Scheduling for Pet Sitters: Create a Calendar That Works

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At Scout, we are responsible for maintaining a pet sitting calendar used by thousands of pet parents to schedule tens of thousands of pet sitting appointments conveniently and without error. For managers, our pet sitting calendar makes it easy to:

  • Organize and view your staff’s schedules.
  • Make last-minute changes;
  • Approve appointments;
  • Track appointment status; and
  • View important information.

Scheduling is a huge part of what we do. In fact, if you were to look at a Venn diagram of the Scout pet sitting application, you’d probably notice that scheduling overlaps every part of our platform. Whether you’re using your Scout data to send emails with Messages, or enjoying the convenience of automated billing through Smart Charges, accurate and efficient scheduling is the nucleus of the Scout system.TLDR; Just like you, we think about scheduling a lot!Here are some ways a pet sitting app like Scout–along with some scheduling best practices–can help you stay in control of your calendar.

Manage Incoming Information

First and foremost, set aside a couple of minutes during each day to maintain and update your schedule. When your pet sitting business is really cranking, scheduling demands can come in at a fast and furious pace. Make sure you know how to keep up. My dog walking company has a dozen pet sitters managing an ever-changing appointment calendar. I love using Scout’s handy dashboard feature to stay on top of everything. Here I can see all the pending appointments on my calendar, and I can see how they fit into my existing schedule. Each day I set aside 30 minutes first thing in the morning, and 30 minutes in the evening, to approve new requests. I’ll approve any last minute appointments as needed. In order to keep my head clear, I have Scout set to alert me only if an appointment request is made within 24 hours of the requested start time. This way, everything gets approved in a reasonable amount of time, my clients are happy, and I don’t get alert fatigue. Alert fatigue, by the way, is a very real psychological phenomenon where getting too many alerts may cause you to ignore important information. In some industries, this can have catastrophic consequences. The point is, you can use Scout to create an alert system that makes sense for you, your business model, and your scheduling demands.

Communicate Clearly

Communicating dates and times can be frustrating. There is a lot of room for error. And some errors can be pretty disastrous. Who knows what you might be walking into if you accidentally arrive for a PM appointment in the AM!That’s why it’s so important to have an organized way of collecting appointment data and integrating it into your pet sitting calendar. Scout’s appointment form makes it super easy for my pet parents to schedule services. They’re taken through a step by step process that includes built-in checks to ensure the form is filled out completely and accurately.

Avoid Too Many Choices

In 2012, President Obama famously told Vanity Fair that he only wears two different suit colors, Grey and Blue.

“I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.”

Your pet sitting calendar may not be as complicated as Obama’s daily itinerary, but a little simplification couldn’t hurt. Obviously, we want to give our customers flexibility to run their businesses how they see fit. Too often, however, pet sitters make the mistake of overburdening their customers with decisions.  This leads to something called decision fatigue, and it can actually cause pet parents to abandon the scheduling process. One of our goals at Scout is to protect your flexibility while simplifying the decision-making process, both for you and your customers. Here’s how we do it:

Flexible Arrival Windows

Uncertainty over arrival windows can create issues for pet sitters and parents. Scout recognizes that pet sitting is not always an exact science. Sometimes a sitter gets caught in traffic on the way to an appointment. Sometimes a pet parent may need to push things back a few minutes. Scout builds these uncertainties into your schedule. The excellent arrival windows feature lets pet sitting businesses schedule arrivals or drop-offs in windows, as opposed to at specific times. For example, a company might offer the following arrival times:        

Things may get tricky when you have some arrival windows that apply only to certain services. You may also have overlapping time blocks. For example, if you do boarding and in-home care, you’ll probably have some overlap between your PM Drop-off and Pick Up windows. Your pet sitting calendar might look something like this:      

In this example, there are more options, but these options are still easy for the pet parent to understand. You’re telling them, here is when I can show up at your home, and here is when you can show up at mine.

Simple Service Categories

Service categories can also present a decision-making challenge. In Scout, we keep things simple for the customer by separating services into two categories: Primary Services; and Add-on Services.

