Customer Relationships

American Farrier's Journal | 2009

It is important that you create the type of business that you will enjoy as well as financially prosper. You cannot just sit by and hope that you have a good farrier practice. You must make your business produce a life that will reflex you.

One of the first steps is to develop a grading system for the horses you work on as well as the clients you work for. After working with a new client, stop at the end of the drive, on your way out and in your address book, under this clients name, give a rating for them and their horse. If you wait to grade the client and horse later in the week you will have a tendency to be more lenient with your grading and it will not reflect your assessment at the time of the job.

List the client first and then the horse so that you have room for multiple horses for the same client. For instance, an A/B next to a clients name would be an A rating for the client and a B rating for the horse. The objective is to have all your clients and horses A/A. You must make sure that your business grows in a direction that you desire.

Give this grading system some thought. Every individual will have different criteria or at least different definitions. For instance, what may be considered unacceptable working environment to one farrier may be tolerable for another.

ABC's of Clients & Horses

An 'A' client is one who cares about your personal comfort and safety while working on their horse. They provide a flat clean dry area to work, free of distractions and out of the elements. This client pays immediately upon the completion of the job, schedule regularly and accepts price increases as the years go by.

A 'B' client is one who cares about your personal comfort and safety but for a variety of reasons they cannot provide them. The shoeing conditions are acceptable but not ideal. This client pays immediately, schedules regularly but complains about any price increase or added cost of pads, bar shoes, etc.

A 'C' Client is one that can or will only provide a poor shoeing environment. There are no provisions for you to shoe out of the rain, wind or heat. These are clients that you will occasionally have to bill, or hold a check for a couple of weeks. They resist putting their horse on a regular schedule and will call whenever they want a shoeing, usually requesting an appointment within a very narrow time frame.

A 'C' client is one that keeps there horse(s) in poor quality field fencing so the horse can get his feet stuck and pull off shoes or has a pasture where the horse spends the day knee deep in water and mud.

A 'D' client is one who cares more about the emotional well being of the horse than they do of your physical comfort and safety. To them a farrier getting hurt is just part of the job. The shoeing conditions are intolerable and they refuse to commit to a regular schedule.

Grading Horses

An 'A' horse is a horse that stand quiet for trimming and shoeing. There are no lameness issues and they have good feet.

A 'B' horse is a horse that stands but not perfectly. It may have bad hocks so shoeing behind can be a physical chore. This may be a horse that has bad feet.

A 'C' horse is a horse that is non-cooperative or has such terrible feet that it is difficult to keep shoes on them. These are horses that require extra work or attention and it rarely pays off financially. They can be those that habitually loose shoes.

A 'D' horse is an ill-mannered, dangerous horse.

It is important that you create the type of business that you will enjoy as well as financially prosper. You cannot just sit by and hope that you have a good farrier practice. You must make your business reflect your preference of equine and human clients.

The Do Nots

  1. Do not engage in personal/sexual relationships with clients.
  2. Do not drink alcoholic beverages and then touch a horse.
  3. Do not get involved in "barn politics or gossip".
  4. Do not charge different prices for the same services.
  5. Do not criticize another farrier's work.
  6. Do not criticize veterinarians or trainers.
  7. Do not make promises you can't or won't keep.
  8. Do not discount your prices.
  9. Do not get into the habit of billing clients in barns if you do not know the client. If they suddenly leave the barn you may be out your money.

What Clients Want

Several years ago I decided to do a survey that would help my students market themselves when they returned home from school. I wanted to find out why horse owners chose a farrier. I found out that most horse owners cannot tell you why they chose a particular farrier but they can tell you why they fired a farrier.

So, I changed the survey. I asked 10 questions and allowed the participants to answer yes to as many of the questions as applicable. I wanted to find out why people changed from one farrier to another. What were the motivating factors? Here are the ten questions asked 318 horse owners. I have arranged the questions according to the affirmative responses.

Have you ever changed farriers because:

Your farrier failed to keep his/her appointment?
318 of 318 (100%) people responded yes.

You could not reach your farrier by phone or he/she would not return your call in a timely manner?
291 out of 318 (91.5%)

Your farrier was habitually 2 or more hours late?
272 out of 318 (85.5%)

Your farrier was rude to you, confrontational with your vet and/or abusive to the horses?
191 out of 318 (60%)

Your horse was lame after shoeing or habitually lost shoes?
155 out of 318 (48.7%)

Your farrier showed up for the appointment smelling of alcohol?
61 out of 318 (19%)

Your farrier moved or quit shoeing?
57 of 318 (17.9%)

Veterinarian recommended another farrier?
39 of 318 (12%)

You did not like him/her.......just because?
27 of 318 (8.5%)

Your farrier lack credentials (such as certification)?
0 of 318 (0.0%)

Let's look at the top four reasons clients 'fired' farriers:

  1. Failed to keep appointment,
  2. No phone contact,
  3. Habitually late.
  4. Rude

The top four reasons people change from one farrier to another has nothing to do mechanical abilities or technical skills. They have to do with the business concept of service.

