Platinum Paws in Carmel, Ind.

"Try to be gracious, speak logically, look the customer in the eye and do a lot of over-explaining.”
—Emily Heupel, owner/operator of Furry Details in Minneapolis

"Be a good listener; there’s a reason we have two ears and one mouth.”
Christina Crawfis, owner of Crawfis Creatures in Ft. Myers, Fla.

"Be honest, don’t hide a mistake, but hold your ground [on client demands].”
Natalie Babcock, owner of Aspen’s in Picton, Ontario, Canada

"Be honest and clear up front.”
Gladys Tay, co-owner of Bubbles & Ecouture in W. St. Paul, Minn.

Crawfis teaches staff to first calm the client and then explain what happened.

"If a person is angry, don’t make light of it,” she said. "Take the owners aside, talk to them and explain,” she added.

The most frequent issues can arise from differe nt definitions of haircuts and trims and those that arise from a lack of understanding about a pet’s grooming needs.

"Some clients are very demanding and have expectations beyond what’s possible to do,” said Natalie Babcock, owner of Aspen’s in Picton, Ontario, Canada. "We try to teach them things like the difference between de-matting and brushing, or what a ‘summer cut’ should look like.”

Many clients have a mental picture of the dog looking like one in a TV commercial, noted Gladys Tay, co-owner of Bubbles & Ecouture in W. St. Paul, Minn. She ends that fantasy by using photos of the cut when the dog arrives. And if a dog is severely matted, Tay has groomers save the mats to show the owner as evidence of why they couldn’t give the cut the owner wanted.

"Once we show them the mats, they have nothing to say, so that’s how we stay out of trouble,” Tay said.

When a client of Furry Details Grooming for Dogs in Minneapolis doesn’t like the cut, owner Emily Heupel said she simply takes notes and a photo and adds those to the dog’s file for the future.

Other complaints arise from how short the nails were trimmed or a dog that’s still scratching after being groomed, according to Debbie Foster, owner of Debbie’s Pet Boutique in Windsor, Calif.

"It requires education to explain why nails can’t be shorter or that there’s no miracle drug for itching,” she said.

Despite everyone’s best efforts, accidents will happen from time to time, and shop owners need to be prepared. Many groomers reported they will call the client, offer a trip to the vet or offer a discount. Others, like Platinum Paws, go the extra mile. There, employees also offer to take the dog to a vet and pay for the visit and transportation, Henschen said. For other issues, the shop will correct the problem and follow up later, he added.

One thing groomers such as Aspen’s Babcock won’t do: Give discounts to people who are shopping for a better deal.

"If it’s a good cut, but not what they expected, I’ll do a discount but not a refund,” she said.

Customers will always try to deal, Tay of Bubbles & Ecouture agreed.

"We tell them to try a few other places and then call back, because we want quality customers who appreciate what we do,” she said

Documentation can save the day if something goes wrong. Debbie’s Pet Boutique has a "fuzzy form” granting permission to take sick dogs to the vet and another that informs clients of potential after-effects of services like de-matting or close eye trimming, Foster said.

"We also have a $1 million pet liability policy added to the shop insurance,” she said, noting that it covers unexpected situations like an escape artist dog that gets injured, an allergic reaction or any situation that calls for a vet visit.

Groomers need to make sure the animals are covered by insurance along with the equipment and building—and to check policy coverage annually, Henschen noted, adding that making sure new client forms conform to state law is also a good idea.

"Liability waivers will not save you a lawsuit,” he said.

In the end, good customer service can make the difference in a grooming shop. Nearly 99 percent of the time, the customer is right, Foster said.

 "Always be on your game and ready to resolve problems,” she said.

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