One day it will happen for the first time. Then, eventually, it will happen every day.
It's the dreaded client call asking you to somehow alter their scheduled visits at the last second. For many dog walking and pet sitting business owners, this is the bane of their existence.
Since these alterations will require extra work and time - and a hefty dose of frustration - should you charge your dog walking and pet sitting clients extra for changes, cancellations, and additions to their schedule?
My opinion is...YES.
Although most customers will be respectful of your time, you’ll inevitably get customers that want to add, change, or cancel appointments with little or no notice. They don’t realize this is going to change the entire day and route for the person visiting their pet.
Most of these people just think we're like a taxi service; that we're just waiting around on call 24 hours a day. They just don't understand that we're making hundreds - or even thousands - of visits every month and that an efficient and planned schedule is the backbone of our business.
And a small percentage of people know all this, but they just don't care.
These are the people that should be given some extra "motivation" to alert you to changes in their schedule. And that motivation comes in the form of an extra fee.
Generally speaking, you’re not trying to specifically penalize someone for making last-minute changes. All we're trying to do is to motivate a person to let you know in advance of a change when they already know it’s coming.
For example: if someone calls you at 7am to tell you that they don’t need you that day because their dog is going to the groomer, that’s an example of when a client knew in advance of the schedule change but just didn’t take the time to tell you.
That’s their fault and they’ve screwed up your day because of their lack of respect for you.
To deter last-second schedule changes, a simple solution is an extra fee in certain circumstances.
Again, we don't want to penalize good people that make a mistake or have something unexpected happen. With that in mind, you'll probably want give every client one “free” add/change/cancel every 12 months because there will always be that time when a client truly has something unexpected come up, like being sick.
Other than that one free get-out-of-jail card though, any type of add/change/cancel with less than X number of hours of notice should have a fee associated with it. How much notice you need is up to you and, as a suggestion, I'd recommend 48 hours.
The amount of the fee should be “painful” enough that the client does not want to incur it again. We typically find that for a dog walking and pet sitting visit, roughly $10 extra seems to be a good incentive for most people.
So, if a person wants to add a last-minute visit, it’s $10 PLUS whatever the original charge for the visit is.
Or, if a person wants to change a visit (like move it from 11am to 2pm), again, it's $10 PLUS whatever the original charge was.
If a person wants to cancel a visit at the last minute, that impacts you and any team members you have that would have made the visit in a different way because now we're talking about lost revenue.
For cancellations, at a minimum, charge the client your change fee. In most cases though, I'd recommend charging the client the full actual cost of the visit, especially if the client is a repeat offender.
Your customers will pay attention when it starts to cost them money.
When you enforce your policy (and ONLY if you enforce your policy), you'll start to see a drop off in the last-minute scheduling changes that are requested. That's because people don't want to pay extra money when they don't need to.
And when a good client needs a change, they will actually say something like "hey, I forgot I'm going out tonight and I know it's going to cost me $10 bucks extra, but can you come and visit Fluffy today?"
They'll proactively mention that they know the fee is coming and be willing to pay it. Good customers won't mind.
And what about those clients who are repeat offenders? Well, some will just keep doing what they always do and you should just keep charging them the extra change fees. It really makes no sense to me why some clients pay it time after time instead of just giving proper notice, but that's the way some people do it.
For the bad clients that are repeat offenders, some of these may drop off as customers when you start charging them extra. In my experience, these are far and few between. But those who leave are those who just cause you pain anyway. No big loss.
I know that us pet business owners are often afraid of making our clients mad. Remember though that good customers aren't going to be angry. They're just going to adjust their actions. And, in the process, respect you more.
Do you charge your clients any type of extra fee for changes in your dog walking and pet sitting scheduling? Let us know in the comments.
John loves animals and business. He put the two together and built a multi-million dollar dog walking/running and pet sitting business with hard work, systems, and great people. He now teaches everything he's learned in the Pet Business Masters! community.