Dealing with Pet Sitting Client Conflics

When Bad Reviews Happen to Good Pet Sitters


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.


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:

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.

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!

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Dealing with Client Conflict: How to Turn Angry Pet Sitting Clients into Happy Puppy Dogs

2813647822_c0603a658b_mA couple of blog posts ago I wrote about why client conflict can be good for business. Now you’ll find out how to deal with it!

1) Remember when you have an angry person on the phone or emailing you that this is an opportunity to create an even better relationship than you had with this client before they were angry. Print out the “How Conflict Can be Good for Business” blog post and keep it near the phone or your computer so that when you are REALLY freaked out by a screaming client you will have something to calm YOU in the face of all that negative energy.

2) If you are on the phone: let the client have their screaming fit.
They need to get it out of their system. If you interrupt them in midstream they will lash out at YOU and you don’t want that.

Here’s what to do: Think about this upset client as if they are an angry dog.

As a pet sitter who is around dogs all the time, you probably realize that most angry dogs need to express their anger by snarling and baring their teeth. Once they’ve had their say, they will often just turn around and be on their merry way. But if you interrupt them by talking “Nice doggy” or stepping forward,  they most likely WILL attack. Both of these actions interrupt the dog’s process to express his anger.

Words to live by when dealing with client conflict: Breathe. Listen. Don’t interrupt.

3) If the client has emailed you, DO NOT email back. Call them or email only to find a time to meet in person or on the phone. One of the best business tips I ever received is do not discuss any difficult issues via email. (This tip is invaluable for personal relationships too.)

Take the issue to the phone or in person. Why? Communicating a difficult subject via email creates a wall between you and that other person. You can remove the wall (or at least make it a wall you can peer over) by hearing that person’s voice and/or meeting them in person.

4) When the client is done spewing then let them know you heard what they said and you will do whatever it takes to rectify the problem. How do you know when they are done? Count for three LONG seconds.

If they have not spoken during the entire three seconds it is okay for you to talk. Say, “I’ve heard you and I’m so sorry for the part we’ve had in upsetting you.”

Put yourself in their shoes and let them know that you completely understand how they could feel that way about whatever it is that upset them.  (People want to be heard and not made wrong for what they are complaining about–give them that gift and most clients will be forever grateful.)

Offer to give them money back. If one of your sitters did a lousy job then ask your sitter  if they will pay for the mistake. (You cannot do this if they are an employee, only if they are an Independent Contractor.)  If you feel that you are to blame because you weren’t clear with your staff-own that mistake and be willing to refund a portion or the full amount of their pet sitting fee. Also be willing to apologize to your staff if the communication error was on your part.

5) After you’ve offered money back ask your client if they need anything else by saying: “I’m truly sorry about this. Is there anything else I can do to make this right?” And be willing to do it.

Dealing with Client Conflict: How to Turn Angry Pet Sitting Clients into Happy Puppy Dogs Read More »

3 Common Pet Sitting Business Challenges (and How to Deal with Them!)


Challenge #1: Your clients are often late in paying their pet sitting or dog walking bills.

Solution A: Get a merchant credit card machine to have control over when they pay. PayPal is great but clients have to do it so you still don’t have control when you get your money.  Costco has incredibly great rates for merchant credit card processing.

Solution B: Have them mail a check prior to departure. “In order to insure your reservation we will need to receive payment 3 days prior to departure. A post-dated check for the final date of service is also fine.” Business owners: the important thing is to get full payment prior to departure!

Challenge #2: You don’t know why but you find that you often attract difficult and ultra-picky clients who are not easy to work with.

Solution A: Get skilled at seeing the signs of impossible clients: “we’ve gone through 3 pet sitters this year”, writing a novel as instructions for their pets, interrogating you in the initial phone call about where you find your people, etc.  Choose NOT to take them on as clients.

Solution B: When you do make a mistake and take on one of these clients be willing to let them go. 95% of stress often comes from 5% of those difficult and ultra-challenging clients–let go of those 5% and you may find you have only 5% stress!

Challenge #3: You often have clients calling for services 1-3 days prior to departure and you have to scramble to meet with them or set up a sitter to meet with them. This leads to you being grumpy and irritable.

Solution A: Charge a $30 last minute fee. Say, “We’d love to help and it’s a lot to scramble to get our staff member Suzie to meet with you so we do charge a $30 last minute fee when you have to meet one of our staff members in less than 72 hours. She’s definitely available. Can I go ahead and get your information so I can set up a meeting?”

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Conflicts with Your Pet Sitting Clients can be GOOD for Business

3351810231_f7edc2eccaSound strange? It’s not.

Here’s why: when we work through issues that come up in relationships, including our working relationships, we then develop trust in that particular person and in the relationship itself. Often that relationship is then stronger and more connected than it was prior to the conflict.

That’s why having conflict with your pet sitting and dog walking clients is a ripe opportunity to create a bridge from anger, resentment and misunderstanding to a meaningful, lifelong working relationship.

Think about it: when you hire a service or company to do something for you and they screw up and then bend over backwards to make it right don’t you come away happier and raving to your friends about the excellent customer service?

I know I do. And you probably do too.

And for good reason. You were upset, the company made it right and then some (probably throwing in a little something extra to sweeten the deal and the thus, creating a sweeter relationship) and wah-lah! You went from being an angry, unhappy customer to telling your friends how incredible this particular business now is.

Had there been no conflict you might not be singing their praises to the masses.

Now pet sitters: I’m NOT advising you to create conflict for the sake of creating a more loyal relationship with your clients. Not at all!

What I’m advising is simply to look at conflict differently: look at it as a possible bridge to a more meaningful and lasting relationship with your pet sitting clients.

In my next blog post I will write about how best to bridge that conflict from tension and anger to harmony and customer loyalty. Stay tuned!

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