Note: Add-on services are different from surcharges, which we’ll also discuss hereafter.

Primary Services

As the owner of a pet sitting company, I like to avoid overwhelming busy pet owners with too many choices. I keep primary pet sitting choices simple. I Offer 5 main services:

  • 20 Minute Visit
  • 30 Minute Visit
  • 45-Minute Visit
  • 1-Hour Visit
  • Overnight Care

You’ll notice I didn’t differentiate the services based on anything but duration. The nitty-gritty details such as pet type, pet notes, and other information should be addressed in the person’s profile, not on the appointment request. At this point, I just want to ask the customer one simple question: How long do you want me to spend with your pet? I don’t offer boarding or daycare, but even with two to three more choices, there isn’t too much for a customer to think about.

Add-on Services

The next thing I want to know is, What do you want me to do while I’m there. I also keep these options limited. Some of the more popular add-ons  are things like:

  • Food
  • Medication
  • Take in the Mail
  • Take out the Garbage

Some of these might be free and some might cost extra, but add-ons just let you offer some extras while you’re already being paid to be at the customer’s house. It’s a great way to add value to your services and increase your revenue. Just remember, you don’t want to overwhelm them with too many choices. If bringing in the mail is free, you might want to leave it off the list and simply make it your policy to always bring in the mail for customers (unless instructed otherwise).

Automated Surcharges

Surcharges are fees that are integrated into your company’s policies. Do you charge for additional pets? Do you have a late cancelation policy? These fees can really complicate things for your customers. When pet parents schedule services, they should be made aware of surcharges, but it shouldn’t interfere with the scheduling process. Scout’s automated Smart Charges feature automatically applies a number of policy-related fees such as:

  • Additional Pets
  • Late Cancellations
  • Last Minute Requests
  • Holidays
  • Weekends

Automating these fees make it much easier and more convenient for pet parents to manage their own schedules. It also makes it much easier for pet sitting managers to approve appointments.

Keep Your Pet Sitting Calendar Organized

If you manage a staff of pet sitters, you’ve almost certainly woken up, at some point, to a last-minute text telling you a pet sitter can’t make it into work. People call in sick. It’s going to happen, and in a labor-intensive industry, like dog walking and pet sitting, it’s a real pain in the ass.Getting a grip on appointment requests and approvals is only half the battle. A lot can happen between the time a pet parent schedules a pet sitting service and the time their pet sitter arrives. This is where having a well-organized schedule can really save you time and energy. In Scout, I select the sitter or group of sitters whose schedules I want to look at. Each sitter is presented in a column and the row is organized by the arrival time (or window).At 6:30 am, I can hop out of bed, splash my face, check availability, open Scheduling, and reassign appointments by dragging and dropping into a different sitter’s schedule.  It’s 6:45 am. The schedule is updated. Now I’m free to get on with my day. This is where a pet sitting app like Scout can really spare you time and aggravation. You can, quite literally, get back to doing what you love. For me, that’s a hot shower and a podcast in the morning. Software aside, it’s important to be organized. This means having a pet sitting calendar to keep track of who is available and where they are, as well as a system to communicate the schedule and any last-minute changes. While it’s certainly possible to stay organized and agile “the old school” way, it’s probably not an efficient use of your time. In Scout, I just look at the schedule and assign the appointment to the right sitter. Scout automates all of the communication for me. This job is labor intensive enough. Automate what you can!***The key takeaway here is that you’ve got to maintain control over your pet sitting schedule. Put on a leash on that calendar! The best way to do it is by combining leading-edge technology–i.e. Scout–with a few easy-to-implement habits:

  1. Set a scheduling schedule (so meta!)
  2. Avoid too many incoming messages
  3. Communicate clearly
  4. Keep it simple
  5. Time is valuable; automate what you can

And most importantly, remember that the universe is in a perpetual state of change. Don’t panic! Last minute emergencies are a part of this business. You can’t prevent them from happening altogether. But with the right technology and organizational habits, you will be prepared to roll with emergencies when they do happen.

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