A dog should be allowed to bark. After all, that is one reason we have dogs, to alert us. We would just like to control the “on and off switch.” It’s the rare human who hasn’t yelled at their dog, “Quiet" or "Shut Up!” when the dog is barking at the doorbell, a noise, or at you to get your attention. We think that if we raise the volume of our voice, this ...read more
The Client Complains - Now What?
Some rules of business are fairly straightforward: Grow your business, maintain or decrease your debt, and you will profit. Another good rule is that businesses selling a product cannot be managed the same as those offering a service. If you deal in tangibles, you are "market" driven. And, if you provide a service, you are "customer" driven. To me, that means a customer doesn't make contact until there is a problem. How many of us call a plumber to report the toilet DID flush? And, how many of your clients made an initial call to report their pup didn't need any training - it was perfectly behaved? Problems are what drive people to service businesses. No problem - no need for a trainer. Doesn't that make us LOVE problems? You might say that problems fuel the bottom line profits. And, that's correct, except when the "problem" is an unhappy client.
The number of satisfied clients leading to referrals and repeat business is universally important. Most business consultants offer up pages of information and yards of lists on how to make your clients happy. We understand that happy clients increase our business, and our profits, by repeat spending, purchasing additional goods or services and sending us those all-important referrals. It is easy to treat these people well.
However, an area often overlooked, and equally influential, is how unhappy clients are treated. The outcome of conflict resolution with complaining customers has the potential to decrease profits, sales and referrals. An unhappy customer, on average, repeats (and embellishes) their "tale of woe" to at least 11 people, while a satisfied customer many only brag 3 or 4 times. There is a large opportunity for every trainer to increase business revenues through appropriate management of client complaints.
For several years, I was a secret shopper. Hired by companies large and small, I went into a store and made a purchase from a targeted department. Then, I returned home and completed a lengthy checklist of positives and negatives to help the store evaluate its level of customer service. I soon grew to realize that evaluating customer contact through purchasing a product wasn't reality-based testing. What separated the "Chihuahuas from the Mastiffs" would more likely occur when an employee had to handle a product return or a customer complaint.
I have a theory: almost any employee can make a customer happy by selling them the product or service they've already come to buy. Perhaps raises should be based upon how well employees resolve customers' complaints. Promotions, on the other hand, should be earned by employees who not only resolve the complaint, but also retain the client and, therefore, generate repeated business opportunities. Bravo to those wise souls who can look upon a complainer as a potential profit center!
In addition to "secret shopping," I spent almost nine years of my life as the "buck stopper" in a large medical school/clinic atmosphere. Before a complaint or a lawsuit stopped at the executive offices of the President or Board of Directors, it came through me. So, if I didn't want to be Swiss cheese, I had to handle the situation and convert the dissatisfied into happy campers. Think I wasn't motivated to learn the art of negotiation?
The real moment of "customer service" truth for any trainer comes when that unhappy client walks onto the field or their message is retrieved from your answering machine or e-mail. What you do next determines the futures for all 3 sides of the training triangle: the client, their dog and YOU. So before we "engage the enraged," let's take a look at the psychology behind our upcoming "close encounter with the mad mind."
Product -vs- Service: Psyche 101
When a customer buys a product that doesn't work, it's returned to the store. "Hey, this VCR won't record." No one person is blamed - the "IT" didn't work.
But, when a "service" is the product and the promise of solving the customer's problem is broken, the focus of the client is squarely on the PERSON. "YOU made a noon appointment for my dog's first lesson. YOU never showed up and another dog came by and I was pulled across the grass in my work pants." Yep, it's pretty clear: YOU are to blame for everything else that happened with that dog, and their person, that entire day - - or maybe for the rest of their week. At least, that's how the client perceives the situation and, unfortunately, perception is reality.
STOP Before You Start
Dogs have taught me that in any "tussle," only one of those involved can be in charge for the tussle to find a resolution. The same applies to complaining clients. Before you open your mouth to respond to the client's complaint, stop. Find "higher mental ground." I don't mean Alpha posturing and growling out your response. After all, you wouldn't attempt to correct an unruly dog without the proper tools, i.e. collar, leash and a training plan. So get your mental tools in order and follow a game plan that will leave you, and your client, winners.
They Want To See You Sweat
Eric Hoffer, in The True Believer, says: "You can tell the novice from the journeyman carpenter not so much by the finished cabinet but by the sweat on their brows. One works so much harder to accomplish the same end than does the other." (Like me teaching "running downs in motion" across a field. The dog isn't panting and I am sweat-soaked!) As long as both cabinets look the same, the effort doesn't matter to the buyer. But, when you are dealing with a service, effort does matter, especially to the unhappy client. They want to watch your effort at solving their problem and they want to see you sweat!
