Pet Sitting - First Impressions
Updated: Apr 28, 2020
Pets always make a great first impression - how can we not be impressed by their cuteness and honesty? Just take a look at the photo I posted here - this is Boo - it is impossible for him to make a bad first impression. His friendly face, great eye contact, body slightly leaning forward shows interest in the photographer and his relaxed body language easily makes a good first impression. People, on the other hand, can give mixed first impressions, so this is the topic of today's blog.
First impressions in pet sitting, or any other profession for that matter, are important and set the stage going forward in any type of relationship, so it should be of utmost concern to all of us how we present ourselves to others. Our personal presentation can make or break the potential for a great connection. Very few of us are perfect at first impressions, but it is important to try our best and always aim to improve ourselves.
You've probably heard the quote "You don't have a second chance to make a first impression". Well, in pet sitting, sometimes we do have a second chance. First impressions in pet sitting happen in two waves. The first wave is via the initial phone contact and the second, if the first goes well, is at the in-person Meet and Greet session. If the phone impression stinks, then there won't really be a chance for the second wave to happen. ( If you want to include an e-mail first impression here, feel free, but for the purpose of this article, we will just cover the phone and in-person impressions.)
As far as the initial phone call is concerned, both parties on the call are taking an assessment of the other, be it a conscious or unconscious assessment. Potential clients are listening to the information being given and to see if the pet sitter understands their needs. Each person's phone demeanor, tone of voice, openness, confidence, and mutual concern for the pets is being assessed by the other. How this phone call goes could determine whether a Meet and Greet will be scheduled.
Here's an example: I once had a phone call where the potential client immediately became demanding and said, "I'm going away for the next four days. I want you to come to my house only once, halfway through my trip, to feed refill the cats' food bowl. You don't have to clean the litter box - I usually only clean it once a week anyway. I will leave the key under the doormat. How much do you charge?". I asked for more information and started to explain my services, which required at least one visit per day for cats. He immediately interjected that he didn't want/ need daily visits and that I was just trying to con him out of his money. Needless to say, this pet sitter/client connection never ended up happening. He was angry right from the get-go, kept interrupting me, and no amount of my calmness and good customer service skills did any good. He hung up on me because I was like "all the others".
Another example: A worried woman called me for information about my pet sitting service. She had a bad experience with another pet sitter in the past and was hesitant to get another pet sitter but was in need. I spent a longer time than usual on the initial call and answered all her questions. By the end of the call, she felt an initial level of trust and we booked the Meet and Greet. At the Meet and Greet I tried extra hard to gain her trust and reassure her that I was trustworthy. My efforts paid off because she became a client - and a long-term client too!
Regarding first impressions at the Meet and Greet I would suggest to all pet sitters, especially new sitters who are just starting out, that it is important to arrive a few minutes early to the client's home. A few minutes, not ten minutes, but maybe five minutes. Just don't be late. Being late sends a negative message that you aren't prompt or responsible, and if you show up late for this most important of meetings, then the potential client might assume that you might also show up late for your scheduled pet visits.
A first impression also includes how clients will view us that first time. Although pet sitters work in a field where jeans are the norm, when sitters attend a Meet and Greet, it is important to make sure that jeans are not dirty or ripped. You're probably thinking that you know better and I shouldn't have to say that, but it has been my experience that some people do need a reminder. Shirts should not be wrinkled and clothing should be modest! No muscle shirts for guys and no low cut blouses or short shorts for women. A Meet and Greet is a professional meeting and so present yourself accordingly. Also, shoes or sneaks (or tennis shoes if you are from California!), should be in decent shape, and you should be decently well-groomed without a cup of coffee in your hand.
First impressions from the sitter to the potential client should also include good manners, a smiling face, calmness, eye-contact, confidence, and a professional demeanor. For instance, because pet sitters go in and out of people's homes all the time and are "used to it", the Meet and Greet should not be overly casual. Friendly yes, but not overly casual. What I mean is that the client will welcome the sitter into their home and the sitter shouldn't stride in like they are already familiar with it. The sitter should not immediately greet the pet unless he/she approaches the sitter. Let the client introduce the pets to the sitter.
Once the initial hellos and introductions are done, the informational session will begin. The pet sitter should be mindful of the time. This adds to a positive first impression. I would give the potential client a heads up that I will need one to one and a half hours (depending on the number of pets) of their time to get the information I need and give time for the client to show me where the pet care supplies are and discuss other duties, plus a little time to interact with the pets. This initial information can be given during the initial phone call and then repeated once the pet sitter is at the Meet and Greet. Note that the client will be observing how the sitter presents him/herself, conducts the informational interview, and interacts with their pets. I would make sure to keep the interview within the time frame as much as possible.
Likewise, the sitter will be observing whether the house is pet safe or not, how the client interacts with their pets, and how the clients are presenting themselves. First impressions go both ways. As an example: On two occasions I attended Meet and Greets where I quickly discovered that the clients were hoarders. Boxes to the ceiling, papers, and trash everywhere. Still trying to be polite, I let the clients know that it didn't seem to me that the house was pet safe and I wouldn't be able to take on the responsibility for pet care. Interestingly enough, both of these clients were given my name by their local Veterinarians. Because the houses were not only not pet safe, but also a danger for the pets, I contacted their Vet offices and the vets contacted the Humane Society. (Pet sitters, like child care workers in many respects, must seek the greater welfare of the pet and in situations like this must speak out.)
Another example - being brutally honest here - I made an appointment for a Meet and Greet with a guy who sounded nice and stable on the phone. I arrived on time. He knew I was coming. I had called that morning to confirm the late afternoon appointment. He opened the door almost totally naked with just a tiny towel around himself and invited me in with a big smile on his face. First impressions??? Eee gads! He knew I was coming. He should have been dressed appropriately. This was a big red flag. I wasn't about to walk into a strange man's home under these circumstances, so I turned around right there without saying anything (I think the expression of shock on my face said it all), got back in my car and left.
On the plus side, 98% of all potential clients I met were gracious, warm, wonderful pet owners who were looking for a good reliable pet sitter who would love their pets as much as they did. Like I've said in a previous post, pet sitting is a joyful business to have and both the people and the pets we meet along the way turn out to be real blessings in so many ways.
Another aspect that makes a good first impression to the client is if the pet sitter comes prepared with forms in order and keeps the conversation on track. A professional business card also makes a great impression. I've found the best place for business cards is www.vistaprint.com.
Demonstrating good manners and professionalism will work to help a pet sitter land a new long-term pet-sitting client, and vice versa. Just as a pet client needs to feel comfortable with the pet sitter they hire to care for their pets, so too does a pet sitter need to feel a certain level of comfort with a potential client, so manners and first impressions do matter on both sides of the fence.