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Pet the Dog

You’re probably wondering…why is this e-book on customer service is called “Pet the Dog?” What do I mean when I say you need to pet the dog? What do dogs have to do with customer service? Let me tell you a story about my very first bulldog Rocky. (I have four of them.) When Rocky was about six years old, he started losing a lot of weight and his tongue got really ashy and gray and I just knew something was wrong. So I took him to the Bulldog doctor in Riverside, California. The doctor checked him out, he did a CAT Scan on him, he found a mass and he found a biopsy. He came back and he said, “Rocky has lung cancer.”

My first reaction was—I should have made him quit smoking cigars sooner! (Just kidding.)

The vet said, “That’s a very serious thing for a bulldog to have and it isn’t a surgery that I would do.” He said, “Most guys won’t do that surgery on a bulldog, it’s a terminal thing and he has a very fast growing cancer.” And I said, “Well is there anything that I can do?” And he said, “I know there’s one doctor who’s really, really good. He comes in from the east coast and he’s only here two or three days a month. He’ll do the surgery and he’s been very successful.”

So, I got the doctor’s information and I got an appointment with him at a VCA that he would come to. We waited weeks for this appointment with this doctor and our appointment was at 10:00 in the morning at a VCA animal hospital, and if you can imagine on a hot, summer California day, the smells and sounds of a crowded veterinarian waiting with other dogs and cats around.

We showed up at 9:45 and checked in and 10:00, 10:30. At 11:00 I went back up to the reception and I said, “Hey we’ve been waiting here about an hour and our appointment was at 10:00 is the doctor going to see us?” She said, “I’m so sorry, the doctor’s in surgery but as soon as he’s done, you’re the first one he’s going to see.” So 11:00, 11:30, 12:00 — finally at 12:00 I went up and I said, “Is there any chance that he’s going to see us pretty soon?” And she said, “You know what? You should probably go to lunch and come back.”

It’s hard to go to lunch with a dog, you can’t exactly go into a restaurant. But we found a place with outside seating and ate lunch, went back and sat in the same spot. At 1:00, 2:00, 2:30– finally at 2:45 they come out and they say, “Okay the doctor is going to see you now” and they ushered us into this little room. So I had Rocky sitting there, my ex-wife, Satan, sitting next to me and then me and then there was an empty chair.

The doctor comes in, he was in scrubs, he sits down, he crosses his legs and he says, “I’ve looked at the picture, he definitely has a mass, it’s a very aggressive cancer. If you’d like to leave him I’ll perform the surgery tomorrow morning.” And goes to stand up and walk out.

I’m like, “Whoa, whoa hold on a second” I said, “What are his chances of survival if he has the surgery?”

And he said, “I can’t tell you that. It’s been a while since the pictures were taken, I don’t know what I’m going to find when I get in there but if you’d like to leave him you can.”

I said, “Okay. Would you recommend chemo after?”

And he said, “I don’t know what I’ll recommend until I get in there, but if you want to leave him you can,” and he literally just walks out.

So, Satan turns to me and she says, “That man is not going to touch my dog with a knife.”

I’m like, “Whoa this guy just walked out and now you’re saying that the only doctor that can perform the surgery that we know of, can’t perform the surgery” and I say, “Why?”

and she says, “He’s not a dog person.”

I say, “What do you mean he’s not a dog person?”

She says, “He came in here and sat down and never once acknowledged Rocky, petted him, nothing. He just came in and left. He’s not a dog person.”

I had to agree. Something wasn’t quite right. I was expecting a warm and friendly pet-lover to come in and break the ice with Rocky and do a little hands-on assessment of his subject – the way a regular physician would take your pulse, or tell you to say “Ahh” and look at your tongue. Rocky’s attempts at greeting the new guy in the room were completely ignored; this doctor was all business. He gave us a very fine professional rundown of the procedure and the risks, answered most of our questions, and then sent in the nurse to answer our questions about price and scheduling, but Rocky could have been a sack of potatoes as far as this doctor was concerned.

We all know that if you’re a dog person, you’re a dog person. And dog people don’t really like people that aren’t dog people when it comes to the conversation of dogs. So, to her he’s not cutting her baby open with a knife because he’s not a dog person and she would never trust someone to have a knife around her baby if they’re not a dog person or they don’t love dogs as much her, because in her head the two don’t match.

