October is Pet Services Month here on the Signpost Local Marketing Blog! We’ll be surfacing insights and strategies specifically for marketing your veterinary practice, grooming, training and boarding businesses while driving more new and repeat customers.
Not a pet care professional? Don’t worry, we’ll still be sharing insights that will help you to promote your local business, acquire new customers, and encourage loyalty. Want your industry to be the next featured month? Drop us a line, and let us know!
When it comes to pet care, owners can be as sensitive and worrisome as any doting parent. Once you accept this, it then makes sense that they’re especially picky and maintain high standards when it comes to selecting a grooming specialist for their beloved pets. Therefore, it’s essential to create a strong first impression and use all your soft skills to cultivate the care and affection for your animal customers, so that it becomes a tangible element central to your business that exudes trust. We’re laying out tips to establish this crucial first step, as well as others that will ensure you maintain a healthy pipeline of repeat customers.
Making a strong, first (digital) impression
You might be surprised to find out that when a new customer walks through the door, they’ve most likely already made up their mind about your business. Or, they’ve at least drawn conclusions that have informed a memorable first impression before they even got out of the car. Few consumers decide to do business with anyone without conducting at least a cursory amount of online research. And not only are 88% of them trusting the reviews and comments that strangers post online, but an increasing majority is vetting even those recommendations that they are receiving from trusted family and friends with an online spot check.
Even with such solid referrals, chances are potential customers will take a look at your site and be typing your business’s name into their favorite search engine. They’re on the lookout for any issues or problems that may have evaded their friend. The decision often comes down to three factors: Your website, Third-party review sites, and any press or local articles that may have been published about your business. While it’s always great to have positive press, and difficult to outrun any perceived scandals or unfavorable press, that’s a subject that would require its own very long and dedicated post (for another time!). The other two, however, are prerequisites to the success of all businesses, as well as the key to sustainable growth.
Your business website
If you’re reading this and thinking, “But this doesn’t apply to me. Our business doesn’t even HAVE a site!” then it’s even more necessary for you to read on. Not having a site can hurt your just as much (or even more). When potential customers are performing this digital due diligence, oftentimes what they’re looking for is to build a sense of credibility and trust with your business. They want to make sure there are no surprises and that the services will be performed, as expected. They’re looking to avoid risk and uncertainty. Your site creates a strong, first impression for them; it reassures and defines these expectations. When you have no website, your business remains one giant question mark, and they’ll be unlikely to take such a risk, especially when it comes to their precious pets.
Now, for those of you who already have sites or are building one out soon, it’s important to put your best foot forward. It can be difficult to tackle this on your own, so it may mean making an investment in people and services who are experts (website platforms, like Weebly, offer free tools to help you here). A really great website should be a balance of information and a less tangible reflection of who you are as a business, why you exist, and what your mission or promise is.
As far as information, you should include your business hours, address, contact info including email and phone number, directions, services offered and even pricing (as long as it’s up to date. There’s nothing worse than having old pricing details when a customer comes in and feels as though they’ve been tricked). Take care to convey this in a way that makes sense, without simply dumping it all on your home page. Think about sites that you frequent and the way they’re architected. Learn from their best practices and try to organize your site in a similar manner. Avoid busy sites, or too many strong, assaulting colors, which will prompt visitors to bounce from your site sooner rather than later and potentially before getting the info they were looking for. Check out this Forbes article on the psychology of color for brands for some further explanation and tips.
So much of our impression of a particular brand or business is driven by visual imagery. So again, a site that feels clunky, outdated, or disorganized can lead to similar (albeit unfair) impressions about how your business is run or operates as well. Try using this visual aspect to your advantage by showcasing some of your best looking and adorable clients! Think about adding a gallery, or linking visual, social pages (Instagram or Pinterest is usually best here!), to display some of your latest posts, automatically, so you won’t need to worry about maintaining this element.
