We have a terrific petsitter. She’s an animal lover, is very reliable, and spends some real time with our dogs when she comes to walk them on days when our schedules would otherwise make for a loooong stretch between walks. She’s also an excellent communicator, leaving us detailed notes about anything she noticed with the dogs or cats, returning calls promptly, and showing willingness to work with us to sort out the occasional glitch.
As I was pondering how lucky we are to have her, I thought about the petsitting company we hired when we first moved to this region. The women who ran the business seemed very professional—lots of forms to fill out, a careful interview of us before they’d accept us as their client, lots of paper handed over for our files. After a couple of instances when they didn’t show up to walk the dogs when we thought they would, I phoned them to see what might straighten this out. Sounds like a communication gap, I thought. The conversation went badly. I still cringe when I think about it.
“You’ve got no right to question us when you never even pay your bill on time,” said one of the owners over the phone. I could sense the clenched teeth through which these words were uttered.
Huh? What could she possibly mean? We dutifully wrote a check, with tip included, and put it in the mail the day after each bill was received (they left the bill on the counter after each day’s worth of walks). I’m far from perfect, but a late bill-payer, certainly not. Ahem! And what about that awful word, never?
She explained, without mincing words, that the contract we had signed obligated us to pay them at the time of the visit itself. So, instead of writing a check the evening after the bill was received, we were supposed to be writing it the morning before it was received; the bill, apparently, was just for our records. Uh oh.
When I asked why they’d never said anything—this had, after all, gone on for several months—she told me that they preferred not to confront “problem clients,” since confrontations could get ugly.
I have a rather distinct memory of thinking, yeah, this conversation is much better than her mentioning this months ago, before she was so ticked off at us she almost couldn’t put two words together clearly. And before our dogs suffered some uncomfortably long days without the chance to take care of their own business. We agreed to part ways, sort of a mutual firing. I dug the original contract out of the files—yup, there it was, several pages in: Payment due immediately at the time services are rendered. No question—we were in the wrong, contractually speaking.
And, had this been pointed out to us much earlier, we would have apologized, mea-culpa-ed, and gotten it right from there on. But we couldn’t fix what we weren’t aware was broken. And the more we erred, the angrier these women apparently got at us, until their interest in serving us well was pretty seriously eroded.
Confronting a problem or conflict is sometimes hard, no question. But failure to do so isn’t a healthy business strategy. In this instance, the problem behavior continued far longer than it need have, and the anger and frustration these women experienced really got in the way of the business relationship. Not to mention, they lost a client who could have been a good one for them over the long run.
I realized recently that I haven’t heard mention of their petsitting service in a while. They used to have a pretty visible presence in the region. Maybe they’re still out there somewhere. Or maybe the hyper-avoidance led to more than the loss of just a single client.