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Customer Perception — The keys to make or break your image.

Your customers are watching you more than you think. Do they like what they see?
I know how it feels to try to project a good image, even against the normal trends and direction of society. Perception to me is not just a subject of a speech, it is the impetus that launched my career. I have been working with my business partner for 18 years. We decided to go into business together to form a “crazy-idea” Web-based system for pet daycare, boarding and related services. Over 11 years ago there was no such thing as smart phones, tablets or the cloud.
WHO ARE YOU? HOW DIFFERENT ARE YOU FROM WHAT YOU ARE PROJECTING TO YOUR AUDIENCE?

I know how it feels to try to project a good image, even against the normal trends and direction of society. Perception to me is not just a subject of a speech, it is the impetus that launched my career. I have been working with my business partner for 18 years. We decided to go into business together to form a “crazy-idea” Web-based system for pet daycare, boarding and related services. Over 11 years ago there was no such thing as smart phones, tablets, or the cloud.

HOW DID WE SURVIVE?

There was no responsive design yet for digital devices. Texting was something teenagers did. Back then, to send a text you would have to press the alpha/number on the keypad up to three times to get the right letter. The idea of storing your data on anything other than your desktop on your hard drive was suspicious. The fear was that people were maliciously going to steal any data stored electronically on the world wide Web. I spend the first two years growing PetExec answering this question over and over.

What if the internet goes down? I grew weary of trying to convince people of our idea. We visualized a system that would provide greater security, more flexibility, added functionality and the ability to access their own information in more places. We believed our new system would revolutionize the pet care industry. At the time it was beyond comprehension that their customers could go online to make appointments, sign contracts or send messages, pay balances and a multitude of many other functions.

Though I believed with all my heart that this concept was the future, I was called a joke. The idea that data could be stored on the “cloud” and not loaded on a personal hard drive was labeled a risk by the big players in the pet industry. I believed in my vision but people doubt the concept. Plus, at that time, there was little to no data to prove otherwise.

NO ONE BELIEVED IN ME

The people closest to me were concerned that building an unknown Web-based system was a bad move. Even through the months of silence from the marketplace and the times when I thought I was spinning my wheels trying to promote this untested concept, something inside me said this will work. I wanted to prove that this idea will work someday.

I knew it would be accepted when people shifted their perception to a new, fresh idea. I dreamed of the day when users no longer needed to be locked into a PC loaded with Windows XP while hovering around a desk or spending a lot of money to connect computers to expensive networks that were unreliable.

I wanted people to know that there was a better solution for everyone. I was inspired to make a shift in my perception. I needed to identify and correctly mirror what I was projecting to the market. I wanted pet professionals to see the vast potential open to them, to believe in the future of this technology.

THERE IS A BETTER WAY

I needed to go full force to help people learn the advantages of a Web-based product. I explained how they could work simultaneously with staff without a connection to an in-house network. They could work anywhere with an internet connection. In an emergency, such as a theft or a hard drive failure, their business would not skip a beat since their data would be accessible from another device. The business world finally did change. Smart phones with apps became the norm and iPad tablets are everywhere. Like a bad dream ending, the perception of a Web-based business system changed from negative to positive.

The takeaway—changing perception is not always easy and can also be brutal, but it is possible. It will take some effort and commitment. But you can’t just want the goal, you need to be committed to the goal. Then you won’t be able to quit until you reach it. During the past 11 years, our system has grown to reflect the changing needs of our pet professional customer base and has expanded to customers in many countries.

THE POWER OF THE PACK

Enter the favorite part of my career—working with my Packmates! Who are Packmates?

I can say with confidence that our Packmate customers are some of the most brilliant minds in the pet care space. Pick a subject, a problem, even a catastrophe—one of our pack and usually several, will jump to the aid of another Packmate. Amazing things happen that defy expectations when you have a community of animal care experts working together. Our Packmate customers are so much more than just customers to us. They are a network of professionals that feel comfortable when they approach our group with a question or a suggestion. I would describe our Packmates as a family that we get to choose.

We grow stronger with each new member.


HOW TO CREATE YOUR COMMUNITY

I suggest that you form a Facebook community with your customers. It can be private and by invitation only. That’s what PetExec did. We really get to know our active members and view into their lives, experiences, fears, frustrations, and willingness to give advice on many different areas. Events happen that I could not have dreamed possible and in this unique industry, it can go from tragic to wonderful to hysterical. We have a group of over 800+. In that group the information gathered and shared has greatly impacted many pet daycare businesses and also helped struggling members with a bit of a paws-up. That bond is not easily broken.