Product vs. service

There are generally two types of businesses; business that sell a product and businesses that provide a service. A business that sells products would be Mustad, they sell shoes, nails and hand tools. Products are tangible, which means that they can bee seen and touched. You can touch and inspect a horseshoe. However, a service is something that can't be seen or touched.

A product like a car can be seen and touched and you can even smell that 'new car' smell. But, in most cases people buy a service with touch, taste, feel, smell and sight unseen. Because of this inability to see or touch a service people feel uncertain and fearful when purchasing a service.

Knowing when a product fails is relatively simple. The TV doesn't turn on or the drill press stops working is pretty cut and dry. But knowing when service fails is harder to define.

The products we buy are built miles away by people we have never met. So we rarely take product failures personally, but people usually provide services that we buy and we usually met and talk with them.

Because of the personal contact clients will look at a failed service personally. They will consider a missed appointment as a personal affront. It is common to ask "How could John do this to me? He promised to be here today at 3 pm."

That's why the number one reason that clients fire farriers is the farrier's failure to keep the promise of an appointment. Number two is the failure to keep the promise of a return phone call. Number three is the failure to keep the promise of a specific shoeing time.

The farrier, as a person, has lied to the client, as a person. That's how the client perceives the missed appointment, or lack of phone contact.

Since the client is buying the unknown and has assigned a personal relationship to the service, you must be aware of how you are perceived.

Horseshoeing is a service business period. Lots of farriers act like that they are selling the client a product, a horseshoe. What farriers provide is a service and that must understood as well as leveling foot is understood.

Quality is defined by the client, not by the industry

Because we are the professionals we assume that the clients concerns are or should be what we consider important, after all we are the experts concerning their horse's foot care.

But stop and listen to your client. They assume that you know how to balance a foot, shape a shoe and properly nail the shoe to a foot. They haven't seen you in eight weeks and they may have some concerns about their horse that they wish to share with you.

When you selected a farrier school what were some of your concerns? Prospective students are worried that they can be successful at a school; they are a little scared at making the jump into a new profession. They are not worried about making the best choice they just don't want to make a bad choice.

Know your client and their concerns. Addressing the concerns of a client is why one farrier is in the barn getting $75 per horse and another farrier is in the same barn getting $125 per horse.

Ask, who is setting the standards for your farrier service: the industry, your ego or the client?

I can't tell you how many times I have heard farriers tell a story that ends with "Look lady, who's the farrier here? If you want to shoe your own horse go ahead but don't tell me how to shoe." Or " I don't take shoeing instructions from vets or trainers."

The horse owner has spent the last eight weeks thinking "me, me, me" and all the training/lameness/gait problems she thinks may be farrier related. If you, the farrier, walk in thinking that you are the one that determines what's important about the shoeing, then you are not connecting with the client.

The client is interested in themselves and what they perceive as the needs of their horse not you and your accomplishments within the industry.

Farrier organizations typically focus on the mechanical skills of forging, trimming and shoeing. Remember to spend as much time at business clinics as you do at shoe making clinics.

If you are selling a service to clients then you are selling a relationship

In the farrier service you are not really selling your expertise because your expertise is assumed. If you advertise as a horseshoer then the client assumes that you can shoe a horse. Most of your clients are not trained to intelligently evaluate our expertise anyway.

However, they can tell if the relationship is good and if appointments are kept or phone calls returned. Clients are experts at knowing if they feel valued. So, if you think of clients in terms of relationships the concepts of marketing your service business dramatically changes.

Your first meeting or phone call is the courtship. Remember how spiffed up you got for that first date? Cleaned, ironed clothes, shined shoes, clean truck. Remember how you were on your best manners, determined to impress the other person? That's how you should treat your customers.

The business marriage is consummated when they client pays you and books another appointment. Then the pitfalls of marriage come into play.

The natural tendency of relationships, whether personal or in business, is entropy. Entropy is the erosion or deterioration of sensitivity and attentiveness. A healthy relationship maintains its quality and preferably expands as time goes on. It is your responsibility to make sure that your business relationships do not fall into entropy.

Your first competitor is not another farrier it is your own indifference. In a relationship indifference means lack of caring. Not showing up for an appointment or not listening to your client shows your lack of caring for them and their busy life. You will never be able to raise your prices to a customer who feels neglected. In relationships people like to be appreciated.

Relationships are made, maintained and broken through communication, talking. Talk with your clients not at them and more importantly listen to them.

