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CUSTOMER SERVICE can break or make your pet business. Consider this stat from Inreality’s 2016 The Reality of Retail report: “After a poor experience with a physical store, 63 percent of shoppers said they would be unlikely to shop at that store again.”

Pet businesses — whether retail, grooming and/or boarding — must meet even higher standards than other types of providers.

“Pets are members of the family now, and customers want them treated as such,” says Nancy Hassel, president of the networking and educational organization American Pet Professionals. “There are so many ways to go above and beyond with customers. If you do, you will stand out, and so will your store.”

With that in mind, we asked pet businesses in the U.S. and beyond to share examples of stellar customer service. Some are practices you can quickly and easily replicate, while others will require you to be ready to deliver if a similar situation arises.

We also talked to five stores whose highly successful pet store loyalty programs turn first-time visitors into repeat customers.

And Bob Phibbs — aka The Retail Doctor — shares how he helps businesses improve their customer experience and increase sales.

report card for dogs at day care

Dog Wild Pet Supplies and Resort gives a report card to every pup every day.

1. Hand Out Report Cards

What pet parent doesn’t want to know what their pup gets up to each day? At Dog Wild Pet Supplies and Resort in Cooperstown, NY, they learn exactly that upon pickup from daycare. Each attendee gets a report card complete with a portrait or action shot on one side, and information about their day on the other.

Dog Wild owner Dana Rice explains the cards serve multiple purposes.

“They let the customer have a peek into what their dog did that day and who the dog played with. Many customers like to learn who their dog’s friends are, and then like to meet the owner of that dog. Or the customer will ask after their dog’s friends when they come in another time.”

The cards give staff a place to write notes when something positive or special happens, or to let the owner know if the dog had a bad day.”

Best of all, the cards give the customer something to take home to share with family and friends.

“Many get put on refrigerators and shared at work,” Rice says, and that sharing has helped increase awareness of the doggie daycare program, as they have many attendees whose owners work together.

Finally, the report cards also subtly reinforce the Dog Wild brand and keep contact info handy.

2. Be a Healthcare Partner

Rachel Diller, owner of The Poodle Shop in Littleton, CO, had a client named Mindy who belonged to an elderly couple.

“She came in for a routine groom. Her teeth were extremely loose and barely hanging on. I explained that she’d need to see a vet for a dental. The owners just seem confused,” Diller recalls.

The groomer booked a dental appointment for Mindy, shuttled the dog to and from Plum Creek Veterinary Services, and planned to pay the bill. (Upon hearing the story, the vet picked up the tab.)

The act of kindness earned the groomer  plenty of positive buzz on social media and old-fashioned via word or mouth, which resulted in new clients.

“[We got] lots of comments and pats on our backs. It’s just good karma. What goes around comes around.”

3. Celebrate the Good Times

Shop Dog in Sioux Falls, SD, never forgets a pet’s birthday (or gotcha day). Each month, owner Ellyn Suga sends 200-plus members of the store’s Birthday Club a coupon good for a frosted cupcake, a festive bandana and 15 percent off one in-store item.

“We see birthday pups almost daily. Customers love picking out the bandana,” Suga says. “Having those personal interactions is a great way to build a deeper relationship with our customers.

“Customers also love the discount. It’s a great way to incentivize a customer to buy a toy, as to not miss out on the discount. It has definitely boosted sales.”

Birthday dogs also pose for a photo to go up on the store’s Facebook and Instagram pages, helping to attract new business. Suga encourages customers to share on their social media as well.

bandanas for birthday pups

Shop Dog presents birthday pups with bandanas on their special day.

4. Honor Pets Who Pass

The owners of Fetch Haus in Red Deer, Alberta, in Canada, grow quite attached to customers and their pets. So much so that when a dog or cat dies, they present the family with a small memorial stone with sayings such as “Cats leave paw prints on our hearts.”

5. Help Bring Home Lost Pets

Dogs and cats who go missing get plenty of attention online, but because birds are less common as pets, they do not. Paul Lewis, owner of Birds Unlimited in Webster, NY, aims to change that with the Lost & Found page on his store’s website.

“As soon as we have a nice day in the spring, we get a call from someone who took their bird outside and it flew off. The opposite is also true, that people find birds after a nice day,” Lewis explains.

In addition to posting info about the pets online, the store also keeps band numbers of the birds it sells.

“A few years back we got a call from someone 90 miles away who found a blue-throated macaw, and we were able to locate the owner by the band number.”

