A Better Approach to Guarantees

Making guarantees is a tricky business. Domino’s Pizza discovered this back in the early 90’s after its 30-minute-delivery-or-your-pizza-is-free guarantee led to a series of car accidents and lawsuits. You may not have a lot in common with an international chain like Domino’s—apart from the occasional use of pepperoni with your more demanding clients—but you’re undoubtedly looking to turn a profit, and the right guarantee could tip a hesitant potential client in your favor.

But guarantees can backfire, setting up expectations that you can’t possibly meet, and turning your marketing tool into a weapon wielded by a disgruntled client with easy access to Yelp. Just as Domino’s discovered, part of making guarantees work means figuring out what not to promise.

Potential clients contact you for results. A front door without visible teeth marks, for example. A perfectly coiffed Pomeranian. An Aussie that actually naps.

Whatever your area of expertise, some outcomes are easier to guarantee than others. And knowing that a potential client is out there, browsing your home page, trying to decide whether to entrust her companion to your care, may compel you to promise a garden of roses.

But tread carefully. Trainers, when you joined the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT) you pledged to abide by their ethics statement, including section 6, which reads: “Members will refrain from giving guarantees regarding the outcome of training because there is no sure way to guarantee the cooperation and performance of all parties involved and because the knowledge of animal behavior is incomplete.”

If you’ve struggled with a reticent client and a fearful dog, for example, you understand how little is within your control. And so the thing that the client most wants changed (behavior) is the one thing you can’t guarantee. What’s worse, the traditional trainer across town who doesn’t belong to the APDT may be making wildly improbable promises that, from your viewpoint, attract hordes of new clients.

How can you compete with that?

Take such guarantees head on. Add a tab to the navigation bar of your website or a link from your training page called Our Guarantee. On this new page, explain why it’s unethical to make guarantees about behavior results and that as a member of APDT you’re dedicated to a better approach to training. This demonstrates your professionalism and your level head, and implies that you’ll bring those same qualities to your work (which, of course, you will.)

Then tell them what you can and do guarantee — stellar customer service, a customized approach to each client’s goals, a commitment to excellence and to ongoing continuing education. The second part of APDT’s clause reads that the prohibition against behavior-based guarantees “…should not be confused with a trainer’s desire to guarantee client satisfaction with their professional services.”

An ethical approach to guarantees aligns with the ethical treatment of animals, and will appeal to a certain type of client: the kind more likely to choose you.

For walkers, guaranteeing pick-up and drop-off times can lead to unhappiness all around. Traffic, weather, and other unexpected delays can throw a wrench in your best intentions. And though all clients want their dogs walked at noon, you’ll never make a living chasing that guarantee, unless you’ve figured out a way to be in multiple places at the same time (in which case, please share!)

Instead, offer clients a spot in either your morning or afternoon group, with a realistic window of time that allows you some breathing room and keeps you from breaking a dozen traffic laws. Or guarantee that you’ll pick up their dog no earlier than 10 am, for example, and tuck them back home no later than 1 pm.

For sitters, it’s best to guarantee a set number of visits, and the approximate time of day: morning, afternoon, evening meal, or bedtime check-in.

For all dog pros, consider the kind of business you want to run, day in and day out. Emphasize the features that will contribute to your vision and your brand, and that will set you apart from your competition. Features you can actually control:

    • Superior customer service
    • Trained, expert staff
    • Commitment to R+ training methods
    • Small group sizes
    • Customized training plans
    • A commitment to help clients seek relief, change, and improvement

And then deliver on those guarantees. In fact, do more than just deliver—delight your clients by giving them more than they expect. In the age of the Internet the customer review has steadily gained prominence. Most guarantees pale in comparison to a few glowing testimonials.

Apologize sincerely when you fall short. After its string of pizza delivery lawsuits, Domino’s fortunes declined until 2009, when a survey of consumer taste preferences ranked the chain dead-last. Domino’s faced the problem head-on, acknowledging the dismal ranking in an ad campaign and committing to improve its product “from the crust up.” The result? An enormous quarterly gain, and by 2011, a 233% growth in company stock.

Sometimes the best guarantee you can make is a superior product or service. Be the best at what you do. Your clients will appreciate your efforts, and word will spread.