When Bad Reviews Happen to Good Dog Trainers, Pet Groomers, Doggy Daycare Owners

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I don’t know what the heck is going on lately but in the past few weeks I have received a massive amount of calls and emails from frustrated and despondent pet business owners who are ready to throw in the towel after getting a bad review of their business.

I get it.

No, really I do.

I’m not just saying that.

I, too, had the experience a few weeks ago. One of our one-time pet sitting clients wrote a horrible review about my company.

It was a client that had used my pet sitting company 6 months ago.

Here’s an inside peek into my brain after I saw that review:

Six months ago?
And you never called me to tell me you were unhappy?
Instead you write a horrible, scathing online review about us for all the world to see?
Six months later?! What the ???!

(Went the very negative chatter in my head.)

I paced around my office for a few minutes, scowling and muttering under my breath and then yelling AGGGGHHHHHHHHHH a few times. (My poor neighbors.)

What I got in touch with when I stopped pacing and yelling was that this experience was disheartening.

I got in touch with how I try to run the best possible pet sitting business and when I’m not running my business, my dear managers are doing their best to run the best possible pet sitting business.

And in spite of that:

We got a bad review.

It was disheartening.

Still, it was easier to calm down than it might have been say, a few years ago, because guess what?

In my nearly 17 years of owning a pet sitting business, my business has gotten our share (a small share, thankfully) of negative reviews.

It happens.

Sorry guys, you can’t work with the public for years and years and years without getting a negative review.

It’s true.

Here’s the truth: You are going to make someone out there unhappy. You are, at some point, going to have a client who has expectations that aren’t going to be met by you or your company.

It happens.

Here are the actions I took to make peace with myself and the client who wrote the bad review:

1. I allowed myself to fully feel the spectrum of feelings that came up around this review. These included (but were not limited to): anger, sadness and (owie) grief over this review. It hurts. The word ‘grief’ may sound extreme but getting a bad review brings up the perceived loss of reputation which is a type of death for a business owner. Allowing myself to feel the yuck feelings fully then allowed me to move into action with all of my energy present.

2. I called the pet sitter who had taken care of this client and I asked her for her side of the story: What actually had happened with this client? I had the client’s point of view (from the review that was posted for all the world to see, gosh darn it) but what happened from her perspective? When we spoke, I could hear the honesty in her voice and was able to determine that she really hadn’t done anything wrong. The client hadn’t given clear instructions about the pet’s needs.

3. Next I thought carefully about what I wanted to say to the client. I got crystal clear in my head and on paper about what needed to be said so I could refer back to my notes if need be. I waited until I was in a relative place of equanimity (it took a few hours) before contacting the client.

4. Next, I called the client. You read that right. I didn’t email him. I called. On the phone (it’s an old-fashioned tool that some of us still use for communication). And if you are like most people and the thought of actually talking to a client who wrote a negative review about you terrifies you, here’s a word of advice when dealing with a negative review or feedback from a client: never, ever email the client a response.

Is it much harder to call than email? Oh my God yes. It takes a heck of a lot of courage. That’s where you want to put on your big girl panties or big boy briefs and JUST DO IT. You are not going to die or pass out from the anger or fear. You may feel like you are. But trust me, you won’t die. Or pass out.

5. When I got the client’s voicemail I left a calm, loving (yes, loving) message that went something like this:

Hi John. (Deep, relaxed breath) I saw your review and I just wanted to contact you as soon as possible so we could talk about it. I feel awful that you had a bad experience with my company. As the owner, I’m 100% committed to you having a good experience with my company and it was such a shock to see that you weren’t happy with the pet sitting you received from us. I realize that we sat for you about six months ago and perhaps you tried to contact me but somehow I never got the message. (Deep relaxed breath.) I want you to know that I want to do whatever I can to make this right. Can you please tell me what I can do to make things right? Please give me a call at ______. I’m in the office today. Thanks and I look forward to hearing from you.

6. When he didn’t respond by phone that day or the next then I emailed him. Here’s what my email said:

Dear John,

I left you a phone message and I’m just contacting you to see if you got it. Forgive me if I’m bugging you. I want you to know that my intention in contacting you is to make things right. What can I do to make things right? I’m committed to you having a good experience with us and it hurts my heart to know that you weren’t happy with the care we provided. Please give me a call or send me an email so I can take care of this as soon as possible. Thanks and I look forward to hearing from you.

Warmly,
Kristin

7. Keep your email and your phone message authentic and loving. Did I have second thoughts about using the word ‘it hurts my heart’? You betcha. But I did it anyway because it was hurting my heart (owie). And I felt like I had nothing to lose by sharing that and perhaps everything to gain by sharing that.

Here’s how my story ended:

I got an email from John (not a call, an email. I guess he wasn’t wearing his big boy briefs that day).

Here’s what his email response was:

Hi,
I did get your phone and email message. Things have been busy today. I do still think that your pet sitter didn’t do things right but I will take the review off. Please don’t contact me again.
John

So here are the Cliff Notes if you get a bad review:

1. Feel the full spectrum of feelings. Get it it up and out of your body (yelling, talking and/or crying with a friend) so you can then be free to take action.

2. Contact the staff member who provided care to get more information. If you were the person who cared for the client, think clearly back to that day and if what the client said happened, happened.

3. Think carefully about what to say to the client.

4. Call the client. Don’t email. Call. On the old-fashioned instrument called a telephone.

5. Leave a calm and loving message or talk directly to the client in a loving, calm manner. Include the words “How can I make this right?”

6. If the client doesn’t respond in a day or two, email them a loving, calm email. Include the words “How can I make this right?”

7. Breathe. A lot. Know that you are a good person and a good pet sitter and realize that sometimes bad things (and reviews) happen to good pet business owners. Soon this review will be a distant memory. It’s not the end of the world. Your right clients will find you, bad review or not. Trust me!

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