15 Tips on how to develop good relationships with your pet sitting clients
"I want to start a pet sitting business because I'm tired of working with people - I want to work with pets. Pets are a lot nicer than people!"
If you are thinking of starting a pet sitting business and the above quote is where your mindset is, stop, and think again.
I've met more than a few people at pet sitting conferences and in other places who were thinking about starting a pet sitting business because they were tired of corporate America or whatever other fields they were in and wanted to hang out with pets all day and stay clear of people.
In order to run a pet sitting business with a good reputation, you have to interact and collaborate with people. The dogs and cats and birds and guinea pigs you take care of, as sweet and cute as they are, can't write you a check for your services. They can't call you on their cell phones, and they certainly can't e-mail you. Heck, they can't even read!
Yes, it is true that you will have furry or feathery pets as clients, but you will also have human clients - their owners and they are the ones who will set up pet care with you. It is imperative that you work hard to develop good relationships with your clients. If not your business and your business reputation will suffer.
Customer service, as I've stated before in other posts, is very important. Pet sitting is a collaboration between a pet sitter and pet owner that benefits everyone involved, especially and including, the pets. It is imperative to learn good customer service skills.
I've met a few pet sitters along the way with lousy people skills and they didn't last too long in the field, so if pet sitting interests you and you don't have good people skills, you might want to work on that aspect of your personality.
Developing a positive relationship with your pet sitting clients is crucial to the success of your business. You set the tone for your business. The more you meet the clients' needs, the better the business reputation you will have, and the more clients you will have.
I've developed some tips to help you develop a good relationship with your clients. I believe they are helpful! I want to see all pet sitters thrive in the field and all pets and pet clients to be happy with their pet sitters.
Here are my tips:
1. A good relationship starts with "Hello". It starts with the initial inquiry phone call or e-mail, and the first impressions the potential clients pick up from your interaction with them. It shows that you are professional and have a good attitude. Be cheerful, friendly, open, welcoming. Do not be short-tempered, cold, or super business-like.
2. Let a potential client's first encounter with you be at a pace that is not rushed. Let them ask you whatever questions they have about how your pet sitting service works. This shows that you are setting the stage going forward that you will be attentive to their needs. This tip might be at odds a little bit with very large pet sitting businesses who operate a little more corporately and do initial contacts mainly online, but for the start-up and smaller businesses, take the luxury of time. It may not seem necessary to you, but it is for the client, so don't rush.
3. Be responsive. After the person is your client, respond to their calls and e-mails in a timely fashion. It helps if they know the time frame in which you will try and get back to them if they leave a message. For instance, let your clients know that in general the early mornings and later afternoons are busier because that is usually meal time for pets and you are generally busy during those times. This will let them know that you'll get back to them asap after your pet runs are done. Give them office hours on your voice mail system so they know if they leave a message say, after 8 pm, you will return their call in the morning. Unless of course, you like late-night calls. It is up to you.
4. Get to know your clients' pets and let them know in your notes or conversations with them that you know their pets. This tells them you are attentive and are observant of their pets' behaviors. When you know a pet, you can better meet their needs, and thereby you are meeting the clients' needs of good pet care. But if the client isn't aware that you know the little things about their pets' personalities, then they can't know how great of a job you are doing with their pets. Only parrots can talk to their owners, not the dogs, cats, turtles, etc.... so you have to speak up with what you know. LOL!
5. Go the extra mile for your clients. One of my pet sitting principles was that my goal was to love their pets and care for them as if they were my own, so I'd often go the extra mile for a client. A visit might be five minutes longer than the usual time set aside for a visit because the dog just really needed those extra minutes outside, or you're at a client's home when it starts thundering and so you stay a bit longer to calm a dog you know who is afraid of thunder, or maybe you just have a little extra time in your schedule and you stay an extra 10 minutes. Let the clients know.
6. Plan some perks for your clients. One thing I used to do for the clients I sat for on Easter Sunday was to make little Easter baskets for their pets filled with treats. They were small baskets that held a plastic egg which I filled with treats and surrounded with Easter grass. I didn't give them to the pet on Easter, but left them (usually in the microwave where the pets couldn't' get into) and would leave a note for the client letting them know that the Easter bunny made a special delivery. At Christmas, it might be a small stocking (4" that you buy at Walmart or a Dollar Store for 3/$1.00) filled with treats. These types of things bring goodwill to the client/pet sitter relationship and show that you truly care. Plus, it is just fun to do! If you aren't creative, ask a family member to make things, or perhaps enlist the help of a senior neighbor who needs something constructive to do. The possibilities are endless.