Online Review Sites
This has become increasingly more important for businesses, especially as it pertains to digital relationship management. If you’ve ever consulted Yelp, Facebook, or even Google before selecting a restaurant, then you’re already familiar with how much influence they have over the customer journey and purchasing decisions. Being an impartial source, people tend to place an overwhelming amount of stock in these reviews, requiring constant diligence for every local business.
There is no shortage of data to convey the impact these reviews have on your bottom line. Our favorite of which, is that Harvard Business School found that a change in rating of just one star can boost your revenue anywhere from 5-9%.
When you do receive 5-star reviews, be sure to share them in newsletters, on your site, or across your social pages. This prompts others to also leave reviews after they see how much you read and care about them. It may also serve as a good reminder for those who intended to leave you a review and forgot or got distracted. Provide links to your business profile across these sites, on your website, social pages and even in your email signature. Try to make it as easy as possible for clients who wish to sing your praises!
Similarly, be sure to reach out to those who have had negative experiences to see how you can improve in the future and how you might be able to find a resolution. Signpost’s Mia does this for you automatically, and “intercepts” negative reviews before they’re even posted! Find out how she can help you safeguard your digital reputation, today!
Ensuring success during first meeting
Again in this line of work, it’s important to make sure you’re broadcasting the right sensory signals. When customers walk through the door, they shouldn’t be accosted by the stench of wet dog, or lay eyes on an unsightly scene that appears disorganized, messy, dirty, or dangerous. Customers will be hasty to interpret first impressions and jump immediately to unfavorable conclusions that will often prove impossible to mend. You might think that surely, customers understand that a place that shampoos dozens of dogs a day might have an eau de canine in the air, but sadly that is often not the case. People will still hold it to high standards, and expect some pleasing odor which evokes cleanliness, or tranquility.
Again, these “intangibles” are important factors in creating a winning experience for customers. Staff friendliness and “warmth” needs to be conveyed, to position them as people who will love and treat their pets carefully and with TLC. Be as congenial as possible and let them know that their pup is in good hands! If you have time, offer to give a tour to new customers, allow them to voice any concerns, and be sure to ask them about anything you should know about their pet or their pet’s personality. Being thorough here will speak volumes of your attention to detail and commitment to delivering a high quality service.
Loyalty is about the entire experience
The days of punchcards and cookie-cutter loyalty programs have passed for most businesses outside of retail. It’s important to think about the entire experience for both the pets and their people. Think of ways to make this experience more enjoyable or convenient for both and you’ll find great success. You can do this with a combination of exclusive events, rewards, and communication.
Events: Maybe an introductory event for new customers where you offer owners free manicures while you’re busy beautifying their pets. Equal parts pampering might be just the thing they need to become an advocate. Plus, it helps the more nervous, “helicopter parents” by easing their anxiety over leaving their furry companion in a strange place for the first time. You can also offer this every so often as a reward for loyalty. Consider monthly contests, such as “best Halloween costume” throughout the month of October where owners tag your business in their social posts with the contest hashtag. This allows you to show off the entrants, and showcase your customers pets, which they’ll love!
Rewards: Think about what makes sense for your business, based on your pricing structure and customer data. It’s important to do the math here, and calculate the value of your customers, so that you don’t end up paying more in rewards than you receive in customer value. You can create a program that is governed by tiers or points, or completely create your own. If you’re looking to get started, we’ve put together an entire series dedicated to loyalty programs, you can check out here!
Communication: Try naming a “Pet of the Week” or month and award them a free service. Additionally, try encouraging owners to post pics of their pooches in their post-groom glow with specific hashtags and tags so that others will want to become customers or sign up for your loyalty program. Give some sort of “upgrade” or reward for pet, owner, or both anytime they share on social. (Maybe consider getting a pup-sized step-and-repeat that they can use to make their furry friend feel like a celebrity, while including your business’s branding. It’s a win-win!)
Social: Again, we’d recommend sticking with a visual platform that already has a large network of pet lovers, like Instagram. You’re more likely to be discovered by users and potential customers if you use applicable hashtags. You can test this frequently, and see what works best, but don’t be afraid to have fun with it! This will be conveyed to your audience and make them want to follow your business.