As the puppy market is normalizing, you have to ask yourself, how am I going to grow, or at least sustain, in this changing market? The answer is customer service. This year customer service is going to be the most important thing you can you can do to keep your breeding program moving along. So what is customer service in relation to dog breeding and how do we implement it?
Customer service is all about making the process for your buyers easy and satisfying. For example, the buyer shouldn’t feel like they are “putting up with you, the breeder” in order to get the dog they want. Rather, they should say, “it was a no-brainer, she was so easy to work with and had exactly what we were looking for.” That’s the goal, making people feel like it’s a no-brainer to work with you.
A first step in creating this feeling is transparency. Transparency builds trust because it allows people to see exactly what they are and aren’t getting. For example, put the price of your dogs on your website. There’s no reason to hide it. Most people get irritated when it says “call for pricing” because they feel they’ll be subject to someone who either is so good at sales that they’ll be forced into a purchase they didn’t want to make. Or, they’ll feel like they may not be ready and are just planning and need to know pricing. Either way, you’ll build trust by merely listing your price. You’ll also save time, because those people who are tire kickers, or just looking for a price, won’t waste your time calling you for a purchase they’ll never make.
Another key in transparency is being honest about your dogs. Each dog is unique with their own strengths, weaknesses, and quirks. You’ll build a lot of trust with buyers by being transparent with these traits, let them know if the puppy they think they want won’t be a good fit for them and why. You don’t have to say they can’t handle the dog, but explain why that particular dog will take extra time in training and be more difficult for little gain. People are very receptive to this and will appreciate your honesty. I know this conversation is a bit of an art form, but as you keep working on it, it’ll be easier and easier to do this.
Is there too much transparency? I think there can be. Being authentic is big these days, people want real, they don’t want Instagram-Pretty. Yet, I think you need to sort out your authenticity into two camps: your wounds and your scars.
There’s a saying in the business world that you hide your wounds and share your scars. The idea is that a wound is still painful, it still hurts, it’s still a problem you’re solving; whereas a scar is healed, there is no more pain, and there is learning. When you’re telling a story or explaining a point, sharing wounds doesn’t help because it isn’t complete. It doesn’t show the growth or the progress toward a better solution. If you share these wounds you’re more likely to damage trust in the relationship, they’ll trust that you’re honest, but they won’t exactly trust that you know what you’re doing.
On the other hand, if you share scars, you’re talking about a problem you solved. That shows character and will build trust in the relationship, while also building trust that you know what you’re doing.
Here’s an example, your previous litter may have gotten Parvo, and you aren’t sure that the precautions you’ve taken with this litter will make it better. I wouldn’t tell all your buyers that the last litter you struggled with Parvo.
However, after you’ve successfully had a few litters post-parvo and you know that the changes you’ve made work, then that’s when you can discuss it. You might get asked about Parvo and you can then say, “Yes, we’ve had it before, but I realized that I was using the same shoes between the kennels and the puppies. Now, we keep the puppies separate from the bigger dogs, we use different shoes, and we bleach our shoes before visiting the puppies.”
Sharing this scar shows experience, it’s honest, and will build trust, showing how you’ve grown in experience. Whereas saying, “Yes, we lost half of our last litter to Parvo, we think we have it figured out for this litter, we are changing shoes and using bleach on our shoes before walking in to see the pups.”
Do you see the difference? It’s subtle, but one speaks of success, while the other rides on hope.
At the same time, you don’t want to lie or dodge questions, that wouldn’t be the honest-dog-breeder thing to do…so in a situation where you’re asked and you haven’t conquered it yet, you don’t need to go into how it’s still a wound for you, but it often suffices to just acknowledge you’ve dealt with it before. For example they’ll ask, “have you ever dealt with Parvo before?” And you can just say, “Yes.” Leave it at that and call it good. Most people won’t probe further.
In essence, you have the choice to take it further if something will benefit you to share and you can keep the information limited if it will reflect poorly on your kennel.
However, I want to stress that this is different than explaining the strengths and weaknesses of a particular puppy as a match to the lifestyle of a buyer. For example, if you have a puppy that has quirks the owner-to-be will struggle with, then you do want to mention those. The difference is that there’s nothing wrong with the puppy, it just might not be a good fit, and that’s absolutely honest of you to point out, and, most importantly, it will impact the long-term success of the pairing. It will also reflect positively on your kennel to share that information.
I will say that I ultimately leave the decision up to the buyer on which puppy to take, but there have been times when they went against my recommendation and later on, often six months to a year later told me they probably should’ve taken the puppy I recommended. Regardless, this has them taking responsibility for the puppy they took and often they will work harder to make it work, since it’s the dog they picked, so it still worked out.