Be professional, but as important, be personable

Today's reality is that farriers are in a recreational industry. Not may people need a horse to live therefore horses are a hobby, a passion, that consumes the owner's discretionary income, their recreational funds.

Ask around you will find that the rationale for why a horse owner uses a specific farrier is not logic and reason, it's about feelings. They will tell you that they use so and so because they like him, or because he's nice or friendly.

Again, service businesses are about relationships and relationships are about feelings. In the farrier business the logical reasons why you should be someone's farrier, your excellence on the forge, or your certification level, your talent is just they entry fee. Winning is a matter of feelings and feelings are about personalities.

Despite your best efforts sometimes communicating with clients is difficult and unrewarding. It is up to us, the business owner to develop that relationship beyond that supposed by the simple notion of keeping a customer merely because they make contributions to our current revenues.

Don't think of that client in terms of the price of one shoeing. Think instead that this client will spend six to eight thousand dollars with us over the life of that one horse.

The Anchoring Principle

I tell my students that when they return home, those horse owners who knew them before they went to shoeing school will not be good clients for them. Those people know you as "the carpenter or the plumber or the feed store guy". Those people have assigned 'anchors' to you based upon their knowledge of you prior to school.

It will be difficult for them to see you in any other light.

It is therefore extremely important that you are aware of the 'anchors' that new clients will place on you. Your ability to increase your shoeing fees regularly and your customer's reluctance or acceptance those price increases is related to those snap judgments and the anchors.

Customers who see a horseshoeing truck in front of a bar in the afternoon will put an anchor of alcoholism to that farrier. Clients who see a farrier beating a horse with a rasp will put an anchor of an ill-mannered farrier on that person.

People do not just form first-impressions, they get anchored to those impressions. So the first meeting (on the phone, in person, or just seeing you in public) had better establish an anchor of professionalism.

Service businesses are intangible so they are incapable of prior inspection or review. And our clients are not educated enough to really evaluate our work. The customer will look for 'metaphors for tangibility' in everyday small things.

Things like, how we look, our hair, whether we have shaved, how we dress, how we speak, what our truck looks like, what our equipment looks like. The customer needs something to 'hand their hat' on to justify their choice. These become the tangible aspects that our client's base decisions upon. Take control of the tangibles.

One of the most important things to know about providing a service is that your client usually doesn't know what he's getting until he doesn't. Only when he doesn't get what he felt he bargained for does he become aware of what he bargained for.

The client only dwells on dissatisfaction. And that's dangerous because the client will be aware only of failure, of dissatisfaction. They think of farriers when they can't reach you by phone, or you don't show up for an appointment.

The promises that were made and/or implied in order land the account must be regularly reinstated when those promises are fulfilled. If the client complained that they had fired the last several farriers for missing appointments, playfully recognize your punctuality. Keep emphasizing the positive things you do.

Maximize your "Perceived value"

Horse owners know that they can get a horse shod for x amount of dollars. This would be the lowest price they have heard of in the area.

However, they assign a much higher value to your service, which translates into you caring personally about them and their horses. This increased 'perceived value' translates into higher shoeing fees.

The reasons one farrier in the barn gets $100 to shoe a horse while another farrier in the same barn gets $60, even though they are using the same anvil, same shoes and the same nails, is this perceived value.

If you get out of school and decide to advertise as the cheapest farrier in the area so you can draw clients, then you are telling the client that your 'perceived value' is that you are cheap. You will draw those clients that hold cheap as their main criteria for a farrier. This means that when you raise your prices they will fire you and look for someone else.

Your perceived value must be in the service you provide. Maximize that perceived value and you will have a clientele that goes with you annually increase your prices.

The best way to predict your future is to create it!

Marketing

Developing a clientele may seem like a daunting task. How are you, the brand new farrier, going to compete with the experienced farriers in the area? You must take advantage of the one thing that you have that the full- time, experienced farrier does not have and that is time. Since you do not have a full book you will have free time. Turn that free time into a marketing advantage. You can service those last minute demands for shoeing.

Have a cell phone that is exclusive to your shoeing business. Print up professional looking signs that states that you guarantee that within 24 hours of a phone call you will be working on their horse.

If you do this remember that this is a commitment to the client and the success of your business. If you are planning on going to the lake with friends and the phone rings, you will have to meet them later. If recreation is more important to you then your business don't blame the industry for your failure.

If you have a day where there is no shoeing or trimming it is NOT a day off to play. It is an opportunity to market you and your farrier business. Go to barns, stables and any place where there are horses and shake hands and give out business cards. Let them know that you are in the process of developing a clientele and that you do not object to coming out just to replace one shoe and you will do this within 24 hours of the phone call.

