Phone Interview: Establishing Authority

The Carewrightbusiness coaching, pet sitting, pet sitting clients

“When your value is Generic the only thing that differentiates you from your competitor is price. Then it’s a race to the bottom to see who can give away their services the cheapest.”

Prospect Phone Interview, Part 4
The Big Dog Resized

What “Establishing Authority” Means

Whenever we talk about being “The Big Dog” and Establishing Authority, we initially get a lot of confused looks from pet sitters. Before you start scratching your head, let us explain.  Authority is not about being bossy or in control of everything, it’s more about, “Yo! My pet sitter is so boss!” It’s about your clients realizing how valuable you are – how much knowledge and skill you bring to the table. Establishing Authority is about establishing yourself as “the authority” in your profession. Establishing Authority starts during the Prospect Phone Interview and is fundamental to converting Prospects into Clients. So, why is Establishing Authority so important in landing Prospects? What does Authority have to do with your identity? And finally, how do pet sitters undermine their own ability to establish authority?

Why Establishing Authority Is Important

By way of example, let’s look at what Establishing Authority might look like in another industry. When you interview Accountants to determine who you’re going to trust with your taxes, you don’t want an understudy. You want someone who is knowledgeable and experienced. Often their knowledge is demonstrated during the initial interview when they start probing details about your business. During the course of that interview you find yourself being impressed. They’re making observations about your tax liability no one else has ever made. After glancing at your P & L, they’ve pointed out that either your staff compensation, service pricing or sales volume needs to change – if you ever plan on running a viable business. They’ve educated you about specific tax benefits you can claim that you’d never even heard of before. They’ve pointed out that if you filed differently, you could be writing off a lot more than you currently are – saving thousands of hard earned dollars. Before you know it, you’re no longer talking to a stranger, you’re talking to a trusted, knowledgeable advocate who clearly cares about you. What’s just happened? They’ve established themselves as an authority and in so doing they have established their trustworthiness.

Trust Graphic - Royalty Free-2

Establishing Authority is the crucial difference between earning someone’s trust and being just another vendor peddling wares. When you’re just another vendor, that means your services are just like everyone else’s. When your value is Generic, the only thing that differentiates you from your competitor is price. And then it’s a race to the bottom to see who can give away their services the cheapest.

“When your value is Generic the only thing that differentiates you from your competitor is price. And then it’s a race to the bottom to see who can give away their services the cheapest.”

The resulting reduction that occurs has less to do with nickels and dimes than it has to do with value – it cheapens you and reflects poorly on the entire industry. Contrast that to establishing trust. Commerce based on trust is a result of relationship.  Commerce based on price is a result of utility. Relationship is always more compelling than utility. And if someone really trusts you, then you’re a part of the family – you’re their pet’s new friend. The peace of mind that gives a client makes you worth your weight in gold. Right? While tax preparation is no doubt important to your clients, how much more so are their pets?

Finally, the significance of a Prospect calling you – seeking professional pet care – should never be underestimated. That’s why Establishing Authority immediately, i.e., demonstrating you’re a professional and not a hobbyist with insurance, puts Prospects at ease. It passively legitimizes their decision to call you – and not a kid on Craigslist. Right? Calling someone on Craigslist may push someone’s comfort zone – there’s a lot of unknowns. They’ve stepped up and called your business – sensing your business is a better choice. Your knowledge and trustworthiness immediately puts them at their ease and that is incredibly comforting and reassuring. By Establishing Authority, you allow them to relax and start thinking about their travel plans – they’ve found a trustworthy business to care for their pets!

Authority and Identity

All that said, Authority is a concept that is often extremely difficult for pet sitters to grasp. A lot of that difficulty is fundamentally an identity issue. Simply put, many pet sitters don’t view themselves as professionals. For some reason “authority” in many pet sitters’ minds, is something that only comes printed on a slip of paper from an institution. Consequently, pet sitters, all across the country, are confused about their identity. Some may feel extremely confident but they nevertheless have this underlying, nagging feeling that they have no legitimate reason to actually be confident. They don’t have a clear understanding of the worth and value of their time and services. Many often apologize or feel guilty for the amount they’re charging their clients. They routinely let client’s run roughshod over their schedules. They second-guess what they know to be good care practices in order to placate their client’s poor-mouthing. They break their own policies to conciliate clients they’ve inadvertently put in the driver’s seat. And the list goes on and on.

Establishing Authority Identity ManAnd why? Because there’s currently no State licensing board for pet sitters? Forget about all of our experience. Forget about all of our behavior knowledge acquired over thousands of hours during real-life pracitcums. Forget the body of knowledge contained among our many hundreds of colleagues across the country in professional associations. Forget training classes, certifications, reading, research, volunteer work at shelters, and all the various avenues of continuing education to which we continuously avail ourselves. For some reason, pet sitters don’t see themselves as professionals let alone as an authority. If you are truly a professional pet sitter then it’s time to own your identity! If you’re doing all of the above you likely have a broader knowledge-base about health and welfare, care protocols and animal behavior than 99% of pet owners.