When you form a community of like-minds, such as the Packmates, the perception shift is that we can do anything together.


PERCEPTION IS REAL AND POWERFUL

I love to observe people and the ways they do things. I value and respect their creativity and courage. Entrepreneurs are like beacons of light. They do what it takes to build their dreams. And most entrepreneurs are wired to share experiences and form alliances. We are like a pack working together. It’s been said that there is no such thing as reality only perception.

WORKING TOWARD THE SAME GOAL.

I believe in the power of perception because I’ve seen it in action. Our active group of Packmates from all over the globe help each other, laugh together, share experiences as well as rely on each other. Many of our pack will never meet face-to-face. We are, however, connected by a common thread. We are all pet professionals who are passionate and seek the counsel of each other. We find that together we form one of the most powerful forces on the planet. Amazing things will happen when you shift your focus from yourself and view it from anothers perspective.


LET’S TRY SOMETHING FUN

Take your dominant hand raise it and snap it three times as fast as you can. Next take that index finger turn it toward your forehead and write out the letter “D” as in dog with your invisible finger pen. Now, did you write the “D” from the perspective another person looking at you so they could read it, or did you write it from the your perspective as if it were right in front of you. This is a simple perspective exercise that has been studied since the 80’s. The finger snapping is just a distraction. I don’t want you to over think this. Don’t think you are a bad person if you wrote it from your viewpoint. I just want to hopefully show you how something as small as a shift in your focus might be exactly what you need to inspire a positive change in the way you project yourself to your clients.

This is a scientifically studied technique called perspective taking. You take a moment out of your own thoughts to see something from anothers point of view. It is also a great way to remember this very important point. The minute you feel as if you are the most important person in the room, is the minute you need to shift your perspective and take a reality check. People are very perceptive and they will notice quickly if you are talking down at them.

You need a shift in your perspective.

WHO’S WATCHING YOU?

The people observing you are watching you more than you might think. Science tells us that a new impression is formed every 3 to 7 seconds. This makes sense when you think about all the constant self-talk going on in your mind on a second-by-second basis, even while you sleep.

How do people view you? What kind of impression are you leaving for them? Would you be surprised to know the truth? Today, I want to take us on a journey—a journey to discover ourselves. I also want to share some lessons I’ve learned from the thousands of wonderful Packmate customers I’ve observed over the years. Plus, I’ve added a few stories to illustrate some great ways to form a very positive perspective to a customer.

Let’s touch on the subject first impressions.

FIRST IMPRESSION

I love my career. I get to work with the very best people on the earth—pet professionals. I get to engage with entrepreneurs who nurture, train, groom, and devote their lives to the care of the nation’s pets. Pet professionals tend to be type-A, hard working, a little neurotic, multi- tasking overachievers. They also are risk takers who are fearless and a little bit scrappy.

THE JOURNEY

I often visit Packmate customers and I was excited about visiting this one (will remain anonymous). Their Website was professional and the staff looked friendly. The pictures of the pets frolicking put visions in my mind of a 5-star hotel.

When the GPS started guiding me into a terrible part of town, my first thought was, I must have entered he wrong address. I hadn’t. Then the fun started, finding parking. I had to park in a dark alley next to a broken down building. I looked up to see a pet daycare broken sign and a rundown storefront.

I was shocked! To add to my experience, was a rough looking group of teenagers kicking the glass storefront window in an effort to scare the pets. I had to walk around them to get to the front door.

Had I been a potential customer, I would have high-tailed it out of there and never gone back. But it was too late, I had to make the best of a really bad first impression. Once inside, the place was nice but not the 5-star resort portrayed on the Website. The business owner admitted that the business was struggling.

I suggested they stop all their marketing and concentrate on improving their real image and the impressions that formed. In pet care, security and safety is critical. You need to earn the trust of any potential clients.

Fast forward many years. They have purchased more space and totally renovated to make the storefront look more inviting. They completely transformed their space by adding a more artistic, downtown chic.

Their original emphasis was on marketing the product and service well before the product was ready. No slick marketing campaign will save your business if you ignore the important bad first impression made by a customer. He was open to change and listened to another opinion. He made a decision to completely alter what was a pending business disaster.

He listened to the question, “What do you project?”

