When Bad Reviews Happen to Good Pet Sitters

by Kristin Morrison on March 30, 2012

in Dealing with Pet Sitting Client Conflics,Pet Business,pet sitting blog,pet sitting business tips

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I don’t know what the heck is going on lately but in the past few weeks I have received a massive amount of calls and emails from frustrated and despondent pet sitters who are ready to throw in the towel after getting a bad review of their business.

I get it.

No, really I do.

I’m not just saying that.

I, too, had the experience a few weeks ago. One of our one-time pet sitting clients wrote a horrible review about my company.

It was a client that had used my pet sitting company 6 months ago.

Here’s an inside peek into my brain after I saw that review:

Six months ago?
And you never called me to tell me you were unhappy?
Instead you write a horrible, scathing online review about us for all the world to see?
Six months later?! What the ???!

(Went the very negative chatter in my head.)

I paced around my office for a few minutes, scowling and muttering under my breath and then yelling AGGGGHHHHHHHHHH a few times. (My poor neighbors.)

What I got in touch with when I stopped pacing and yelling was that this experience was disheartening.

I got in touch with how I try to run the best possible pet sitting business and when I’m not running my business, my dear managers are doing their best to run the best possible pet sitting business.

And in spite of that:

We got a bad review.

It was disheartening.

Still, it was easier to calm down than it might have been say, a few years ago, because guess what?

In my nearly 17 years of owning a pet sitting business, my business has gotten our share (a small share, thankfully) of negative reviews.

It happens.

Sorry guys, you can’t work with the public for years and years and years without getting a negative review.

It’s true.

Here’s the truth: You are going to make someone out there unhappy. You are, at some point, going to have a client who has expectations that aren’t going to be met by you or your company.

It happens.

Here are the actions I took to make peace with myself and the client who wrote the bad review:

1. I allowed myself to fully feel the spectrum of feelings that came up around this review. These included (but were not limited to): anger, sadness and (owie) grief over this review. It hurts. The word ‘grief’ may sound extreme but getting a bad review brings up the perceived loss of reputation which is a type of death for a business owner. Allowing myself to feel the yuck feelings fully then allowed me to move into action with all of my energy present.

2. I called the pet sitter who had taken care of this client and I asked her for her side of the story: What actually had happened with this client? I had the client’s point of view (from the review that was posted for all the world to see, gosh darn it) but what happened from her perspective? When we spoke, I could hear the honesty in her voice and was able to determine that she really hadn’t done anything wrong. The client hadn’t given clear instructions about the pet’s needs.

3. Next I thought carefully about what I wanted to say to the client. I got crystal clear in my head and on paper about what needed to be said so I could refer back to my notes if need be. I waited until I was in a relative place of equanimity (it took a few hours) before contacting the client.

4. Next, I called the client. You read that right. I didn’t email him. I called. On the phone (it’s an old-fashioned tool that some of us still use for communication). And if you are like most people and the thought of actually talking to a client who wrote a negative review about you terrifies you, here’s a word of advice when dealing with a negative review or feedback from a client: never, ever email the client a response.

Is it much harder to call than email? Oh my God yes. It takes a heck of a lot of courage. That’s where you want to put on your big girl panties or big boy briefs and JUST DO IT. You are not going to die or pass out from the anger or fear. You may feel like you are. But trust me, you won’t die. Or pass out.

5. When I got the client’s voicemail I left a calm, loving (yes, loving) message that went something like this:

Hi John. (Deep, relaxed breath) I saw your review and I just wanted to contact you as soon as possible so we could talk about it. I feel awful that you had a bad experience with my company. As the owner, I’m 100% committed to you having a good experience with my company and it was such a shock to see that you weren’t happy with the pet sitting you received from us. I realize that we sat for you about six months ago and perhaps you tried to contact me but somehow I never got the message. (Deep relaxed breath.) I want you to know that I want to do whatever I can to make this right. Can you please tell me what I can do to make things right? Please give me a call at ______. I’m in the office today. Thanks and I look forward to hearing from you.

6. When he didn’t respond by phone that day or the next then I emailed him. Here’s what my email said:

Dear John,

I left you a phone message and I’m just contacting you to see if you got it. Forgive me if I’m bugging you. I want you to know that my intention in contacting you is to make things right. What can I do to make things right? I’m committed to you having a good experience with us and it hurts my heart to know that you weren’t happy with the care we provided. Please give me a call or send me an email so I can take care of this as soon as possible. Thanks and I look forward to hearing from you.

Warmly,
Kristin

7. Keep your email and your phone message authentic and loving. Did I have second thoughts about using the word ‘it hurts my heart’? You betcha. But I did it anyway because it was hurting my heart (owie). And I felt like I had nothing to lose by sharing that and perhaps everything to gain by sharing that.

Here’s how my story ended:

I got an email from John (not a call, an email. I guess he wasn’t wearing his big boy briefs that day).

Here’s what his email response was:

Hi,
I did get your phone and email message. Things have been busy today. I do still think that your pet sitter didn’t do things right but I will take the review off. Please don’t contact me again.
John

So here are the Cliff Notes if you get a bad review:

1. Feel the full spectrum of feelings. Get it it up and out of your body (yelling, talking and/or crying with a friend) so you can then be free to take action.

2. Contact the staff member who provided care to get more information. If you were the person who cared for the client, think clearly back to that day and if what the client said happened, happened.

3. Think carefully about what to say to the client.

4. Call the client. Don’t email. Call. On the old-fashioned instrument called a telephone.

5. Leave a calm and loving message or talk directly to the client in a loving, calm manner. Include the words “How can I make this right?”