With a game plan, you will be in charge. You understand that perception is reality and know about working smarter to accomplish "damage" control. Things are looking up - - for YOU, your profits and that client.
Just as you have a plan of action should a trainer call in sick an hour before group class, you need a battle plan for handling complaints. As you develop one that feels natural for your business, keep mine handy.
Step One - Be Mentally Prepared
Take a moment and clear your mind of problems - even the one facing you. If you are physically in the presence of the "problem," ask for a 5-minute break. You don't want to begin "engagement" until you are mentally prepared to take control.
Of course, privacy is required. If you can't obtain it at the confrontation location, offer to call the client as soon as you get home or meet them at another time or place. You don't need an upset client's perceptions becoming contagious! Begin the encounter when you are certain that your head is clear and you have the ability to be calm. If you feel angry, the anger is in control - - not YOU. Being angry when trying to do damage control is like taking poison and expecting someone else to die.
Step Two - Stay Quiet (Listen)
When you are composed, begin the encounter. You are already in control because you began a process of "customer recovery" and have a compass pointing to resolution - your game plan. The best opening line for me is: "Tell me what happened." Then, by listening to the customer, and NOT INTERRUPTING, you will find out if the client feels annoyed or victimized. There is a HUGE difference between the two and how you'll need to make amends. Listen so that you can accurately diagnose the problem and retain control.
Annoyed -vs- Victimized
Ron Zemke, in The Service Edge, first referred to the concept of annoyed -vs- victimized. Here are some of my examples:
- When both lines on your phone are out of order, you are annoyed. When both lines on your phone are out of order and you just ran a new ad for dog training that lists your phone number in 14-point type, you feel victimized.
- When your flight arrives home late, you are annoyed. When your flight arrives late and you miss the last connecting plane to home, you feel victimized.
- When your trainer arrives late, you are annoyed. When your trainer arrives late and you've just been dragged down the street by your dog and need 2 stitches in your lip, you feel___________ (you fill in that blank!)
Let the client talk until they've run out of wind. This is their chance to get it ALL out -- to vent. If they stop talking and their body language, or heavy breathing on the phone, tells you more is just under the surface, use a detective's trick. KEEP QUIET. In person, tilt you head and raise your brows - - that should get them emptied out. Don't engage or defend yourself; that is only counterproductive. This isn't a debate; it's damage control.
Now, I'm not saying let them abuse you. I am saying that as the one on the wrong end of the perceived "wrong doing," they get to talk FIRST. You have to LISTEN until they are all talked out if you are going to "win."
Step Three - Repeat After Me: "I'm Sorry."
Initially, no other comment is needed. Just say, "I'm sorry." You aren't making an apology for your acts. You aren't agreeing with their statements. You are removing the fuse from the powder keg.
What if the client says: "Well, what do you mean you are sorry?" Personally, I say: "I'm sorry that you feel this way and have had such a bad day."
If you remember you are in CONTROL and are leading the unhappy client down the pathway towards satisfaction recovery, it is much easier to disengage from their words. Speak calmly and with sincerity. As with dogs, your excitement increases the volatility of the encounter.
Step Four - Express Empathy
Expressing empathy - not sympathy - is evidence of your compassion. It says: "I know how you feel; I've been listening; I understand." It doesn't say: "You are right; I am wrong." Expressing empathy is essential for a customer who feels victimized. In many instances, you can't get to the next stages of fixing the problem until you express empathy. Actually, the client will let you know if you haven't properly expressed it - - they'll go back to telling their story and complaining.
A simple repeating of the major highlights of their story can begin to convince the customer that you were, in fact, listening. Adding: "I understand how you must feel and why you are so upset," takes the wind out of their sails. Most will then have no emotional need to keep repeating or escalating their complaint. If you understand the problem, surely the next step must be that you are going to do something for them. And, trust me, they are waiting to hear just what it will be.
I have a mentor who recommends you ask the customer: "What can I do for you?" He swears that they usually ask for less than he was willing to give. He's very successful; but personally, I'm chicken!
