Working in animal welfare can often be a trying place to be in when it comes to providing excellent customer service. After all, the person on the phone with you isn’t looking to surrender or return a pair of shoes – they are looking to surrender a life. However, ensuring you have a well-trained, knowledgeable and compassionate staff providing superb customer service even in very difficult situations is one way to improve your organization drastically at little to no cost.
Having a friendly and responsible group of staff and volunteers is vital to an organization, but so is making smart decisions when it comes to the placement of animals. Adoption counseling is so important to ensuring the animals that leave your facility will remain with their new families for the remainder of their lives. In other words, it’s certainly not ideal to have a couch potato visit your facility, choose the 9 month old Dalmatian pup and have your staff hand the leash over to him. It’s important to ask the potential adopter questions and get to know them and their lifestyle, then match them with pets in your facility which will best mesh with their lifestyle. One way to do this is by color coding on the kennel doors so people need less one-on-one assistance with your staff through the ASPCA’s Meet Your Match Program. That program is available for both dogs and cats.
Being available is also very important. If you have an adoption facility, but are not open on nights and weekends, you are no doubt losing adoptions. Be available on nights, weekends and most holidays. These are the times when most people are not working, so it makes sense that they would come in to adopt during these times. Also, be sure to have your organization out there in the community. Hold adoption events, put flyers on bulletin boards and signs in stores, post regularly on social network sites, have your pets readily available and up-to-date on internet adoption sites (such as Petfinder!), and use the media and press every chance you get.
Another fun way to create more interest in your organization is to have fun and creative adoption promotions. These are catchy and often draw a lot of attention. Make sure you have plenty of friendly staff and volunteers to greet visitors who come to your shelter or events. There should also be a time frame in which all calls and emails are expected to be returned. Often I have witnessed this time frame being within 24 hours, but the sooner the better, of course. Often times these calls and emails involve individuals who are looking to surrender their pets. To best address these folks, it may be very helpful to have a list available of pet friendly landlords and apartment complexes in the area, hotlines, behavior modification information, food pantries, low cost spay/neuter options, crisis intervention options which may involve the need for boarding or foster homes, and allergy/shedding resources. This is just a sample of issues which people may call about, so review the list further with your staff and volunteers to see what other issues are common reasons for surrender in your area and gather information about them as well.
Although there are many frustrating situations that you and the rest of the staff will find yourself in, the best policy is to have a Judgement Free Zone with any situation having to do with your shelter or rescue. To do this, anyone dealing with the public will need to have skills in conflict resolution, effective communication, and dealing with difficult people.
To read more on the importance of customer service, you can read this survey information we compiled, or visit this Maddie’s Fund page with a collection of customer service articles. By no means is this always easy, but it is very important. And remember: appreciative, happy visitors will refer their friends and family to adopt from you.