Is there a Communication Breakdown in your Pet Business?

by Nancy Hassel, American Pet Professionals

Have you ever read an email sent to you and completely took it the wrong way? 


Misread a social post – and were instantly irked?


Had a conversation with someone misunderstood what he or she was trying to convey?


Congratulations you’re human. 


It happens to all of us.


However, focusing on better communication, written and verbally is going to be a game changer in your pet business.


Earlier this year, I was speaking at Global Pet Expo in Orlando, and the topic was “Adapting Different Training Modalities” kind of like our last article.   And during the session, I brought up the topic of communicating with your employees.


I asked: Does anyone here know what the ABC method is?


Some of the answers were super creative and hilarious.  But the ABC method is ‘Always Be Communicating.’ 


I went on to ask: How often are you communicating with your employees so they are understanding your training, your brands voice and how to answer customer’s questions?


And one of the attendees in the audience said, “We do regular role play in our store based on potential (or past) conversations with customers.” If you’re reading this, and were in that session, please let me know your store name so I can give you credit!


I was really impressed by that, and how they implemented it.  There was no schedule for the role-play – just would happen at random times with their employees.   So for example, Sally, (the manager or store owner), would go up to John, (employee), and implement an issue that a customer may come up to them with and Sally would play the part of a customer.  This has multiple ways it can help and improve the communication and training in your pet store:


  1. To help the employee better understand customer needs.
  2. To make clearer communication between the employee and customer needs.
  3. And to have everyone in the store prepared ahead of time, trained on potential customer questions/needs.


I thought this was a brilliant idea – and what a great way to help the entire store be on the same page with training AND communication skills with the employees/customers. Talk about having your pet store stand out!


When I dug a little deeper, the store owner/manager admitted that it was nerve racking for him to initiate this role-play sessions with their employees.  And said that the employees also seemed nervous.


Which I found even more interesting, and was a little surprised since it was their part of their own training. But direct one-on-one communication is not always easy for people, whether you’re the owner of the business or the employee.


I may have mentioned ways to make it fun vs. everyone being nervous. Instead of it seeming like a chore, how can you make those communication role-play sessions fun for you and your employees?  Kibble for thought.


I then asked the attendees in the audience:  How many of you feel comfortable communicating aka having a conversation directly with your employees.  About 4 hands went up.


How many of you are not comfortable with directly communicating with your employees?  The majority of the attendees raised their hands. While my initial response was ‘wow’ to that response, it also did not surprise me.


I am the opposite; I would rather talk with an employee than go back and forth on an email where things can quickly be taken out of context.  Of course you want to be prepared for the conversation and not have a heated conversation with an employee that your customers are now listening to.  Unless it is something incredibly serious, affects a customers pet, or it’s a fireable offense, take your time to cool down so you can communicate properly.


You can even write out some bullet points of what you want to discuss with your employee so it’s not just an emotional conversation that ends up being heated and not resolving the issue.


A communication breakdown can really wreck a relationship, wreak havoc on your business and affect your bottom line.  Learning how to be a better communicator with your employees should be an important part of your business goals.


A lot of communicating believe it or not is being quiet, and listening.  Actually hearing what the person is saying, asking, and conveying to you.  Not cutting them off mid-sentence to talk over them to get to an answer quickly.  Because as you’re cutting them off, not hearing the entire question, and answering abruptly with the wrong answer is not going to help the situation. Listening is part of your leadership skills. 


Listening and hearing your employees is vital to your business. 

How many times as an employee yourself have you been frustrated with your boss who is just not listening or hearing you? Oh boy have I been there, and it’s not fun. 

And I know if you’re a boss reading this that you may be thinking well our employees are not listening to US!   Be leaders my friends, not bosses. 

If all you’re doing is bossing around your employees, chances are your communication skills are lacking and your not leading your team by listening with the intention of hearing them.  


Hearing them as they may have fantastic ideas to help your pet business.  Listening, because excellent communication is not just being the one communicating your points.  Being the loudest one in a meeting is not always going to convey what you’re trying to communicate to those around you.


So how can you be a better communicator as the leader of your pet business?


When you’re having a conversation with an employee or customer, listen by being fully present in the conversation.  Easier said than done when there can be a lot going on in your store, grooming shop, etc. – but hearing what that customer is saying and helping solve the problem they have, answering their question is going to far out weigh not being present.  Glancing at your phone, head in your books/paperwork, opening boxes from an order that shipped in, fill in the blank - while a customer is trying to ask a question is not being fully present.  


Have you ever been in a store and have a question about a product or service and asked a question to the person working there, but they seem bothered to have to answer a question?  Yea, you don’t ever want that to happen in your store or pet business.


Figure out where in your business that communication can be better addressed.  Be honest about it with yourself.  Ask your employees where they may feel a communication breakdown is, and figure out a plan to fix that.  


Make your communication style clear and simple so that anyone can understand and take in the information you are relaying and apply it.  

This may come with some editing of yourself as you speak, of your training (written components), and even your marketing of your pet business. 

Have a team meeting specifically to ask if anyone is having issues with communication within your business.  I know that may not sound like a lot of fun, but it is going to help you as the leader hear where there may be areas you can approve upon.  You may not even realize that there are people within your organization that are not being heard, or fully understand the company's goals due to lack of clear communication. 

The more you concentrate on being a better communicator, verbally and written the better you will get.  And your employees, customers and peers will be better for as well as your pet business and the future of your business.


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