Step Five - Offer Them A Freebie
Anything "extra" can serve as a symbol that you are, in fact, ready to repent and acknowledge a blip in the radar screen. From free "upsizing" of the fries or drink with the hamburger that proved "fast food" was an oxymoron, to picking up the dry cleaning tab for the client whose dog dragged them down the field; it all serves the purpose - something tangible that says "I owe you and the debt is paid." The freebie needs to be in proportion to the PERCEIVED wrongdoing. Had the client required stitches in his lip for having been dragged behind his dog, free dry cleaning for his pants will not be viewed as enough retribution.
Once your offer of amends is accepted, the immediate battle is over and the client should be satisfied with the outcome. Of course, having been in control all along, you secretly knew YOU were destined to be victorious. After all, you've defused the situation, kept it from spreading and retained the client.
Now comes your biggest opportunity. Give the client an appropriate period of time and then "follow up."
Inspect what you expect. You expect that everything is fine; call and find out. Make sure the dry cleaners did remove the grass stain from the work pants or that those stitches are healing nicely. Once again, you've made the customer feel that their complaint was heard and that they are important to YOU. Even if you never see their dog again, I doubt this individual will have anything negative to say if your name comes up at the next trial or match.
The Real World
Ah. If only every problem were so easily solved in the real world. Of course, you will hear from clients whose complaints are petty and mean-spirited. And, you may hear from clients who are clearly out of line. And, like all of us, you may have to face the fact that you should never have agreed to work with that "problem waiting to happen." Period. And, we all live and learn. Mistakes are what make us "experienced."
- If you are inclined to put some of my suggestions to use, here are a few additional pointers to keep in mind:
- If you are angry - it WILL show in person or be heard on the phone.
- If you are sarcastic - the customer will know it and the problem will GROW.
- If you can't feel empathy for what your client has endured, this approach won't work. No approach is better than an insincere one.
- If the item offered as a "freebie" is measurably smaller than the perceived wrong doing, you have INSULTED the client, which is a HUGE problem.
- If you did not follow up and the problem wasn't completely solved, you have damaged your relationship with that customer - probably permanently. They now see you as insincere.
- If the customer smiles after the freebie and is pleased during the follow up, you've really WON the battle and, most likely, the WAR of client retention against your competitors.
The PERSON is more important than the PROBLEM. Make them happy through conflict resolution and then go back and work on why the problem happened, talk with the "responsible" employee, do paperwork involving a refund or credit, etc. Take care of the PERSON first.
Finding out who is at fault is NOT the customer's concern. Blame doesn't solve the problem. If you own or manage the business, take full responsibility. RESOLVE the situation and then look back to determine what, if anything, can be done to keep the same problem from happening to another client. NEVER point fingers at others in front of the client and never draw anyone else into the conflict resolution process.
Good luck with your next problem client!
Behavioral Terminology: What are they talking about?
You hear dog trainers tossing around training terms that don’t make sense to you? Here’s a look into decoding the lingo.
The definitions are generally accepted among behaviorists (which is where this terminology is standardized): Whether a given act is reinforcement or punishment is defined by what the dog does in the future. Doesn't matter what anyone else thinks of it, it's the dog ...read more
The title might sound political but it isn't. Rather, this is written from the dogs point of view for owners who don't seem to "get it" despite their best intentions, and the advice of a qualified professional.
Dear owner, your dog would like you to know:
- Despite you giving us human names, we are in fact dogs that react to you and our environment.
- What is most important to us is not who ...
Scientists have discovered that dogs can smell the presence of autism in children.
'Seizure Alert' dogs can alert their owners up to an hour before the onset of an epileptic seizure. There are dogs that can detect cancer before medical tests can. With these incredible capabilities, it is hard to deny the effect that our own energy can have on our dogs. The idea of sharing "good energy" is not just a “woo-woo” concept reserved ...read more
Rowdy little children and naughty little puppies have so much in common!
Let's learn from the human example, so we can quickly and gently redirect puppies away from naughtiness, toward great and fun behaviors.
I sat trapped on the airplane, hurtling toward Orlando, strapped into my seat, some 30,000 feet above ground. I say “trapped” because my seat, my entire row even, was constantly shaken, bumped and tossed by a pair of blond ...read more
Vacation Angst…or What to do with the Dog?
Leaving home for work or vacation? Are you concerned about leaving your pets behind? A clean, professional kennel offers convenience and a secure location for your dog. But there is an alternative. Your pets can stay home in the care of a professional pet sitter. Here’s what you need to know to help you choose the very best for your dogs, cats, snakes or gerbils ...read more
Rain, rain…go away. All our dogs want to play!
Bad weather shouldn’t stop you from exercising your dog’s body and brain. Here are a few great ways to keep your dog from going stir crazy when you’re house-bound.