Now, I know from being in business that the expert isn’t always the guy that you want talking to customers. Sometimes the best lawyer isn’t the guy that you want talking to clients. The best doctor isn’t the guy that you want talking to patients. But in this scenario, think about it, you’ve got a doctor that flies all over the country, he’s at the top of his game. He’s constantly training and learning new technologies and he’s on the edge of technology as far as surgery goes for animals. He works really, really hard. He’s away from home most of the month going and doing surgeries. He’s up all night, gets barely any sleep. He’s the best of the best and prides himself on being really, really good at what he does and he has a customer who doesn’t want to do business with him because he didn’t connect.

That’s what happens in our businesses every day. We don’t connect with customers about the stuff that matters, we don’t pet the dog. It’s not aboutthe commodity. It’s not about selling the hamburger, the car, the computer, whatever it is you’re in the business of selling – it isn’t about that. It’s about the connection with people.

Oftentimes, I get a better response from a company buying something online than I do from people. I can go into a bookstore and buy a book and never get acknowledged. I can go up to the cashier, they ring the book up, they tell me how much, I give them my money and I leave and nobody even asks me how my day is going. I can go on a website and buy the book and – Boom! – Instantly, as soon as I buy it I see a message: “Chris, thank you for your order.” That’s more than I get from a human being in most scenarios. Nobody pets the dog anymore. It’s about people and connecting with people about the things that matter, not the commodity. That is the key to success in business today. You’ve got to connect; you’ve got to pet the dog.

When a customer comes into your business with a question or a concern or a complaint, imagine that it’s about somebody’s sick puppy or their firstborn child. Think of yourself as the surgeon who is being entrusted with the life of their loved one. Would you hand your baby over to someone you didn’t trust?

Now, on that note, here are some thoughts on how to establish trust, and build long-term relationships with your customers that are going to keep paying off for years to come.


What do you think customers come to customer service for? We assume that they have a problem, of course, and they are looking to us for a solution. This is true, but it’s not the entire truth. They also want to connect with you!

When a customer approaches us and they are being impatient, giving us short answers, shutting us down—it’s easy to think that they don’t want any sort of connection with us. Nothing can be further from the truth. I’ve found, that the more difficult a customer seems to be acting, the more they are actually screaming for your attention.

It’s hard to believe, but it’s true. Customers naturally want us to pet them. All customers. Even the ones with the loudest “bark” and the most challenging demeanor. People want to feel a connection with the businesses they are giving their money to, and they do this through us—the warm, human, customer-facing part of the business—customer service.

It has to be the right kind of attention. We can’t just address the most obvious thing, the problem they’ve come to us with, and that’s it. We have to pet them, too. To go back to our vet analogy, we came to this vet with a problem, and the surgeon addressed the obvious problem, Rocky’s surgery, but he didn’t pay any attention to our dog. And Rocky wanted his attention. It wasn’t about us, or the surgeon—it was all about Rocky.

Pay attention to your customer and form a bond with them, while you’re paying attention to the problem. Trust me, when you pet the customer the right way, their problem will start to seem smaller and smaller (and that bark will get softer and softer), because you are forming a connection with them. They trust you. And that’s what they really want. We all want it, it’s human nature. (And dog nature, too!)

The point is, yes, customers want their problems solved, but more importantly they want your attention. Pet the dog right away, take an active interest, and you’ll turn your most challenging customers into your most loyal customers.


Imagine that you brought your car into a repair shop. You’re pissed off, the damn thing is leaking again, this is the third time you’ve brought it in. You’re running late and you have no idea how you’re get to work without a car while it’s getting worked on. Not to mention picking up your daughter from soccer practice later…

The advisor walks up to you and says, “Wow! You sure keep this baby looking shiny and new, I love your car. That wood grain dash is something I hardly ever see on this model, and it’s really amazing with those leather seats.”

How do you feel now? A little better? Like you might be in good hands, and the day might not be ruined just yet? Like this person will listen to you, and connect with you, and give you the help you need.

The things that people own tell the story of who they are. There is usually a story or a sentimental reason behind why they own a particular item. Antique watches, key chains with photos of their kids, special rims on their car, an unusual piece of jewelry—these are genetic extensions of your customer, and when you show enthusiasm for these details, you are also showing enthusiasm for the owner. A compliment or an observation and a few kind words is a good way to pet the dog.

So, pay attention to the details, demonstrate that you are paying attention, and establish trust right away.


Let’s go back to the scenario at the vet with Rocky. Imagine if that surgeon had taken a second to ask us what our biggest fears or concerns were before he left the room. Or what expectations we had for Rocky’s recovery? Or if we had any questions for him? It might have gone a lot differently.