6. If the client doesn’t respond in a day or two, email them a loving, calm email. Include the words “How can I make this right?”

7. Breathe. A lot. Know that you are a good person and a good pet sitter and realize that sometimes bad things (and reviews) happen to good pet sitters. Soon this review will be a distant memory. It’s not the end of the world. Your right clients will find you, bad review or not. Trust me!

© All Rights Reserved by Six-Figure Pet Sitting Academy™

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{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Petelf March 30, 2012 at 4:47 pm

This is just so perfect in it’s simplicity. Sit with the feelings. Communicate. Let it go. And most importantly, “it happens”. I think it’s reassuring to know that no matter what, we can’t please all of the people all of the time. It happens.

I chatted (online) with a sitter today who has a client she can’t seem to satisfy. The sitter wants to discontinue service, but is afraid the client will hurt her reputation. But, I pointed out, she isn’t *helping* her reputation now. And it will free up a spot in her schedule for someone who wants a relationship. That’s what this ultimately is – relationships between people. And sometimes we let someone down, but we can do our best to set it right, then let it go.

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ingrid March 31, 2012 at 9:05 am

this is super informative and shows to handle this type of situation in a professional way

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Chris Wagner March 31, 2012 at 1:29 pm

Hi Kristin, thank you for such a great post. I’m going to keep it in case I need it. I don’t look around the internet for bad reviews and who knows, there may be one out there for me.

Thanks,
Chris

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Kristin Morrison May 8, 2012 at 11:17 pm

PetElf–I completely agree with you–letting go of challenging clients frees up our energy to attract clients who are easy and fun to work with (so we don’t have to spend lots of money on self care items in order to recover from our interactions with them!)
Ingrid, thanks for your comment!
And Chris, so nice to hear from you and hopefully when you looked for a bad review you didn’t find one. 🙂

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Kathleen Fitzsimmons October 24, 2012 at 6:06 am

Thanks for the great article Kristin and advice about bad reviews. So far, we have been lucky not to get a bad review but it always makes me nervous. We have had our share, luckily just a handful, or unhappy customers and I always try my best to correct the situation.

Kat

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Kristin Morrison October 24, 2012 at 9:07 am

Hi Kat,
Thanks for your comments and I’m glad to hear you have been able to rectify the situation with any unhappy clients. I’m wishing you much continued pet sitting success. 🙂

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joanne Gilman February 9, 2016 at 11:04 am

Great article and good advice! I had a regular weekly client last spring who dropped me out of the blue with no communication. When I contacted her to remind her that she still had not given me her dates for that month, I got no response. I felt certain she was unhappy about something but I honestly (after much examination) could not figure out what so I reached out to her. I emailed a very heartfelt message asking if she was unhappy in any way with the service provided and told her that I could only address an issue if I was made aware of it. No response. I followed up with her through email as well and got no response again. She had always been very nice and had never given any indication of a problem. And interestingly, she had a camera installed, which I knew about, so what would I have done knowing I am being watched?? I still just don’t get it. I am thankful there has been no bad review but I still rack my brain over it. I would much rather someone inform me of a problem than just move on without a word.

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Kristin Morrison February 9, 2016 at 11:21 am

That sounds maddening, Joanne! So sorry to see that happened to you. I admire your attempt to connect with her and get to the bottom of it. You know, it may have nothing to do with you and your service. She may be going through a divorce, cancer, or something else that’s life changing. You made a valiant attempt at connecting with her about it and her silence may mean it has nothing to do with you. Hopefully you’ll be able to let it go. Sending you a big hug!

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Ginger Salick February 17, 2016 at 10:29 am

Hi Kristin I took your exceptionally great 4 week course last year and would recommend it to everyone in the business. Question: what do you do about the troll that leaves a bad review on Yelp yet has obviously never used our service as he is so far out of our service area? We don’t even know who he is.

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Kristin Morrison February 17, 2016 at 10:51 am

Hi Ginger! I’m sorry to hear about the negative review. 🙁 I recommend that you reply to the comment (all owners of businesses can reply to reviews). Note that your reply will be visible on Yelp so keep that in mind when you write your response. Also, it wouldn’t hurt to contact Yelp directly and let them know you’ve got no idea who this person is and that he is outside of your service area so it’s not possible that he’s used your service and perhaps he got confused with another service in his area. Good luck!

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Carley September 19, 2016 at 10:06 am

Thank you for this article. Although I have been a pet sitter for over 7 years, I am new to owning my business. I met a potential slew of new clients and was contacted by one. I was to stay in her home for two nights, and that is what I did. In an attempt to ensure that my presence was not so apparent, I cleaned up rather nicely upon my departure. I cared for her dog, and met her friends at the dog park where even more potential clients were asking for cards. I called and let her know that I was leaving the key on the console. When I left, I could have sworn the dog was at the door watching me leave. However, I receive an email from her stating that when she returned home, the dog was trapped in the guest bedroom where I slept. I attempted to call her right away, to explain that this was almost nearly impossible or my fault. However, I did email her and took complete responsibility for not guaranteeing the pets well being and her satisfaction.

Anyhow, after several attempts to call and communicate, I received an email stating “I am busy at work, and do not really want to talk about it” the end. I am nearly distraught, and was unable to sleep…not only do I feel terrible about the dog being trapped, but terrible about how she must’ve responded to her friends when she returned to the park where I had just met them hours and days prior…

I understand that reputation is everything and I am just up in arms with myself for “failing” at something so simple.

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