If you don't have any horses scheduled and there is a local horse show pull in and introduce yourself. Explain that you were canceled for the afternoon and that you would be available to replace lost shoes. Get them to announce that you are on the show grounds periodically throughout the show.

Do not become discouraged if you have spent days introducing yourself to potential clients in barns and at local horse shows and the phone isn't ringing. You may have introduced yourself to a potential client and they were impressed with you but they just had their horse shod by a farrier that has very poor service. Eight weeks goes by and they again have trouble getting their farrier to show up on time or return a phone call. Eventually he shows up and shoes the horse but the client is through dealing with him/her. They call you for the next shoeing.

To the client it has only been one shoeing since they met you but for you it has been four months since you first solicited their business. Perseverance is the key to your success. Remember these days because if you are professional in your business and excellent in your service soon you will have more clients than you can handle.

We have discussed the difference between a product business and a service business. Now we will discuss Marketing principles. Marketing a product focuses on getting knowledge of the item to as many people as possible. Products can be sold to anyone, anywhere because they can be shipped. Therefore the marketing strategy is to get as many people as possible in as large an area as possible to be aware of your product.

However in a service business you can only service a finite number of clients in a small, specific geographical area. What you are selling is yourself and a promise to deliver what the client wants. Your marketing has to focus on convincing the clients you want, in the area you wish to work, that you are capable and willing to be committed to excellent service.

Remember to only market yourself in an area that you can easily and professionally service. Someone wishing to use you for a large barn that is two hours away makes it difficult to replace lost shoes, or trim on new horse, which is part of your service.

Don't forget to advertise with signs on your shoeing rig. Keep it simple so people can read how to contact you from a passing vehicle. Authors Jean Withers and Carol Vipperman in their book "Marketing Your Service Business," recommend the following promotional tools in marketing a service business:

1. Referrals. The recommendation of a satisfied client or a professional colleague is often the most effective way of bringing in new clients. People tend to view recommendations from those who have previously used the service as highly credible, and are more inclined to use the recommended service. Referrals, however, do not always come easily. Most often, you have to ask for it. If one of your clients seem satisfied with your service, request him or her to refer your business to their friends or acquaintances who may benefit from your service. To reinforce your request, you may give them promotional materials such as business cards or brochures that they may share with others. Other entrepreneurs even make it a point to reward those who refer a client to them. It may not be money (most professions frown on the practice of giving money for referrals), but a simple note or a small act of thoughtfulness to show your clients that you appreciate their effort to spread the word about your business.

2. Client relations. The authors define client relations as "consistent courtesy + common sense + professional dignity = effective client relations." Clients will patronize your service repeatedly - if they are satisfied. It is therefore important to cultivate your existing client base and bond with them. You may not be the best in the forge or hold the highest certification but if you treat your customers well, you'd have a greater chance of seeing them again. More than a product-based business, you need to practice excellent customer service every second that you deal with a client. Your business depends on it.

3. Participation in organizations. Networking is the key promotional technique in marketing a service business, and participating actively in organizations is the best way to network. Joining an organization allows you to network with potential clients and industry players, increase your exposure to your community and professional colleagues, and even get new business. You can choose from the more general organizations (e.g. small business groups) with members coming from all walks of life or industry specific organizations.

Your competitor, who belongs to the same organization as you, may be experiencing a surge in demand and direct some of his or her clients to you instead. Another member may refer your business to people they know who needs the kind of service you provide. Of course, you must make your participation in these organizations worthwhile by actively participating in the group's projects and activities.

Swap business cards with those that you meet. Take a moment to write on the back of their card any information about them that you may need to recall. For instance, if you meet a farrier at a clinic and they specialize in shoeing upper level dressage horses, make that notation on the back of the card. If or when you have the opportunity to shoe a dressage horse you will have someone to call and give you information that will help you service that client.

4. Direct mail. A good way to promote your business is to send letters or brochures to your target market. The key to success in direct mail is to reach out to the right people, horse owners. You can get addresses from yellow pages and internet searches for stables, breeding operations and local horse clubs. Do not forget about state or national horse organizations that have local chapters. Most maintain a membership list.

It is only cost effective to advertise in the specific area that you plan to work. Which means that most of the large media in major metropolitan areas such as newspapers, yellow pages, etc., are distributed in an area much larger than you can professionally service.

You also need to regularly send out mail to your existing clients, if only to remind them of you and what you can do to help them. Mailing to previous customers is an absolute must, whether you are sending them a quarterly newsletter or an announcement of a new service or promotions such as discount off the regular price of a service, etc.

Another important tool in marketing your service business is a web site. For the price of an advertisement in the yellow pages, you can have a Web site that can serve as a brochure, direct mail piece and newsletter all rolled into one. The Web is an avenue that should never be ignored.