Open-ended and direct questions are a great way to both educate your customers and learn more about them at the same time. And it gives them trust and confidence in you. Never make them feel like incompetent screw-ups if they don’t know or don’t have “the right” answer. This isn’t an opportunity for you to show off your expertise and make others feel less than knowledgeable. This is just good people skills. Remember, we’re forming connections here. How will you get to know someone if you all you do is talk and never ask them anything?

Ask them where they are from? What part of town do they live in? What do they do for work? What are they most frustrated with? Ask if you’ve done your job correctly, have you fixed their problem? Do they have any questions for you?

You’d be surprised what you’ll hear. And you won’t know until you ask.


Now that you understand what to do, we should talk a little bit about what you shouldn’t do.

I had a bad experience recently at this trendy new restaurant that just opened down the street from me. I went in all excited to try this place out, all my friends told me about it, and I wanted to spend a lot of money, eat good food, and have a great experience—but I left totally frustrated, and not wanting to ever go back.

We got there early, but we didn’t have a reservation, so they told us we had to wait quite a while before we’d get seated, which was fine with us. So, my girlfriend and I headed over to the bar to get a cocktail while we waited for the hostess to get us and tell us that our table was ready. When I got the bartender’s attention, I handed him my card, so I could buy drinks for us. That was fine. We ordered our drinks and spent the next fifteen minutes or so chatting and drinking at the busy bar. Then the hostess came up and said that the table was ready. So, I signaled to the bartender and said, “Can I close out my tab, we’re going to sit down.”

He scratched his head, and gave me a look, and he said, “I don’t have your card.”

Now, I hadn’t had that much to drink yet, so I couldn’t be drunk. And I distinctly remembered handing him my card. But the bar was incredibly busy, and so I assumed, he probably just didn’t remember that I’d actually opened a tab. And just to be certain, I opened my wallet and checked again. No card. So, I told him, “I gave you my card. It’s back there…the name is Collins.”

I couldn’t believe what he said next: “I don’t have your card, you didn’t give it to me.”

My eyebrows must have been on the ceiling. Instead of going back to check for my card, this guy was going to stand there and argue with me? I couldn’t believe it. He didn’t care that my girlfriend was hungry, or that the hostess was waiting for us, or that I wanted to pay for my drinks, and his service—he just wanted to be right.

Finally, grumbling, and with a sour look on his face, he went back and checked for the card—and of course it was there. The question is, do you think I tipped him? No. Do you think I’ll go back and order a drink from him ever again? No. Because we failed to connect. Being right was more important to him than making a connection with me. And why would I give my money to someone that doesn’t care about making a connection with me?

Not only didn’t this bartender pet the dog—he stepped on its tail!

It’s the same for customer service. Your job isn’t to argue. You aren’t getting paid to duke it out with customers. It isn’t about being right, even if you’re totally right. Even if I had been mistaken, and I had actually forgotten to give him my card—his job was to solve the immediate problem, and get me to pay my bill, either way. Not argue.

So, if you ever find yourself in a situation with a customer where you find yourself trying to prove a point—stop. Even if they started it. Your job is to solve problems, serve, and support your customer. Period.


This is a bit of a business urban legend, but the online shoe retailer Zappos is so well known for their excellent customer service that supposedly even when customers call their service line looking for something other than shoes, they are still assisted. Rumor has it that one night a customer mistakenly called Zappos while looking for a pizza place to order delivery from. Instead of hanging up on the customer, the service rep proceeded to look up local pizza places until they found an appropriate restaurant for the customer to place their order with. (If you don’t believe me, call them. Here’s Zappos customer service line: 1 (800) 927-7671)

The moral of the story is that if you want your customers to understand just how important they are to you, then you should treat them like you would your best friend. And if you want to eventually replace Zappos as the gold standard in business for customer service, then your customer service can’t just go through the motions. Go farther than the competition is willing to go. Pet the dog, and pet it again, and again. Scratch behind the ears if you have to, and rub the belly. Until that dog won’t go to anyone else but you!

Your Turn!

That’s all it takes to blow away the competition and watch your customer relations soar. Connect with people on the stuff that matters. It doesn’t cost you a dime, and the pittance of extra time is often more than made up by discovering everything you need to know while your customer is there, right in front of you. You’ll save yourself the expense and bad will of customers, convert some small sales into bigger ones, and build a stable of loyal friends that will support you for a lifetime.


So, go ahead…pet the dog!


Chris “the Bulldog” Collins


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