Days of rain or bitter cold, even unbearable heat usually mean we coop up the dogs with nothing to do. And that got me to thinking: What do we do with our dogs ...read more
Today I want to talk to you about the often dreaded "Vet trip."
For some lucky dog owners, it's a breeze. Their dog happily bounds into the examination room and only seems mildly put off by the doctors poking and prodding. Most dog owners aren't so lucky. The good news is your dog can learn to enjoy the Vet if you start doing a few specific things. But before I tell you how ...read more
Many, if not all, behavioral problems have a direct link to the dog’s physical, emotional and mental health.
To be successful, any approach taken to address a behavioral problem must take into consideration the dog’s diet, exercise, general health and relationship with its owner.
Sudden changes in behavior should always raise a red flag about the dog’s physical health. The first step to addressing a change in behavior that is radically different ...read more
Most puppies can be housebroken prior to 8 months of age using traditional methods. But for older dogs that are still having accidents in the house, the umbilical cord method should be used. This method has worked on the most difficult housebreaking cases and can be used with dogs of any age.
When the owner makes a commitment to success and is consistent with its application, the success rate using this method is very ...read more
Pack work, or using a group of dogs to influence the behavior of an individual dog, is an amazing tool which can create permanent change in a dog and help create a healthy balanced attitude and behavior.
There are a variety of ways in which trainers use this concept to assist in the training of a client dog from simply using a senior steady, trained dog to calm a nervous nelly, to having a young ...read more
In my ‘Behavioral HELP for Dogs’ seminars and 1 on 1 sessions, I start teaching with a sound foundation.
During the course of our time together, I build line upon line on that foundation until my students or clients have a complete understanding of how to interact with their dogs, so as to draw from them the behavior they want, thus creating harmony in the home and the neighborhood.
One of the main reasons that ...read more
(Addictive behavior in dogs which can sever the bond with their family)
You may already be in trouble if you did not study the history and purpose of your purebred dog before you brought him home. Your failure to diligently manage your dog to prevent his characteristics from growing into dangerous obsessions could seal your dog's fate.
You may think you did everything you could to successfully raise your dog. Following well-meaning veterinary advice ...read more
Do you find yourself avoiding taking your dog out for a walk because you are unable to stop their constant pulling?
Do you hold the leash in a death grip as you brace yourself for the ensuing tug of war through your neighborhood?
Do you worry that your dog may knock you over or break free during your walk?
Learning how to achieve a relaxed, controlled walking experience with your dog will not only alleviate ...read more
We started teaching our dog to ’Spin’ and now it’s time to introduce the ‘Step-up!’
What is Step-up? This trick is the first part of teaching a dog to place its front feet on a low solid item and remain there until released. As training progresses the dog will eventually be able to sit on top of a low object and balance perfectly! Dogs’ love this one so much that when a ‘practice object ...read more
Dog training (reliable dog training) is my passion. It's a long story, going back to 1966.
I've been a professional dog trainer since 1970. I have always worked hard to make my dogs trustworthy off lead, but it takes time and consistency. I am rather old fashioned in my dog training techniques. My dogs have a lot more 'freedom' because we trust each other. They all know that there are consequences for their ...read more
I am not the trainer for everyone; no one trainer is. Some will pooh-pooh my ideas, some will love them, some will get angry about them. I get results and I've never harmed a dog.
To teach come: I use a variety of methods depending on the dog. I do not ever call a dog out of a stay command for at least the first year following training. To that end, I frequently use ...read more
Your dog must be taught to instantly drop whatever he is holding in his mouth.
This is a safety issue since your dog may pick up a dangerous or poisonous object. It is a pack leadership issue since your dog should obey every command without hesitation. It is a behavioral issue when used in conjunction with classical counter-conditioning, as it can help prevent and correct resource guarding.
Use the following methods to teach this command ...read more
Teaching a dog to touch his nose to your hand on command is a simple, highly effective training protocol that has many practical uses:
- It can teach a touch sensitive or hand shy dog to welcome physical contact instead of avoiding it.
- It can help a reactive dog to direct his attention to the handler, thereby interrupting fixation.
- It can establish a bond between an anti-social dog to a human handler because it is a ...
One of the most important things for your dog to learn is to walk on a leash without pulling.
This makes walking the dog much more enjoyable for both you and the dog. If the dog is pulling, walking is unpleasant and he gets walked far less often -- this makes him pull all the more because he needs the exercise even more. It’s a vicious cycle.
Never wrap the leash around your hand: you ...read more