sleek serval cat

Hiring the Dream Team

We Didn’t Think We Could Afford


Big Cat Rescue runs as sleekly as our cats and we are able to keep our fundraising and administrative costs well under 20% (usually more like 11-15%) by utilizing volunteer manpower.  We have never had any trouble attracting the best and brightest in the animal care world to make sure our cages are cleaned daily and that our cats always get top notch care but, like most animal operations, we do not tend to attract huge teams of customer care experts.


Don’t get me wrong; our Partners who handle the administrative side of running Big Cat Rescue are wonderful people and are gracious to our guests, but we get far fewer of them than we need for all of the phone calls and emails that come in from all around the world.  Most of the people who are calling and emailing are asking about how they can visit the sanctuary, but because we are all covering so many aspects of operations, the answering machine has been only answer we have heretofore been able to employ.


sleek serval cat

Almost NO ONE wants to get sent to voice mail!  For 20 years we have tried variations on voice mail trees, forwarding the phones and trying to deal with the flood of callers, but nothing has really worked very well.  Despite the fact that we have 8 choices on the phone system, with looooong, detailed descriptions of all of our types of tours, tour times, tour prices, tour restrictions, yada yada; people will listen through the whole thing and then call the Rehab and Rescue line because it gets them through to a real person for emergencies, only to ask us the same questions that they just had to sit through to get to the person they are now calling.


In most cases the people had gotten to the phone number through our website or printed materials, which had all of the information in writing that they wanted to ask about, so we were mystified as to why so many people just had to hear a live person on the line before they would believe what we had printed and recorded.  Maybe they had previously had bad experiences with out of date websites and untended answering systems, but whatever the reason, they were demanding to be heard and we weren’t doing a very good job of listening.


When Susan, from called me and pitched the idea of an online ticket service, I laughed and told her she was a couple of weeks too late.  After the holiday season had just worn us all out, dealing with huge tour groups, gift certificate requests, and the phone ringing off the hook day and night, I had buckled down and taught myself how to build an online ticketing portal using Event Expresso.  It had been live for about 3 days when Sarah called and I was thrilled that people were just booking their own tours online without calling us as much.  I told her we didn’t need Zerve.


Thankfully for Big Cat Rescue, Susan wouldn’t take no for an answer.


She was awfully sweet; not pushy in any way, but she just wasn’t going to let me off the hook until I let her show me a demo of the Zerve system.   I am about the most intolerant person of sales calls to ever answer the phone, but I figured the demo could help me figure out ways to improve the system that I had just set up.  One of our volunteers, Kathryn, had been tweaking the system, so I was keen on getting any more advice that might help make our system more user friendly and effective.


Just 20 minutes or so into the demo I knew I wanted Susan to sign us up.  She had me at,

“your calls will be answered from 8 till midnight by one of our customer care staff.”

What she didn’t say, but has turned out to be true, is that they almost always answer on the first ring and I have been hugely impressed by every single one of the people answering the phone at Zerve.  I told Susan that I wanted to check things out more, so what I did was pretended to be a customer.


I called up Zerve about going on one of their bar hopping tours in NYC and proceeded to be the culmination of every dumb question I had ever heard to see if the Zerve staff could deal with the worst possible caller.  By the end of the call, I had been treated so politely and professionally that I felt like I should send flowers and an apology to the woman who handled my call.  (Whoever you were, you were AWESOME!)  I almost had to slap myself, to keep from booking the tour a thousand miles away, because she was so good at trying to convert me from a caller to a buyer.


These people were good!  These were the people I wanted on MY team!  On Jan 23, 2013 we launched our first Specialty Tours on  The Specialty Tours, like Feeding Tours, Keeper Tours, Night Tours and Private Tours were the toughest tours for us to cope with because a person would call; we would have to call them back, phone tag would go on for days, and then, if we were lucky, we would finally be able to connect with them at a time when they had their calendar and credit card in front of them and we would schedule the tour.  Because it was so difficult to connect and schedule (and re schedule) we were not maximizing these tours.


We send the tours out, whether there is one person on the tour, or twenty, so it costs us the same in manpower hours.  Having these tours fill to capacity could make a huge difference in our ability to reach more people with our message and to fund the work we do saving exotic cats from being used as pets, props and for their parts.


By the next week, I was so delightfully surprised with the success of the system that we added our Day Tours and Kids Tours.  These tours did not require pre payment or pre scheduling, but we were seeing the check out process move so much more quickly for our Zerve customers, because they had prepaid, that we figured it would help streamline our regular tour check in.  And it has!


We have only been using Zerve for about a week at the time of this writing and here is what we have seen so far:


213 tickets have been sold, generating over $9,800.00 in revenue.  The first ticket sold within minutes of going live.

We only had to deal with one phone call for all of the above, because a person got lost on their way here.  Without any marketing 5 people bought gift certificates for tours.  This feature alone will really save us during the next holiday season.

Guests are saying that they loved how easy it was and how nice the person on the phone was to them.

Our Partners are saying that check in is easier and they are SO relieved that the phone isn’t distracting them all day long.


get info & book at zerve


If you give tours of your sanctuary (or any other sort of tour business) then it makes sense to figure out days and times that you would be able to give the tour.  Those slots go onto a calendar at Zerve and you can restrict them in ways that make sense for your organization and capacity.  For instance; we only allow 20 people on a Feeding Tour or Keeper Tour, so we limit it to 20 tickets for the days and times we can do those tours.  We only have a limited number of golf carts, but can offer seats on the cart for $10 each, if people can’t walk for the whole tour, but when the seats sell out, they are gone and there are only three seats available on each tour.  For a private tour, it means that if someone books that hour on the calendar, then it shows as SOLD OUT to everyone else, because we can only do one Private Tour at a time.  Anecdotally, it seems that people really don’t mind paying double for a Private Tour, as these have been selling fast.


The service isn’t free, but there is no set up fee, no maintenance fee, and Zerve only gets paid a percentage if they sell a ticket.  They also handle all of the scheduling, rescheduling, refunding and cross promotions.  They charge 10% but that includes all of the credit card processing fees.  Granted, I could hire a person, or two from what it will cost us in the 7% portion that goes to Zerve, but I couldn’t hire enough people to make sure the phone was answered from 8 am till midnight 7 days a week by experts in customer care and sales.


Even after getting my business, Zerve has continued to try and help us make the most of their system and even wrote up a phone script for us that sends people to Zerve faster so that they don’t have to listen to our long, recorded message about how you can visit the sanctuary.  They assign an agent to you that answers email about as quickly as they land in her email box (Thanks Helen!) and have been the Dream Team that I never thought we could afford.