Imagine two scenarios:
In the first one, a new student is showing up with their rambunctious puppy to their very first puppy training class. They are nervous and excited and do not know what to expect. They begin to approach the business, the door opens and they are welcomed with a smiling person, in clothing with the business’s name on it, who says a cheerful hello, introduces themselves with a handshake, asks their puppy’s name and welcomes them to class. They help the new student get their puppy in the door and direct them to where they should sit. As soon as the new student moves on, they are happily greeted by another worker who helps them to their spot, checks them in to class and gives them a few pointers on how to keep their puppy settled while the rest of the class comes in.
In the second one, this same student struggles to get the door open, keep their puppy with them and not trip over them. They are greeted with a hello and smile but no welcome or handshake introduction. They are asked their puppy’s name. The person is kind and smiling and asks them to take a seat. No one interacts with them until the class starts.
The second one is not poor service, but it is far from excellence. It lacks the common courtesy from the first scenario and has not put the client at ease. Yes, this may be specific to a dog training the class, but the same applies for any time a client walks into a business the first time. They are unsure of what to expect, so why not go above and beyond their expectations? And do not just think about it as a first impression, but as something that should happen every time they walk through your door or communicate with you via email, phone or through your social media channels. In this post, I am going to go through all of these ways that we communicate with our clients and how to provide excellence in customer service for each through the simple act of common courtesy and being polite. I will be discussing this in the context of dog training, but these apply to any business.
The basics are the simple gestures of a smile, handshake and eye contact. When you meet someone for the first time you should always extend this basic social gesture. This includes everyone in the family, including children. I’m always amazed at how many children do not expect you to introduce yourself to them. It is just as important to put them at ease and build a rapport as it is their parents. Take the time to meet each family member before interacting with their dog. When you do say hello to the dog, be sure to provide a compliment such as “You have the best ears” or “I love your full body wiggles”. Just be sure to say something different for each dog in the class and be genuine. Do not forget to introduce youself each class if a new family member attends the training. You should take care to also record the names of all family members on your attendance to ensure you remember these for each class. And greet each of them individually for every class. Ask them how they are doing, inquire about how things are going with a specific challenge they had or discuss something they mentioned at a previous class. This demonstrates that you are genuinely interested in them and their dog.
I know many dog trainers struggle with this because either the class is busy, there are other distractions or because we immediately start thinking of solutions to their questions or struggles instead of listening. However, I also think in today’s world we are bombarded by so many distractions that this can be a challenge for many of us. When a client asks you a question or is discussing something with you, stop what you are doing and listen. Be aware of your body language with this one. If you are thinking about what tasks you have to complete, or about your phone beeping in your pocket, or anything else, your body language will show that. Look at the person, lean towards them, nod your head and listen. A great idea is to also paraphrase while they are talking to you. For example, if they are discussing the frustrations of their puppy constantly mouthing them, say something like “It must be overwhelming when you feel like you cannot interact with your puppy without them using you as a chew toy.” This demonstrates that you are listening and are engaged with them.
Have you said this one before? “I always remember the names of the dogs, but can never remember the people’s names.” Calling people by their first name has a tremendous impact and one that dog trainers often feel they can forget about as long as they remember the dog’s name. What you are actually doing is demonstrating that you just put more effort in the remembering the dog’s name and not the person’s name. Do not fall into this trap and make an active effort to remember everyone’s names. Refer regularly to your attendance list and make the effort to call them by their first name. I will often go and review the list before approaching students during exercises or to demo with their dogs. There is no harm in them seeing you make that effort to remember their name. This is a simple way to go above and beyond to build a relationship and provide excellence to the client.