GET SOCIAL

I can not emphasize enough the importance of feeling comfortable and acknowledged when entering a place of business. It’s especially important for the pet care industry. I love going to certain businesses because of the way that they make me feel. At a health club I frequent, the greeters know my name and they seem genuinely happy to see me. I can’t be the only one who loves it every single time they don’t ask for my ID and they say, “Hey Paula, we’ve got you.” They know me. As business owners and entrepreneurs, we are taught to develop business plans and look ahead to projections and other data mining.

I am surrounded by engineers in both my work and home life. They are on a constant quest to find data points to either agree or disapprove concepts. These numbers figures and charts are the actual ways to verify if your idea is worth a financial investment or a risk. Once you provide all the facts and evidence, sign the dotted line and open your doors, then you start getting nervous. People don’t generally even bring up what is one of arguably most neglected areas in business development. What is the first impression you give off?

WHAT ARE YOU REFLECTING?
KNOW WHO YOU ARE AND HOW YOU APPEAR TO YOUR CUSTOMERS

We live in a connected world with lots of distractions and ways to form snap judgements. Many studies have found that not only do people form opinions often, but these impressions are generally very accurate. We are social creatures and this comes very natural. We are constantly reacting to every thing we observe in our environments. Simply put, we are creatures who self talk constantly and form constant analysis to our environment to survive. This constant internal dialogue is important and our senses are acute. We are ready for action at any given moment.

Know who you are and what you are reflecting.

GREAT IMPRESSIONS

Here are a few do’s to help you form the best first impression.

—WEBSITE

Keep the information relevant and clean. People want to look at your prices and learn about your business in this nurturing market. Often your website is the first impression. That is why it is so important to connect to your viewers and showcase the positive reflections of your business. A picture with a story are very important to the viewers who really are seeking a company that emphasizes safety and fun in a pet environment.

Two of the biggest negatives I see on Websites is no about us page and a pricing page that is too complicated and multilayered. Unlike a typical business, you are in the role of nurturing animals. Customers want to know who is taking care of their pets. Show pictures or videos of your staff interacting with pets. What a wonderful way to show your love and caring qualities. Include a story of why you started the pet care business or highlight your passion for animals. Mention your skills as a trainer, vet tech, certification by the IBPSA or PACCC to earn credibility.

—INSTANT GRATIFICATION

This is the age of instant information and people want instant phone calls, emails, etc. An instant email greeting after registering on your Website might be the first message they receive from you so make it count! Make sure that any appointment reminders or other emails that are automatically generated do not contain a generic, lifeless message. Take the time to personalize the email with your own flair.

—SOCIAL MEDIA

People are connected 24/7 to their devices. Important social media options are Facebook or Twitter. Google business, Pinterest and Instagram are also favorites. People crave attention and belonging. Social media is so popular, it provides needed confirmation that their lives matter.

EXAMPLE: Jax Gottlieb is a Packmate with an entertaining Facebook page. He posts pictures of dogs having fun and adds funny quotes about the pets partying on New Year’s Eve and not wanting to g out for a morning break. During Hurricane Irma, their facility was flooded. Jax took the pets to a Marriott hotel and posted that the dogs demanded room service. He has a knack for joking about the difficult things they go through.

—FIRST PERSONAL CLIENT MEETING.

It is so important to be greeted warmly and openly. It seems obvious, but certain small things make an instant impact. Happy looking workers and a clean facility are often game changers. People will not skimp on their children or pets. A good customer will pay more for a service knowing that their pet is in a safe and clean environment with people who care.

MORE WAYS TO IMPRESS

Ways to form a lasting, positive impression.

  • Pet Report Cards
  • Pet Birthday Greetings
  • Remembering Milestones
  • Pet Appointment
  • Vaccination Reminders
  • Customer appreciation promotions such as a free daycare, a pet bath or a free day on their package.
DO YOU KNOW YOUR SEGMENT?

You have discovered yourself so now who is your customer?

Is a customer going into a hardware store to buy a tool different from a customer who is looking for someone they can trust with their pet? Are you confident that you are projecting a trustworthy, reliable and safe facility with your appearance and attitude? Know your customers. Learn what they need.

First and foremost, make sure you know your segment. It’s overly simplistic but an often ignored fact. Make a list of your top 30% of customers that are an ideal match. Market to that segment. The impossible to please and the ones just looking for a discount are probably not your ideal customer. Always market your best qualities— nurturing, love of pets, pet expertise, and credentials, instead of discount marketing.

It might be difficult to not offer all discount rates. It’s easier to start high and adjust than to start too low and paint yourself into a corner with too many discounts. The people I see who are the most successful have the absolute easiest and more straight-forward pricing structure. People will perceive your business as a valuable service when you ensure then a safe and happy pet environment. They form a much better image of you than someone with layers of discounts.

