Acquiring new clients is a priority of every business. To do this, businesses will offer special deals, BOGO items, free item with minimum purchase, etc. These things definitely catch my attention, that is, when we are talking about ketchup or oil changes. When it comes to more important things, I find myself running from these advertised "deals". You see, when I really care about the quality of something, no amount of discount is going to persuade me to use a service or product. I begin to see these offers as a business "begging" me to become their client, because the quality of their work isn't enough to bring me in.
In our industry, a frequent way to gain new clients is by offering a free evaluation or test (whatever you may call it). Initially it sounds like a great idea, I mean who wouldn't want a free service for their dog? You think, once they see how amazing your place is after that first time, surely they'll come back, right? Well....maybe. Below I'll list why I feel it is important to charge for that first visit.
And the most important reason to charge.....YOUR TIME and KNOWLEDGE!
A lot goes into truly evaluating a dog's potential success in daycare. Here's just some of what goes into our evaluations.
How much to charge?
Deciding how much to charge will depend on what your evaluation consists of. Are your evaluations really just meet-and-greets with a staff member and one dog or is your evaluation several hours? Does it include any goodies for the client to take home or not? Is it more labor intensive than a regular day of daycare (it should be), then it should cost more than your basic daycare price.
The only negative I find with charging for evaluations is losing the client that is simply looking for the easiest cheapest option. To me, that's not a negative at all. That person doesn't fit my description of the ideal client and it shouldn't for you either.
(Additional Note: We do sometimes offer the occasional free evaluation if it is suitable for the situation. It's rare, but when excellent customer service calls for it, we'll do it. For example, if we have a young dog whose owners had to board him unexpectedly at last minute and, as we get to know the dog in our private room, we see that he has the perfect temperament to enjoy social play, at pick-up we may offer a free evaluation as a thank you for boarding with us and "hey, come see how much fun your dog can have." It's done in a case that we have a strong feeling if the owner saw the benefits of daycare for that particular dog, we feel confident they would continue to use our services. Again, this is very rare, but I didn't want you to think offering a free evaluation for a certain reason isn't a good idea. I'm always up for those little above-and-beyond random acts of great customer service when appropriate.)
For 15 years we called our first day evaluation a "Temperament Test". It was catchy. Both words started with a "T"; it rolled off your tongue easily. All was fine with this terminology until one day my sister questioned it. We were opening a second location and were saying that dogs that attended daycare at our current location would have to do another temperament test at the new facility.
It made perfect sense to me, the dogs had never been to that facility before, never met the staff, never met that particular set of dogs. Yep, total sense. My sister however didn't agree. "If I were a client I'd get mad having to do another temperament test. I mean you already know my dogs temperament from the other location. He's not going to change just because he's in a different building." I responded, "Yes, but, he needs to get used to the new place. I don't want to just throw him into a completely different environment and expect him to be fine right off the bat. I want to do the introduction slowly and make sure that he is comfortable with all the dogs there and gets used to the new layout."
"Well," she said, "I get that, but you don't need to test his temperament again."
Hmm....did my sister have a point? What we were actually doing had nothing to do with his temperament at all. We wanted to see how he responded to our particular environment. Doesn't matter how his temperament is at home, at the park, on a walk, at another doggie daycare. It only matters how he reacts in our playgroups. When I explained it to her, and to many clients previously, I'd say that we were really seeing "if he is compatible with daycare". When we would dismiss a dog we would never say, "His temperament is just horrible. He's aggressive and shouldn't be around other dogs." No. We would say, "He's just not compatible with our daycare environment." What a big difference. If that's really what we were doing then why not call it the correct name? So after 15 years of calling our first day evaluations "Temperament Tests", we changed the name to "Playgroup Compatibility Evaluations". Doesn't roll off the tongue quite as nice but it definitely reflects what we are really doing.
You can actually purchase the forms we use for our passed evaluations, failed evaluations and dismissals on our products page. They are wonderful tools for staff to assess dogs and to communicate behaviors to clients.