Do not answer the phone with just a hello. Even if it is your cell phone. Whichever number you give to clients to use is your business number, so always answer it like a business line. Sound cheerful and have a set greeting such as, “Hello, you’ve reached dogma training & pet services. This is Megan speaking, how may I help you?” This provides consistency if you have a team, and only designate team with exceptional client skills and proper phone etiquette to answer the phone. Answer the phone only if you have time to speak with the client. In an ideal world, the client should always hear a live person on the phone, but I know this can be a challenge at certain times. If there is too much noise, you cannot give your full attention due to any type of distraction (for example, we can get very busy during pick up and drop off at our dog daycare), then let it go to voicemail. You are better to return their call when you can listen and have time for the client, then to answer, be distracted or have to tell them you are too busy and need to call them back. The same basic rules apply to phone etiquette; listen, smile and be polite. And always return phone calls in a timely manner. We aim for an hour during business hours, but have at least a 24 hour maximum return time. If you cannot do this, you need to look at solutions to increase your service.
First off, always answer emails in a timely fashion. If you do not answer them over holidays or weekends, be sure to communicate that or set up an auto-responder. Aim to always transmit warmth in your emails. Many people feel that communication gets lost in email, but I find it is more often that we do not take the time to extend genuine warmth and sincerity through them. To best describe this, let’s take a look at two examples. These are replies to a client, Anita, who has emailed an inquiry about training their new puppy.
We do offer puppy classes. Our Puppy School class starts next Wednesday at 7 pm and runs for one hour a week for six weeks. We will provide socialization exercises and basic training such as sit, coming when called and loose leash walking. You can register for the class by calling us or through our website.
Thank you for your email and congratulations on your new puppy! We understand that puppyhood can be a fun but challenging time, so our Puppy School classes are designed to help you teach your dog how to exist in our busy human world and to teach basic manners. We provide excellent socialization opportunities with people, other dogs, objects, noises and a variety of other exercises to help turn your puppy into the confident canine companion you desire. We will also teach basic obedience skills such as sit, coming when called and loose leash walking and help to prevent behaviour problems from developing.
Our entire training team is here to ensure you develop a successful relationship with your dog and we look forward to being a part of this journey. Our Puppy School class starts next Wednesday at 7 pm. The class runs for an hour, every Wednesday, for six consecutive weeks. You can register for the class by calling us at 555-865-0932 or through our website at thisspecificlink.com.
Please contact us if you have any further questions and we look forward to meeting you and Bear!
These examples demonstrate that you can extend that same warmth as you can in person. Always try to communicate more in your email exchanges versus just providing the basic information. This applies for all emails, not just when they first contact you. For example, if I had completed a private session with the dog I would start by saying what a pleasure it was to meet them and perhaps something I really enjoyed about the session. These small gestures go a long way in developing client relations. And always reply to emails. Even it if is just a simple ‘thank you’ or ‘you are welcome’ statement.
Social Media Courtesy
The world of social media is still fairly new to many businesses. Read through my post about social media to learn why this is important for today’s business. Social media is an ideal way to improve client relations and promote your business. Do not ignore this area and ensure you are frequently updating and providing your clients with new, engaging and relevant information. Take care to spell names correctly on pictures and to have proper grammar and spelling. Be as professional on your social media as you are in other areas. Social media is a new form of communication, so do not ignore it or put it on the back burner. If a client sends a message through Facebook, then provide a response in a timely fashion and with the same etiquette as you would through an email. Like or reply to client’s comments on Facebook, or mark Tweets and Instagram pictures as favourites. This is a simple way to develop relationships and interact frequently with your clients.
Past First Impressions
Go above and beyond every time you interact with your existing or potential clients. Treat everyone as equals and extend the same courtesy and manners throughout your entire relationship with them. By providing excellence in customer service and just taking those small steps to exude more warmth and a genuine interest, you develop long lasting relationships. The rapport you develop will be crucial in the success they have with their dogs. The more they feel that you care and the more trust the client has in you, the more commitment they will have to the training.
There are so many ways we can provide excellence in customer service through our overall manners. Do you have some other ideas or ways that you do this? Share your thoughts or suggestions below!