Have you ever wondered why some dog field users seem incapable of following your instructions and dog field rules?
That’s because they don’t read them!
This is a problem for a lot of reasons and with more dog fields opening around the country, the problem is getting worse, not better. But why?
The trouble is that many people assume that all dog fields are the same and therefore they tend to carry over whatever rules they were given at the first field they went to. Whether that’s observing buffer times (or not), how to park, how many dogs are permitted or what the cancellation policy is……
The frustration is evident in the dog field owner community so we’ll go through a few things you can do to encourage people to observe your specific dog field rules.
7 Ways To Get People To Follow Your Dog Field Rules And Instructions
I’ve read a lot of dog field rules. I’m a good dog field user. I always read them when I first visit a field and that’s because I’m acutely aware that there might be something important the dog field owner needs to tell me so I can get the most out of my visit. Perhaps more importantly I don’t want to inadvertently jeopardise their business by doing something I’m not supposed to. The reason I do this is because I know what it feels like to answer the SAME QUESTION for the millionth time despite it being on the ‘how to use the field’ instructions.
The trouble is the rules and instructions aren’t always obvious; sometimes they’re 20 pages long and read like a contract to import arms; and occasionally if I book directly with the owner, I’m not given any at all.
So the question is, how do you get people to observe them during their visit?
1) Stick to Important Information
For example, if you have a limit on the number of dogs permitted in your field (planning restrictions, your insurance policy or any other non-negotiable reason), make sure this is crystal clear BEFORE your clients confirm and pay for a booking. It’s no use them finding out after they’ve booked that you only permit 4 dogs when they have 6.
Where and how to park are also really important bits of information as is anything that might make your field unsuitable for them and their dog – the presence of livestock or other distractions and even something as simple as explaining that you don’t have water available and they must bring their own.
You should also tell users when they should expect a gate code – you’ll save yourself the trouble of responding to endless emails.
“But I need them to read the Terms and Conditions too!” I hear you cry. True, but in the majority of people won’t, so better to ensure they have the business-critical information presented in an easy-to-digest and memorable format.
2) Make a Video
Making a video (it doesn’t need to be fancy) of how you use your specific padlock works a charm. Most people will have a phone with them and be able to refer to a video very easily if they get stuck.
It’s also really helpful to have a video about your field in general – showing the car parking, the fences and area it covers using a drone. These videos are relatively inexpensive to have produced and you can use them on your booking site, your social media and send links in your booking confirmation.
These videos are great for clarifying those really important rules that apply specifically to your field.
3) FAQs page
After you’ve been open a while you’ll notice that the same questions or issues crop up over and over again.
Save yourself some time by creating an FAQs page and filling it with answers to the questions people ask you. Every time someone asks you a question on social media or by email, direct them to this page.
Make sure it’s up to date with seasonal information.
4) Make sure what you say makes sense
When we opened our first field I took a lot of time to produce a 4-page PDF which explained step by step how to find our field – pre What3Words and with a Google Maps glitch, the common methods of navigating to this field simply didn’t work.
Imagine my frustration after all this effort that for the first two weeks I was receiving at least 3 calls A DAY from lost customers!
After leaving my ego at the door, I realised this was entirely my fault (and not that all my customers were stupid) and went back to the drawing board, making a GoPro Video and a new more user-friendly instruction sheet for people to follow. After all, they only needed to find it once and after I’d re-jigged the instructions, all was well!
The moral of this story is to get someone to proofread your rules, regulations and instructions. They might sound perfectly logical to you but make no sense to a complete stranger.
5) Iron Fist, Velvet Glove
It’s hard to tell a customer off, especially when you first open. However, there are circumstances when you must. Here are some of them:
- Dropping cigarette butts, litter, food etc
- Repeatedly turning up early or leaving late without a valid reason
- Bringing more dogs, cars or people than permitted
- Using the field for anything other than dog walking
Here’s the thing – you do not have to tell people not to drop litter or stage a party in your field – you can expect as a field owner that the field is used as intended. These things don’t need to be explained anywhere in your rules or terms and conditions. Sainsbury’s don’t need to put signs up reminding people not to have a BBQ in aisle 3 and you don’t need to tell people that they aren’t allowed to off-road around your field in their Landrover.
The Velvet Glove – turning up early is something that happens a lot (more about how to effectively manage that in another article) and in the first few weeks of opening, you need to accept that people are finding their way to you for the first time and it will happen. A gentle but firm phone call or email to offenders or to your database of customers as a whole, send the message that this is not something you allow in your field, regardless of how acceptable it might be elsewhere.
Iron Fist – Leaving late however is only excusable in rare circumstances:
- absolute BEEEEEEEP of a dog that won’t come back (been there)
- Car broken down in the field (been there)
- Accident or injury to human or dog
- Lost keys
Things that don’t qualify as a value excuse:
- Lost track of time
- Didn’t know
- Last person was out late (that’s a little trickier)
- Lost phone/ wedding ring/ favourite ball
Running a tight ship will favour your best customers – those with reactive dogs; those who are running a dog walking businesses on a schedule; and anyone else who understands that this is a ‘buy time’ business and if you eat into someone else’s time, you’re going to get an earful sooner rather than later.
6) Meet your customers for their first visit
This is entirely impractical for the vast majority of dog field operators but there’s a lot of merit to it if it’s something you can do.
- It allows you to reiterate your most important rules
- It enables you to answer any questions the customer might have in person
- It is a reminder to the customer that this field belongs to someone who cares for it and this can have the effect of making people more likely to observe the rules you have in place
I know of a number of fields that only allow ‘inductions’ when it suits them and until you have met the owner, you can’t book a session.
7) Ban people
How many chances do you think you’d get if you sparked up that BBQ in aisle 3? Not many. Especially if you did it twice and again in aisle 6.
If the actions of one customer negatively affect that of another and there is no reasonable explanation, just tell them they are no longer welcome as a customer and take the necessary steps to ensure they can’t visit again. Make sure this is backed up in writing.
Do not lose any sleep and remember that all your other lovely customers are better served by you as a result.
Why your Terms and Conditions are Very Important
Terms and Conditions is a big topic covered in another article however, having written some truly terrible Ts & Cs myself in the past and heard sad and terrifying stories from dog field owners, I thought I’d share what I’ve learned and why it’s not something you should copy and paste from the dog field down the road.
- Many Ts & Cs I read aren’t worth the paper they’re written on – hence why copying them is a bad idea
- Hiding your terms and conditions doesn’t do anyone any good – not least of all you as a field operator
- Having out-of-date or inaccurate Ts & Cs is as bad as having none at all
- ‘Use at your own risk’ does not absolve you the dog field owner or operator from your legal responsibilities when things go wrong – make sure the wording is right
- Good Terms and Conditions provide you with a safety net if things go wrong and against bad customers – bad terms and conditions can throw you into a viper pit
- The most insane terms I have read have been written by solicitors who don’t understand dog fields