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Is Good Customer Service Going to the Dogs?

Here is an example of lousy customer service in a dog grooming salon that (unfortunately) translates all too well to too many service businesses.

I had an experience the other day that has made me think about how too many customer service experiences unfold in the business world today, and about the difference that really good service can make.

I have two dogs. Earlier this week, it was time for them to get their summer haircuts so that they will be able to comfortably cope with the Houston heat.

The newest addition to the house is Jason, a miniature schnauzer who had been the prized pet of an old lady who had to give him up for adoption when she moved to a nursing home. She had chosen to keep him fully furred, not trimmed in the traditional schnauzer cut, so that he had a really nice wire haired coat to go with his bushy eyebrows and stubby tail. The other dog is Lucky, a schnauzer-poodle mix-poodle ears and body, schnauzer muzzle and curly tail-he gets the traditional cut.

So, I took the two little guys to the groomers the other morning. I was the first client of the day, and the salon was nice and quiet. I explained what I wanted to the person who would be doing the job-traditional schnauzer cut on Lucky, but not on Jason. Just a trim for him. This is important, I told her, because I donít want his coat shaved off-once that wire hair is gone it never grows back. Did she understand, I asked?

Yes, she answered. But did I want Jasonís skirt trimmed?

Skirt? I stared blankly and finally figured out that she was talking about the feathery bits on his chest and belly. Yes, fine, I said. Trim that area but just donít shave him. She nodded.

I went back a few hours later to pick up the boys. At that point the salon was buzzing with dogs, clients, and groomers. The fur was literally flying. First came Lucky, looking very dapper and neat. A few seconds later, out came Jason, and my mouth dropped open.

He had been completely shaved!!! The groomer had given him a standard schnauzer cut-and that lovely wire coat was gone forever.

I couldnít believe it. I was angry and sad at the same time. What had happened? How could the conversation we had had in the morning have been so completely lost?

After discussing the situation with the salon owner, she reluctantly refunded my money, which was very small consolation for the snafu. It should be no surprise that I will not be going back to that salon when the boysí fur has grown out.

This whole thing left me thinking about how this kind of customer service happens in other businesses. There were several points about the experience that translate:

1.†Are we really listening to our customers? Do we ask the questions we need to ask to make sure that we understand what they want from us? Do we make accurate notes so that we retain instructions and deliver what was asked for? I got plenty of nods from the groomer during our talk, but my instructions obviously got lost somewhere between her ears and her shears.

2.†Are we communicating clearly back to them, or do we use industry jargon that they may or may not understand? When the groomer asked me about trimming Jasonís skirt, I had to stop and think. It was MY responsibility to figure out what she was talking about. Not a great way to do business.

3.†Finally, and very very important, when mistakes do get made on our side of the†transaction, how do we make amends? Even the worst error doesnít have to mean the loss of the customer. Respond to the mistake with restitution that matches its seriousness. In my case, given the extent of the mistake with Jason, and the permanence of the result, the salon owner fell far short in restitution and in terms of keeping my business. I had to struggle to simply get a refund, which was insufficient compared to the permanent impact this error has. I wonít be back to that salon.

These three points--listening to the customer, communicating back in ways that they will easily understand, and making appropriate amends when mistakes get made on our end-are the core of excellent service and the key to keeping loyal and happy customers.

(As a post script, I should note that Jason still looks darn cuteScience Articles, even without his fur. And Iím sure he doesnít care one way or the other about all that wire hair!)

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Trish Lambert (, principal of 4-R Marketing LLC, is an experienced marketing consultant and creator of the 4-R Marketing Modelô for service businesses. Very much a "non-conformist" in the marketing world, Trish produces measurable results with marketing that drives revenues for her customers.

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