Your image is worth protecting.

DIVING INTO AN IMPORTANT LESSON

I love to scuba dive. I’m fairly new, but diving and being in the water is like paradise to me. I went with my husband to San Marcos, Mexico to enjoy a few days of diving far from shore on a diving boat. After the effects of the earthquakes in Mexico, the diving visibility was poor and the seas were rough. Other than a few fish, all

I saw while diving was a lot of sand and a few fin kicks from other divers coming near my face. I decided to go past our designated safe zone. I had my diving buddy with me following my lead. The seas were rough and the conditions weren’t good; but I decided to test my luck. One of the things you learn as a new diver is that the tides can take you far away quickly. If you aren’t paying attention, you are going to move far away from the object where you orient your place; in this case the boat. I actually did find a pretty spot to observe a few bright fish. After a bit of time observing the fish, I noticed it was time to come up to the surface. After doing all the necessary safety stops, we ascending to the top. My husband and I looked at each other and both said “Where is the diving boat?”

We knew this might not end well.

KEEPING THE TRUST

One of the reasons the diving was poor was that the marine animals can sense danger and find safe spots where the current is not as strong to hide and stay secure. It is an intelligent instinct that animals have to avoid danger. Unfortunately, I don’t posses that instinct to avoid danger. With no boat or anything else in sight but sea I said to my husband, “I think we came from that direction.” I wasn’t sure which way to turn. Luckily we swam for a ways to see a boat way off into the distance. As we swam closer, we could see that all eyes were on us with very angry expressions. We were too far to be heard so I signaled that we were OK and proceeded to swim to the boat.

I was wondering why they were angry. After all, I checked my watch and did make it on time. We practiced dive safety and used all the right protocols. Then I heard from the captain and crew. They told us that we went off on own way without any regard for the rest of the crew or other divers. In essence, I drifted off in my own little world and forgot that others were watching me. I lost my mark and any bearings to orient where I was going. I had lost their trust because I substituted my judgment and my vision ahead of theirs. Business is the same. If you get caught up in the day-by-day and forget that people are always watching and evaluating you—judging if you are worthy of their trust, it will knock you off course.

You are always being watched. Ask yourself what are you doing to stay on course? What are some ways to not lose focus?

PERFECT WAYS TO ABSOLUTELY RUIN YOUR IMAGE
—USE SOCIAL MEDIA AS A PLACE TO TALK ABOUT HOW BAD YOUR DAY IS GOING.

Don’t forget that potentially thousands of people are following you, and may read those stories. It is wise to refrain from talking about how you can’t keep good employees or how sick you feel, especially on a business page.

—FIGHT BACK WITH A DIFFICULT OR IMPOSSIBLE CLIENT

Everyone gets the client who is impossible to please. It is better to leave them as satisfied as possible or suggest an alternative. You always, if possible, want the person to leave your presence feeling better than they came. There is no gain in showing your teeth to a customer. Leave your ego at the door when you go to work. Leave everyone you meet with something good to remember. You may lose a client but never lose your cool.

—DEFENSIVELY ATTACK SOMEONE WHO LEAVES A BAD REVIEW

There’s always that one person who is absolutely in the wrong and puts out a bad review to get revenge. You might even experience competitors posing as clients who will turn into keyboard warriors. I always call if possible or email the person to ask them to rectify the bad review. In the case of competitors posing, I’ve even identified them and the review quickly disappeared. In most cases, try to be thankful for the constructive criticism as people will also read your responses. Though it’s tempting to want to write a bad review back, nothing good will come out of it.

—OVER PROMISE AND UNDER DELIVER

There is nothing worse for your reputation than to say you are going to do something and then make excuses for why you forgot to act on your promise. Mistakes can happen and things can fall through the cracks, but do whatever it takes to utilize the tools that can keep you on top of the radar with your clients. Use automation and system management tools for all they are worth.

—COMPLICATED PRICING OR SURPRISES AT THE CHECKOUT

If your receipt list is a mile long with add-ons and your pricing model is complex and difficult to understand, it will come across as over-pricing and obvious up-selling.

Have you ever shopped for something online— then abandoned the cart when the shipping is more than you wanted to pay? The way many of our minds work is even if the total is the same for one product with free shipping or one product where the shipping is separate (same total cost), our brains will want to choose the free shipping option.