Lewis says the page has a 10 percent success rate for reuniting birds with owners.

“It’s a small percentage, but for every one who gets back home, it’s a nice feeling that we were able to help.”

Animal Hut customer appreciation

Nail trims are free and spa packages are 50 percent off on Animal Hut’s customer appreciation day.

6. Show Your Appreciation

Each year, Animal Hut in Penn Hills, PA, holds a customer appreciation day on Small Business Saturday, the weekend after Thanksgiving. Those who stop by get a doggie hors d’oeuvre and popcorn, plus a free toy. Nail trims are complimentary that day, with spa packages at 50 percent off.

“The event has boosted our day-of sales and made a great impression with all our grooming customers,” owner Renee Lauer says. (See how some other pet businesses handle Small Business Saturday.)

7. Special Delivery

Natural Pawz in Houston, TX, doesn’t offer delivery as a service but made an exception recently. “A regular customer called our store and was panicked because she was out of food for her dog,” owner Biff Picone says. “She is a senior citizen and does not drive at night. Our manager could not let the poor dog go hungry, so she loaded up the food and drove it to the customer’s house.”

8. Reward Rescue

Lissa Durbin has a special surprise for those who bring their newly rescued dog to her grooming shop, BowWow’s Pet Laundry, Barkery and Boutique in Blue Island, IL.

“When they return for pickup, I will tell them that the services are complimentary as a way to say thanks for saving a dog,” she says. “I discuss what I did and explain any issues I’ve found. [And] I hand them an appointment card for the next grooming.”

The initial $50 grooming loss turns into around $800 a year in grooming and retail revenue, she says.

9. Be There During a Difficult Time

When one of their regular grooming clients escaped from the vet’s office and went missing for a week, the staff at Club Canine in Portsmouth, NH, reached out to offer help.

“We had asked the owners to contact us the minute she was found so that we could open the salon to get her groomed after her big (and scary) adventure,” owner Stacey Kimberley Rogers recalls. “They did, and hours later we had transformed her back into the beautiful girl she is. All at no charge, of course!”

Carrying pet food

No heavy lifting at The Hungry Puppy.

10. Do the Heavy Lifting

Kibble and canned food can get pretty heavy. Warehouse staff at The Hungry Puppy in Farmingdale, NJ, happily carry purchases weighing more than 15 pounds. from the shelf to the register and out to the car for customers.

5 Essentials from an Expert

Bob Phibbs — aka The Retail Doctor — regularly speaks on the subject of customer service (most recently at SuperZoo). In his “Essentials of Exceptional Retail Customer Service,” Phibbs writes, “To stand out from the competition, you need to focus on creating an exceptional experience.” We applied five of his tips to pet businesses, with permission, of course. Take a look at this excellent advice for your store, grooming shop or boarding facility:

  • Have a message of hope: He says that employees “should be able to not just inform, but to also inspire, educate and instill confidence.” Use this advice to sell nontraditional pet foods, such as raw or dehydrated. Show the hope offered by these products’  health benefits and provide support as customers transition their dog or cat.
  • Call on people to take risks:< Phibbs points out that for some shoppers, purchasing premium products “naturally pushes at their comfort level.” To move these customers beyond any hesitation, he recommends helping them see that while they may be spending more, they are getting a better fit.In a boarding facility, this might involve showcasing pets as they enjoy premium rooms and amenities. Emphasize “just like home” instead of “luxury.”
  • Focus on relationships: The key, Phibbs advises, is staffing and training: “That means you must have enough coverage for employees to be able to spend a little extra time with someone and enough retail sales training that they truly understand how to approach and engage a stranger.” Spending more in these areas always equates to increased sales.
  • Celebrate newbies: Phibbs writes, “When you focus on established customers over newbies, you can end up treating those newbies as disposable, which thwarts any efforts at creating an experience, much less getting them to return again and again.” He recommends giving first-timers a tour. Get to know them and their pets, and discover their needs as you briefly point out what your business has to offer.
  • Plan for the major holidays: “When decorations, emails, schedules and Facebook posts are thought out in advance, your customer experience during those holidays remains high,” Phibbs says. Plan two months out for major holidays. Your employees will also appreciate the foresight.

To get more customer service tips from Phibbs, as well as sales and merchandizing strategies, visit his online learning center at retaildoc.com.

Pamela Mitchell is the Editor-in-Chief of PETS+. She works from her home office in Houston, TX, with Ty the Boston Terrier as her assistant.

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