I recently had a great talk with another pet sitting business owner who was having some trouble with their dog walkers taking their clients. He has a non-compete agreement, but in order for it to be worth anything, it needs to be enforced, which isn't cheap. This isn't the first time I've heard this. It's not something I experience with my business very often, and I didn't really know what to tell him, so we started by comparing the differences in the way we manage staffing and interact with our clients. Here are a few things that surfaced from our conversation:
Build A Relationship With Pet Owners
During our conversation, we identified a few differences in the way we operate. One difference that really stood out is how we handle meet and greets. His company and a lot of other companies have the walker do the meet and greet. On the surface, it makes sense because the client wants to meet their walker. However, coordinating a meeting between a walker, a business owner or manager, and a potential client every time isn't always feasible.
A manager or I meet every client. We go by ourselves and if a client would like to meet their walker before starting, we arrange a 15 min meeting separately. I think having a long term representative be the first person they meet and talk to is important. It builds an important connection. If the customer has only met the pet sitter, they have no connection to the company.
Add Value for Pet Owners
In a weird twist of fate, I think having awesome dog walkers makes it a bigger issue. I only know from my experience, but if I didn't do the meet and greet, and my walkers do a great job all the time, I might never hear from a customer other than seeing their name pop up on the schedule. It's easy for them to leave because they haven't seen how the company itself provides value. Why not just go right to the source? To this end, I use the meet and greet to tell customers what I do for them. I'm approving their appointments, making sure they're covered when a walker has the day off, and attend to any issues that might arise with a pet sitter, etc. They aren't just paying for their dog walker, they are paying to have me too.
Add Value for Pet Sitters
We also established some payroll and human resources differences. First, we both pay well; however, he pays a higher rate to start but doesn't give increases, while I start slightly lower and increase pay when pre-defined milestones are reached. Additionally, I like to have walkers with other interests. Our busy time is 11:30 am - 3 PM so I look for people who love animals but don't necessarily want to do it eight hours a day. When we were discussing this, my thought was, my staff doesn't really want to steal clients because they don't want the full-time responsibility.
Are you having this issue? What are you doing differently? If you have any ideas, we encourage you to share with the Scout community!