Pet services can be combined in a similar fashion. If you offer boarding for $35 night and turndown service as an additional $5 a night, instead of boarding for $40 nightly which includes an evening turn down service, the later is generally perceived as a better deal.

—GET INTO POLITICAL OR RELIGIOUS DISCUSSIONS OR ARGUMENTS

I know it seems obvious to avoid these topics but if you feel the hair on the back of your heck rising because you disagree with a particular political view, you are best to let it go. You can have wonderful relationships with those who you disagree politically or who come from a different faith.

—DISREGARD THE RUNNING WEB CAMS

If you are going to use Web cams, make sure that the staff are having positive interactions with the pets. I have seen views of a dark room and attendants with squirt bottles. It looks sinister to a sensitive client. Play with the pets and keep them enriched whether the cameras are rolling or not. Nothing is more horrible than to be away on vacation and see some grumpy looking attendant and dogs looking for direction on a Web cam.

—HIDE WHEN SOMETHING GOES WRONG

Of course it is tempting to hide in your shell when something bad happens like a Kennel Cough outbreak. One of the best examples of a company responding to the outbreak, was to do a live facebook video. They spoke about what they were doing to prevent the spread of the disease and the reasons why. They were apologetic but illustrated that for the safety of all the pets in their care. Never be afraid to reach out and be honest with your customers.

Example: IBPSA trade show in Jacksonville, FL. As luck would have it, the show was scheduled during one of the worst hurricanes in Florida history, Hurricane Irma. IBPSA sent us many notifications and information updates that our venue might be flooded. That would have been a catastrophe for the event.

Then the worst possible news came. The venue was too flooded. The IBPSA staff would have to plan a different option or cancel. Carmen, Charlotte and the other IBPSA staff worked diligently to find a new venue with available hotel rooms and an exhibition floor. They were able to change the venue and the show went on as planned. Vendors were put into a posh hotel on Amelia Island and extra amenities were delivered without vendor extra charges. The final venue was beautiful and the show was well executed.

Throughout this catastrophic event, the IBPSA team continued to send us emails that were always positive. A genie in a bottle could not have pulled off this miracle as well as the IBPSA. I learned three very valuable lessons from that experience from the IBPSA team.

  • When the going gets tough, don’t give up until you have searched under every last rock for a solution.
  • Keep your messages honest with a positive or solution-seeking ending.
  • Don’t mess with Carmen or Charlotte or anyone in the IBPSA. Together, they can accomplish anything.
BE A POSITIVE REFLECTION

Step outside your head and look at yourself from another person’s view.

  • Clean house of all the potentially negative reflections.
  • Be present when you are face-to-face with your customers. Put your cellphone or other distractions away.
  • Make sure the staff is aware that part of their role is to put on a good attitude everyday.
  • Make sure your Website truly represents your message and contains your story. People want to know who you are and why you chose nurturing pets as a career.
  • Watch your naming conventions. Avoid terms like cage, pen or enclosure for rooms instead of the more comfortable sounding cabana, suite, or loft.
  • Include good news on social media or emails. Include pictures, relative articles and uplifting content to show your positive reflection.
  • Include social media links on the items you send out like emails, email blasts, report cards, confirmations and reminders. Welcome viewers into your world.
  • Be that person who you want to reflect. When times get tough you may need to make an attitude shift—make that shift.
  • Ask your customers questions. Your customers are your best source of criticism good and bad. Be prepared to open your mind to other ideas.
FEAR NOT YOUR OWN REFLECTION

Do not be afraid to truly look at yourself, your business. Conquer any fears that may be stopping you from moving forward. Creating great customer perception isn’t difficult as long as you are not afraid to show who you are. Be willing to make a shift to improve what you reflect. People are seeking connection. Everyone needs to be acknowledged and noticed.

Be present. Be a positive reflection, a mirror that projects your magical and powerful presence everyday.

People intoxicate themselves with work so they won't see how they really are. — Aldous Huxley

Paula Mosteller

A graduate of the University of Colorado, Paula spent the early part of her career marketing accounting software applications for large corporations. She continued her career in the corporate world in commercial marketing at The Boeing Company in Renton, WA. On a whim, Paula accepted a position working for a web development company where she discovered her passion for web development and applications. Then Paula decided it was time to go solo. She decided to combine her love of animals and helping people grow their businesses with the help of software. Paula and her long time workmate and friend, Paul Naro joined forces to create PetExec. Now living in sunny Arizona, married and mother of two grown children,  and two rescues, Paula enjoys being a gym rat and working with animal rescues when she is not busy helping PetExec Packmates.

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