Just one of the articles from Pet Care Pro Quarterly, IBPSA’s digital magazine for pet care services professionals. Read the current issue online here.

by Susan Briggs

We all know the importance of your customer service system, but can basic communication serve as a competitive advantage in your business?

There is an irony in the digital age, that makes communication easier than ever before, that our reality finds communication getting worse versus better. It is challenging to provide exceptional customer service when basic communication skills seem to be disappearing in the workforce.

By focusing on communication basics you can set your business apart and achieve a competitive advantage. Consider two recent real-world communication experiences from different businesses.

Experience 1: I received an email from one of my online service providers telling me their website was down and apologized for any inconvenience. This simple proactive email communication made a positive impression on me. I would not have known the website was down as I don’t use their service every day. Still, I loved getting a proactive message and felt really good about this business as a result.

Experience 2: In contrast, a local service business really missed out on an opportunity to impress when they did not proactively communicate a step they took of going the extra mile for me. In fact, I questioned if I’d received all the services requested and sent them an email. I waited and waited and never got a reply to my inquiry. Now, I’m really frustrated. Not only do I think the service was not provided, but no one responded to my email. In a follow-up phone call I found out what really happened – that I did get all my services, plus some extras at no charge. Unfortunately, rather than feeling really good about the business there is still a sense of frustration primarily related to their lack of communication.

Does the communication shared with your clients make them feel really good about you or frustrated? As the experiences above reveal you can provide great care and even go the extra mile, but if your communication falls short there will be negative feelings.

Lack of basic skills and busyness cannot be an excuse for communication shortfalls. Pet care is a business built on trust, and good communication is at the heart of building trusting relationships. As competition in the pet care space increases, you want to ensure you are not only providing the best pet care but also an exceptional customer experience.

It’s time to think of communication as its own critical system in your business. In fact, communication tools are key aspects to effectively systemizing all aspects of your business. Just like in personal relationships you really can’t overcommunicate. Unfortunately, as basic communication skills diminish in the workforce, the need for businesses to fill the gap with training and formal systems increases.

When you trace the root cause of many of the problems and frustrations that arise with your business, a communication breakdown is the common thread. It can result from a lack of skills in the employee or formal processes in your business.

If you could wave a magic wand and transform communication in your business what would that look like?
Would customer service problems disappear?

How many service errors in pet care would go away?
Could you go through a week without staff drama?
Would productivity increase?

Meetings are an important part of your communication system. There should be regular team meetings to share company vision, goals, and progress reports. Equally important are individual meetings between managers and their direct reports. Providing a forum for ongoing feedback, clarification, and idea exchange improves employee engagement and productivity.

Communication happens in your business with or without you.
The key difference is when you let it happen without you the communication void tends to be filled with negativity. Taking the lead with a proactive communication system ensures the business messages you want shared remain the priority focus.

Meetings can be effective, but do require advance planning and consistency. Creating a calendar for the year with your team and individual meetings is a great place to start. The more frequently you meet the less time needs to be spent per meeting. In fact, very short standing team huddles, held in less than five minutes, have been shown to improve productivity and reduce staff drama.

What impact would transforming your business communication have for you personally? Would you feel freedom from your business on days off?

Burnout, Communication Guidelines, and Recharging

Professional pet care is very demanding, especially when you are responsible for pets 24/7. Burnout is a reality for many business owners, and one of the primary reasons I sold my pet care business. Burnout is the culmination of many factors, but shortly after the sale I realized the lack of communication guidelines was a contributor for me. One Sunday afternoon shortly after the sale my phone rang and I noticed that I did not flinch. At that moment I realized that as a pet business owner I dreaded receiving any calls after hours. As you know they are almost always bad news.

Even though you own the business you deserve time away from it to recharge. When you are connected 24/7 to your business it is very hard to rebuild your energy. This puts you at high risk of burnout if you don’t find a way to manage and control communications in your business. Take advantage personally from the time you spend creating a formal communication system in your business.

Get started on your system with those after-hours calls. As a pet business owner you know emergencies will happen and those are calls you want to receive as soon as possible. But how many of the calls, texts, or emails that you get after hours are true emergencies?

Odds are most are not – this is where formalizing a system provides clarity for your team. You may find creating a short Emergency Communication Guide a great place to start. Crystal Canine has created a free PDF download, available via the link below, that you can use as a template to clarify for your team what constitutes an emergency for your business. The guide also includes some other tips that can help you get freedom from your business on days off and after hours.

As a speaker at the upcoming Fifth Annual IBPSA Pet Care Services Educational Conference happening in October in Jacksonville, Florida, right now I am hyperaware of communication as it’s the focus of my session at the conference, and where I’ll be sharing more tips on creating a communication guide for your business.

Your customer experience is a competitive advantage when you combine basic communication skills and formal processes into an effective system. You’ll also enjoy your business more as teamwork and financial results improve. Effective communication is the solution to eliminating many problems and frustrations in your business. Get started today by going to www.crystalcanine.com/emergency and downloading your free Emergency Communication Guide template.

Susan Briggs is founder of Crystal Canine, a consulting and resource business for the pet care industry, and co-founder of Urban Tails, a multi-service pet care center in Houston, Texas. With over 12 years of experience operating a large dog daycare, boarding, grooming, and training center, Susan is a recognized leader in the industry. In early 2015, Susan co-founded the Professional Animal Care Certification Council (PACCC). The council’s mission is to bring independent testing and certification to the industry in an effort to recognize excellent providers and assist consumers in finding quality care for their animals. Susan is the co-author of Off-Leash Dog Play: A Complete Guide to Safety and Fun and the author of Counting Noses, the only industry-specific accounting and financial management resource available.

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