If you’re new to temperament testing, do your best to evaluate each puppy, but allow the buyer more autonomy in the selection, this way, if you make a mistake, they won’t blame you. When you get further into your program, you’ll find you mostly pick the puppy for the family, doing your best to accommodate their preferences. I’ve mostly selected the puppy for the family the last few years, only really tossing it their way when it didn’t matter or when their choice was obvious, but giving them a choice was still important.
Want to Get the Ideal Puppy Buyer Trouble Shooting Cheatsheet?
Dial in Your Ideal Puppy Buyer
The second key in customer service is dialing in your Ideal Puppy Buyer and their needs in a dog. This is easier said than done, but when the market isn’t in a craze, like the slowing down we are seeing right now, people will be taking their time to find the right puppy. Honestly, I’m a huge fan of this. It may be controversial to say, but I really feel there should be less hobby breeders and more full-time breeders. Given how this business works, I see many gains in having multiple litters per year, it’s easier to have people join the waitlist because I know I can get them a dog sooner than later and so they know what they can expect with less surprises.
Yet, I don’t want you to just go out and make litters, there has to be laser focus in your program when adding litters, you need to know exactly who you are selling to so that you can market to them. You don’t want leftover puppies, so you have to be careful not to put the cart before the horse with the size of your program.
It’s the biggest key to success in your breeding program AND the number one thing I see many breeders bypass. It’s why I have an hour and twenty minute MasterClass inside the Dog Breeder Society that walks you through the whole Ideal Puppy Buyer, how to figure out who they are and then how to market to them.
Nearly all breeders who are struggling to sell their puppies have one of these three issues with their ideal puppy buyer:
You don’t know your ideal puppy buyer well enough, many breeders think they have an ideal puppy buyer, but really aren’t specific enough with it.You aren’t getting in front of them with advertising, generally because you aren’t advertising in the right places, or sometimes I see breeders not really advertising at all.Your dogs are not the right dogs for your ideal puppy buyer OR your ideal puppy buyer isn’t right for your dogs. With either situation you have to bring the dogs you breed in alignment with your ideal puppy buyer. You can choose to change either, it doesn’t really matter, but it should align with you, the breeder, and either the dogs you like or the people you like to work with.
If you think you might have some ideal puppy buyer disconnects or things you need to investigate further, by all means check out the Masterclass in the Dog Breeder Society, if you aren’t yet a member, you can use the form above to get a cheat sheet on questions to ask yourself about your ideal puppy buyer.
Creating an ideal puppy buyer isn’t about fancy business moves either, it’s the core of an honest program, it’s reckless to breed dogs without factoring in where they will eventually go and how they will live their lives. This is the core concept behind the development of an ideal puppy buyer.
Anticipate Your Buyers’ Needs and Then Meet Them
The last tip in customer service is anticipating your buyers’ needs and then meeting them. It sounds simple, but sometimes it’s a bit of work. I can tell you, though, it makes all the difference.
Depending on your ideal puppy buyer, or maybe just the variance of people you get who inquire about your pups, you’ll see a bit of range in confidence in the puppy owning process. Some people are completely confident, not worried about it at all. Other people are very anxious about it, they want all the details and they want to consume as much information as they can in preparation for their new pup.
Both are great to work with and both have their own issues you’ll need to help them with generally speaking.
The confident people are good because they tend to be calmer and this helps them with the go with the flow that owning a dog is. The problem they often have is they don’t know a lot of the things they need to know. They won’t think to ask you about things and then they’ll sort of toss solutions together without much thought, sometimes this is okay, but sometimes not. For example, some people just think buying grocery store dog food is fine, the cheaper the better the deal, without much understanding of the implications for the dog later on in life. With a buyer like this, it’ll be helpful for us to give them some understanding of why a good dog food matters, not just to the dog, but to their pocket book, but also where to find good dog food, of course, give them a few options, in case they can’t find your favorite.
With the buyers who want as much education and preparation as possible, they won’t question why dog food is important, this will seem logical to them, BUT they will want to know what you recommend and why, they’ll also have a tendency to be overwhelmed with all the options out there, so it’ll be helpful to narrow it down for them.
Notice how the information of why it’s important and your recommendation will be helpful to both the confident and education/preparation seeker. This is great for you because you can take the time to explain this in a brief email.
You can do this with an email series you send, you can do this with a puppy guide, you can also do this with a YouTube mix of videos. There are so many options, try and select something for you buyers that works for their lifestyle, younger people like fancier media, while older generations often prefer paper. Whatever you select, that too, should reflect your buyers and their lifestyle.
To recap, three keys to improving customer service and therefore sales in this changing market are: creating transparency, dialing in your ideal puppy buyer, and anticipating your buyers’ needs and meeting them.
If you’re struggling with your ideal puppy buyer, grab the cheat sheet below to help you identify your potential issue.