This week Scout is giving pet sitters the ability to enter and have pet owners digitally sign a service agreement. Setting policy and getting sign off from customers reduces friction down the road. At meet and greets, I go so far as to read my policy agreement aloud, word for word. Customers have an opportunity to ask any questions, and I have peace of mind knowing that the pet owner is well informed before starting services.
Early on in my now 10-year career, I’ve had to update my pet sitting service agreement on many occasions. Running a business is a learning experience. As I continue to learn valuable lessons, I make changes and updates, and I have customers confirm, in writing, that they are aware of the change. Here at Scout, we automate this process by pushing the updated service agreement to the pet sitting app and requiring the pet owner to accept the changes before they can continue to schedule.
Here’s a list the policies every pet sitter should include in their service agreement:
Pricing is one area where there should be absolutely no confusion. A pet owner should be able to reasonably estimate how much a service is going to cost prior to booking it. My pet sitting service agreement includes all of our pricing in an easy to read and understand format. As a result, we have very little friction in this area. My customers are never surprised when they receive an invoice. A shady pricing policy will only serve to alienate customers and prevent growth.
2. Payment Terms
Once your customers understand your pricing structure, it’s important to set payment expectations. Do you accept cash? When is payment due? Is it before services start or after they are completed? Is payment due immediately or do you offer payment terms such as 10 days after the invoice is sent? As you can see there are many ways to structure your payment policy. No matter what the details are, you need to communicate them. Having an ambiguous payment policy will certainly cause your past-due receivables to surge, which will lead to cash flow issues for your company. Make it clear to your customers what you expect and enforce your policy strictly.
Surcharges are additional fees that kick in based on some type of triggering event. For example, last minute requests, last minute cancelations, weekends, or additional pets to name a few. Even if you don’t allow things like last minute bookings or don’t charge additional pet fees, you should express your policy in the service agreement. Pet owners may come to you with certain expectations. It’s very important to manage those expectations by communicating effectively.
4. Urgent Care Policy
For a pet sitter, nothing is worse than arriving at a client’s home to find a pet in need of emergency care. What happens if you can’t reach the client and medical decisions need to be made? Emergency care can become expensive very quickly. I don’t want to sound callous, but I can’t afford to lay out thousands of dollars in vet bills without knowing I’ll be paid back. To avoid this difficult circumstance, I include an emergency care clause in my service agreement. It states exactly what we consider an emergency and what steps we will take if deemed necessary. You should also detail how much you will spend if the pet owner is unresponsive to communications, and when repayment is due for any financial outlays. It can be an awkward conversation, but not something a professional pet sitter should be shy about discussing.
Every company is going to have different views on socialization. My company has a strict no socialization policy. We don’t allow strangers to pet our clients, we don’t let other dogs approach, we don’t pack walk and we don’t do dog parks. It’s very important to be transparent with your customers. Pet owners deserve to know what situations their pet will be placed in, and have an opportunity to accept or reject your policy during the signup period.
6. Minimum Visits for Vacation Care
Having a minimum visit policy can be controversial, especially when it comes to clients with doggy doors and cats. Including a clear policy statement in your service agreement can prevent you from having to deal with a pissed off customer down the road. I have been involved in a number of contentious discussions about our minimum visit policy. Some people accept it, and some don’t. The thing you want to avoid is having this come up right before a customer is leaving town.
7. Website and Social Media
Posting cute, fun pictures of peoples pets is a great way to advertise your business and show potential clients the work you do. However, privacy is a big concern for people. Assuming everyone is okay with their pet, and potentially their home, being posted on the internet is a mistake. In your service agreement, you’ll probably want to include who is authorized to post pictures, and what content is and is not posted. For my company, we state that a manager reviews every picture. We don’t post pictures that can be used to identify the location of a client’s home. We also don’t post details about their work schedule or that they are traveling.
The purpose of a service agreement is to be fully transparent with potential customers. As a business owner, you should provide the service you are comfortable with and give clients the ability to approve your policies or find another service that fits their needs. I make sure that all bases are covered, even the uncomfortable ones, and I let the client decide if they want to proceed once they have all the information. One thing I do not do is allow customers to change my service agreement. Every section of my agreement is there for a reason and I don’t allow customers to make changes. Having a service agreement is an effective way to determine if a client is a good fit for you and if you’re a good fit for the client.