Is that the vibe that permeates your reception area and greets every visitor to your shelter? If not, potential adoptions—in the moment and down the road—are at risk.
But your staff is working hard, your visitors are sometimes fractious, and the work itself is difficult. So how do you get there? These four simple tips can eventually reboot your staff’s mindset so the “welcome!” vibe becomes second nature.
1) Use the 10-4 Rule
How often have you gone into a place of business or other public setting and felt snubbed and disgruntled when you were ignored? Amy Mills, CEO of Emancipet in Austin, Texas, makes sure her staff practices this rule:
If another human being is within 10 feet of you, make eye contact with him or her and smile
If another human being is within 4 feet of you, make eye contact, smile and verbally acknowledge him or her
2) Follow the Complaints Rule
All of Emancipet staffers also follow this formula, any time and every time they’re faced with an unhappy visitor:
Take the time to fully hear and acknowledge the complaint
Apologize genuinely and sincerely, no matter what
Thank the person for sharing the complaint
3) Know the Most Important Person
Nothing is more important than the person who just walked through your door and is standing in front of you—not the phone that’s ringing, the emails that are popping up, or the chat you’re having with a co-worker. So be completely present with big smiles and soft eyes—and make those connections count!
Volunteer greeters in the lobby to welcome visitors and direct them as needed
Addition of evening and Saturday hours
Beepers handed out at busy times so visitors can explore the shelter until an adoption counselor is free
Staff circulating among visitors rather than waiting behind a desk
Dakin Pioneer Valley Humane Society replaced its "one-size-fits-all" adoption criteria with an open adoption program where communication with potential adopters is congenial and collaborative rather than bureaucratic and rule-bound.
4) Hire a Welcoming Staff
Taking the long-range view of a welcoming shelter includes hiring with that in mind. The bedrock of your day-to-day is compassion: for animals, for the people who want to adopt them or have to relinquish them, for colleagues. So as you look for new staff members, watch for these attributes:
Happiness indicators: smiling, laughing
Learning indicators: asking open questions, leaning forward
Communication indicators: eye contact, starting conversations
The 10-4 and complaints rules are two of Emancipet’s Golden Rules for happy customers. Mills also urges shelters to consciously eliminate nasty names and negative language about people and clients from their vocabularies. To do that, attributes of your staff must include:
Genuine interest and curiosity about other people
Happy people who get energized by being around others
Highly empathic and compassionate people
Once your staff’s on board, empower them! Make sure they know whether they can offer a refund or free product, move someone up in line, provide a coupon for future visit or follow up with an email or note of apology.