Your brand, as a professional pet sitter, needs to be authoritative – otherwise, why would anyone use your services? Authority begins and ends with your brand identity – with who you truly are. So who are you? Are you a knowledgeable professional or a hobbyist with insurance?  If you’re a knowledgeable professional, do you value and trust yourself? If you value and trust yourself are you demonstrating your authority or undermining it? If you’re conflicted about your own worth, we can almost guarantee you that you’re undermining your Authority. If that’s the case, if you’re conflicted about your own worth as a professional pet sitter, how can you ever expect to establish trust with your clients?

“If you’re conflicted about your own worth as a professional pet sitter, how can you ever expect to establish trust with your clients?”

Stealing Your Own Thunder

Establishing Authority Questions

No wonder so many business owners are confused about what’s actually happening during a Prospect Phone Interview. In fact, many are missing half the point. To them, the object of the Phone Interview is to get as much information as possible from the client and schedule a Meet & Greet. And, as a means to that end, they’ve established a list of rote questions or a “script” to use when Prospects call.  For reasons we’ve already discussed in post three of this series, taking that approach is not necessarily a good strategy. In fact, it will often back-fire. Additionally, some pet sitters take it a step further. Citing the need to “save time” many pet sitters even have online or e-mailed questionnaires or forms prospective clients need to fill-out, prior to scheduling a Meet & Greet or even receiving a call-back.

While some clientele make online data collection necessary – active military, military bases, executives, high-profile clients or travelers with pets would be examples of this – on the whole, there are inherent problems to this approach for most pet sitting businesses. To name a few:

  1. Pet sitting is one of the most personal, high-end services available to people – you enter their home and take care of their babies. Your service should reflect the customized nature of the care you provide. Does a form do that? That’s why it’s generally very off-putting for clients to jump through a bunch of hoops just for the privilege of meeting and or speaking to you.
  2. Data collection can be interpreted as a “prerequisite” and as such places an impersonal distance between you and your clients or otherwise impedes them from easily procuring your services.
  3. Data collection can incur liability to your company as regards non-compliance with Federal, State and Local Data Safeguarding and Privacy Laws.
  4. Collecting data online requires a Privacy Policy and potentially SSL or VPS.
  5. You’re robbing yourself of a priceless opportunity to Establish Authority during the Meet & Greet. Absent the give and take of spontaneous conversation, which builds relationship, there’s no opportunity to inject your observations, questions or knowledge.
  6. It fails to address one of the main things actually happening during the Prospect Phone Interview, see below.

Let’s take a closer look at all these reasons:

Reasons  1 & 2

Points one and two above are easy enough to understand. Put yourself in their place. How would you like to be put through a game of 20-questions when you call to learn more about a business? Most companies roll out the red carpet to welcome new Prospects – not roadblocks.

Reasons 3 & 4

We’re always alarmed when pet sitters tell us they’re collecting private information prior to Meet & Greets. If you’re collecting a bunch of data prior to obtaining a signed Client Service Agreement, what happens if you go to the Meet & Greet and you don’t sign the Agreement?  For example, what if the dog is aggressive? What if the people are hoarders?  What if they’re weirdos and insist you don’t need house keys because they want their doors to remain unlocked?  Those are all problems that would likely prevent you from signing a Client Service Agreement. And now you have a problem. You have a ton of private information you’ve collected prior to the Meet & Greet and a legal obligation to protect and safeguard it.  And what about your “client?” Could they argue that the information exchanged constituted care acceptation on your part?  If you don’t care for their pets could they argue you’re in breach of a verbal agreement? If they need to cancel their vacation due to lack of pet care coverage, could they sue you for punitive damages equal to the cost of their trip plus emotional distress? Not only is data collection dicey, the language requirements, every step of the way, can be stringent and difficult to navigate.

thunderbolt fistReasons 5 & 6

Likewise, maintaining such scripted control can ultimately be counter-productive to your goals. One of the ultimate goals of the Prospect Phone Interview is to Establish Authority. Again, to recap: Establishing Authority leads to trust, which leads to Meet & Greets which leads to signed Client Service Agreements, which leads to income. Asking all the questions up front circumvents your ability to demonstrate your knowledge and build a relationship. When you short-circuit or bypass the relationship-building process of the Phone Interview and Meet & Greet all you’re doing is stealing your own thunder. For those citing “time savings” – that time could be extremely costly if you don’t convert Prospects – which could result in a lot of free time on your hands.

Lastly, you may be missing half the point of the Prospect Phone Interview – literally. From your client’s perspective, you’re the one being interviewed, not them.

“From your client’s perspective, you’re the one being interviewed, not them.”


Establishing Authority Client Interview

If your phone rings, you need to assume they’re calling to check you out. That means they are interviewing you. Generally speaking, a client’s first expectation of a business is to learn about it. To see if it meets their needs. To see if it’s values are aligned with theirs. To see if it’s trustworthy. What impression are you making if you frustrate that process and disappoint their first expectation? What does it tell them if they encounter forms and process rather than professionalism and competence? What impression does it make it they are met with utility when they want a relationship? The significance of them dialing your number – the number of a professional pet sitter –  should not be underestimated. You have a small amount of time to make a large impression – to speak to all of those concerns – to legitimize their decision to call you, not a hobbyist. Establishing Authority is key to conveying your identity and converting Prospects into clients.

Please keep your eye out for the next post in this series where we’ll discuss ways to Establish Authority.

© 2015 | The Carewright, LLC. This blog post is the intellectual property of The Carewright, LLC and cannot be shared or used for derivative works without the express written permission of The Carewright, LLC.

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