7. When a client calls to let you know their pet passed away, take the time to listen. Share memories. Send a condolence card. Give them a phone call a couple of weeks after their pet passed to see how they are doing. As another pet lover, you understand how they are feeling. Let them know if there is a pet grief support group in the area or send them the Rainbows Bridge poem.
8. Thank them. Sometimes clients go the extra mile for their pet sitter - maybe with a reference to a friend/co-worker. Maybe they send you a note or a gift card for Christmas, or perhaps they are great with passing along changes in what needs to be done while you are pet sitting. There is nothing better than a great client who knows the importance of communicating and collaborating with their sitter. Thank your clients for their consideration.
9. I always found that publishing a newsletter was something that built up a good connection with clients. Some people publish an online newsletter, and I did that for a while, but I think if a sitter has time, a good old fashioned paper printed newsletter is the best. I'd send out my newsletters to each client and I'd decorate the envelopes with pet-related stickers to brighten them up. This takes a little extra time, but for me it was fun, and I wanted my clients to feel special when they received this mail. After all, it is great to get something cheery in the mail every once in a while that isn't a bill or piece of junk mail.
10. Another thing that builds a good relationship with clients is total honesty if you mess up. One time, I accidentally knocked over a wine glass that the client left on the counter. I was filling up the dog water bowl, and I thought I had enough clearance to get around it, but I didn't. So the glass fell and broke. I cleaned it up and made sure to tell the client what happened and offered to reimburse her for the wine glass. Better to be honest, then just toss the glass and hope the client never notices. To me, that would be a huge no-no. Plus, if it is a big-ticket item, pet sitters have insurance (or should have insurance), so always go with "honesty is the best policy".
11. Apologize. If you are in a rush and can't talk with a client at that moment, apologize and promise to get back to them asap. Pet sitters can have busy days - very busy days and not all calls can be attended to at that very moment. So if you have to end a call shorter than you'd like, apologize, and make arrangements to get back to them asap, and then do so.
12. If you see coupons for the brand of pet food a client uses, toss them in their client file and the next time you visit, leave them on the counter with a little note.
13. Share a bit of who you are with clients either via phone calls, e-mails, or through your newsletter. Pet sitting is truly a "warm and fuzzy" profession, and it has been my experience that although the relationships are professional, they are warmly professional, and so it is okay to do some chit-chatting with clients. But do this only if you think it is welcomed by the client. Some clients prefer to be all business and that is fine, but some clients want to make a real human connection with their sitter, and so be open to that. I've had clients tell me that I'm like part of the family, and that warms my heart to no end. You have to go with the level of sharing that both parties are interested in because, in the end, it is a business reputation you want to build, but the reality is also that we are all human beings floating around on this little blue marble called Earth and so we are truly "all in this together".
14. Take the time to give good advice. Clients will seek you out for all sorts of questions - like why isn't my cat using the litter box but piddling on the floor instead, or my dog got squirted by a skunk, what do I do now? Or they might ask how to desensitize a pet to thunderstorms or how to acclimate a cat to use the cat carrier to go to the vet. If you don't know something, just say so and make sure you always refer them to check with their vet if you offer any special remedies and you aren't a vet.
15. Let your clients know that you are constantly learning. Let them know what pet-related books you are reading, when you take a pet first aid class, or when you attend a conference, or when you teach a class. This all adds to building a good relationship with clients.
When I look back at the various professionals whose services I've had to utilize throughout my life, I have found that it was those professionals who took the extra time with me, who were kind and thoughtful, and who sometimes gave me a little perk that made me use their services over and over again or want to recommend their services to others.
As I've mentioned before I wanted to create a business that made me happy as well as my clients happy. I wanted it to be a way of life, not just a means of making an income. Building a good reputation and relationship with clients makes everyone happier and more relaxed.
So enjoy the pets while pet sitting, but also enjoy the people!
Questions for pet sitters:
How are your people skills? If they aren't great, pick up some good books on customer service and relationships.
What do you do now that creates goodwill between you and your clients? What more can you do? Which of the tips I listed above will you be trying out?
Questions for pet owners:
Have you ever ditched a pet sitter because of poor customer service skills?
What makes the pet sitter you have now such a "keeper"?