Saturday, July 11, 2009

I Quit! How to make a graceful exit.

You’ve dragged yourself out the door, into the car, and off to do a pet sitting visit. When you arrive, the house is a pigsty (see photos), and the owner didn’t leave any cat food. To top it off, the client often forgets to leave a check, and sometimes her check bounces. Could it get any worse?

Sometimes, you can talk to the client and the situation improves. But this time, you’ve had it; you just want out. There is no easy way to have a difficult conversation. With a little preparation, you can pave the way for a graceful exit. Your goal is to remain on good terms with the client. There's no good reason to burn bridges. It will just come back to burn you.

Remember the owners love their animals. I learned the hard way on this one. Can you believe I told someone that her dog was whacko? She exploded, fired me before I could quit, and I felt like a complete jerk. I really liked the owner, but I was sick of dealing with the dog. I handled the situation in the worst way possible.

Quit in person or over the phone. Email is the chicken way out. Plus, you can be sure the client will forward your nasty remarks to everyone she ever knew–proof in writing that you are the lowest kind of slime. I’ve made this mistake too.

Be kind. Tell a white lie if you have to. No one wants to be criticized, and a person might lash out when her feelings are hurt. If you have to say something unpleasant, be ready for a backlash, or even a tirade. Grit your teeth and get through it without losing your temper, and you will be glad you did. The client will cool down later and realize you handled the situation with as much grace as possible.

Be a good listener. Years ago when I was in the retail business, our employees went through a training class called “Attitudes for Success” where they learned how to deal with customers, especially angry ones, and end up with a pleasant outcome for everyone.

Here are a few ideas that have stayed with me all these years:

Repeat back what the speaker said to you, maybe rewording it a little. “Okay, as I understand what you said, you want to do this…” It is a sign of respect that you actually listened and tried to understand his point of view, even if you don’t agree.

Make him right. This validates the speaker and honors what he said. “ I see your point. Let me think about how to do things that way.” Don’t get defensive and argue. Let him have his say, and respond that you appreciate his input or opinion. And mean it. You may have to listen to a little constructive criticism here too.

If the client feels like you were sympathetic to what he said (even if he is dead wrong) he will come away with positive feelings from the conversation, even if the outcome isn’t what he wanted.

Be helpful. Sometimes a client just isn’t a good match and another pet sitter will love them. Offer to refer them to new sitters, and maybe even introduce your replacement.

Rehearse. Have a friend listen to you practice what you will say. Make a list and work from that. You’ll go into the discussion with a lot more confidence. If you can’t find a good listener, talk to your dog or the bathroom mirror.

Say thank you. Thank the client for using your pet sitting service, and wish her the best of luck with her pets. Go out of your way to drop off the key. A little extra effort on your part softens the blow.

By planning ahead, you are more likely to handle an unpleasant issue with confidence and class.

© copyright 2009 Terry Albert


BestFitPetSit said...

Thank you for posting this, I will definitely be referencing it if need be! I did have to let go of a client that I loved to death, but her dog really needed a behaviorist. I tried for almost 2 months, but it just got worse and worse, so I gave the client the name of a behaviorist with a good reputation for success and told her to call me once her dog was a little less fearful.
I have found your blog to be very helpful! Thanks so much.

barrie said...

My most often used exit line is "I'm sorry, I just don't think I am the best pet sitter for YOU, thank you for meeting with me and good luck finding a better fit for your needs."

Only twice have I flat out lied and said I could no longer take care of the animals because of other obligations.

When I use the first exit line, I do not have any desire to inflict that person on any sitter I know ;-) But, I frequently refer clients that I won't take for other reasons (location, type of pet, etc.) to other sitters in the area.

Kat said...

Personally lying to a client could come back to haunt you if they find out you lied. It depends on what you say and there are careful ways you says say one thing to make it sound like the truth or a lie too. Barrie had a great example above, it was honest, but put the focus on the sitter's choice and not what was wrong with the client. I would however make it less of passive tone or more determined. And I would maybe offer to help find them a better matching sitter instead of leaving them to their own devices (more likely they may refer clients to you and maybe inviting you over to a party so you can see the "kids" again but not in a work capacity).

Something like this would be a bit more diplomatic: "I'm sorry (I do apologize) but unfortunately I am not the best pet sitter for YOU. Please let me know if I could help you find a sitter better suited for your {situation/needs/find the right word her that sounds the least offensive and pertinent to whats happened}. I really do appreciate your gift of opportunity to meet with you and bond with your furkids."

I also would put things in writing. Email may not be top choice, but neither is verbal notice. Every business school will teach you that proper business writing etiquette in letters is often and still the best way to handle conflict in the workplace, especially with regards to employment termination. It gives you time to carefully word yourself in a professional manner, gives the client to respond back in a respectful way and provides evidence of communication in court that is more widely recognized. Sure verbal contract is just as valid as written in our state, but its often harder to prosecute against because its hearsay. Keep that in mind.

Terry Albert said...

I can't imagine what kind of litigation would develop when you are quitting a client, rather than them firing you. It is contract work, rather than employment, with unemployment benefits, etc.

Then again, people can always find some reason to sue if they are that type of people. I may be too trusting! Thanks for commenting!