Podcast #43

legally blonde cover with bruiser
Just because a pet owner wants something medical, doesn't mean they can just order it like a pink letterman jacket.
Veterinary medicine is a bit of a weird industry. It is a service that is based upon fact, science, research and professional integrity. However, it is also a business that relies on disposable income of pet owners to stay open and function.

It is the dichotomy of providing a service, but keeping pet owners happy, that is one of the most challenging aspects of the veterinary job.

The best clinics however understand that above all else, they provide a MEDICAL SERVICE. This means that the service they provide is based on medical facts; research, double blinded studies, clinical trials, and extensive schooling for those providing care! It is not just a business that exists to make pet owners happy. It is a service that exists to provide care to animals, and that care is provided by PROFESSIONALS.

So, what does this all mean?

This means that we have CLIENTS, not CUSTOMERS!
What’s the Difference?
CUSTOMERS: Individuals that go into a store, or business, and pay for an object or an experience.
cat in an Abercrombie Bag.
Customers seek objects or experiences to improve their lives and happiness. They are the ‘expert’ of what they want, and the businesses’ job is to fulfill these needs, and the customer is always right in terms of what they want and need.
The customer is the ‘expert’ of whether or not they enjoyed/like said object or experience. The business that provided the object or experience relies on the customer’s enjoyment for repeat patronage, and if the object or experience is not ‘enjoyable’ for the majority of it’s customers, it has to change it’s objects, or experiences, to make it enjoyable. The customer drives the provided objects/experiences by demand and repeat patronage.

Customers are IN CONTROL of what is ‘good’ and what is ‘bad’. They have a vital say in the objects or experiences the business provides, or the business will go out of business. Therefore the expression “the customer is always right.”

Now, at no point, in any business, should a customer (or client) be rude, abusive, or mean to any other person, so this should not be tolerated. However if a customer at a shoe store says “I want this pair of shoes in pink,” than it is in the businesses’ best interest to order in, and provide, that pair of shoes in pink! Businesses’ sole purpose with customers is to keep them happy, and keep them buying!

CLIENTS: Individuals that seek a PROFESSIONAL SERVICE.
dog wearning glasses
Clients seek a professional service because they RESPECT the opinion and expertise of the professional and want advice and to learn. It is the professional’s job to be honest, accurate and up-to-date with their recommendations, and not make recommendations or provide services based on clients ‘wants’ or ‘desires.’
This means that the client is coming to the business for a service that has a ‘right’ and a ‘wrong’ that is based on the ideas/research/studies of that professional group. The client cannot say what is ‘good’ or ‘bad’ because they are not educated in what is ‘good’ or ‘bad’. The client cannot direct what service the business provides, because the professional institutions of that field direct the service that is provided.

Furthermore, the professionals within the field have taken an oath, and have both a legal and ethical responsibility, to uphold the values/ideas/teachings of their professional institution! The business therefore has the responsibility to provide honest, accurate opinions/services, based on the teachings of that professional institution.

What does this mean? This means that, compared to our pink shoe example with our customer where the business can listen to the customer’s demand of pink shoes, and order them in, even if the business thinks that shoe is ugly in pink… a professional CANNOT provide a service that the client wants, just because the client wants it.

You cannot have a client walk in and say “I want to put my dog on frusemide” and just give it to them unless the animal has a condition that requires frusemide, because you have a legal and ethical responsibility to that animal to not treat for conditions it doesn’t have.

Also, in medicine, our oath is “Above all else, do no harm.” Frusemide changes potassium levels, frusemide is hard on the kidneys. Frusemide is not a benign medication. It doesn’t matter how much the pet owner believes that frusemide will save their pet, and it doesn’t matter how much the pet owner wants the drug, you as a professional cannot prescribe that unless you feel it is medically indicated, despite pet owner ‘happiness.’
As a professional, no matter how much the client wants you to do a treatment/intervention/give a certain opinion, you cannot perform their request unless you feel there is a justified reason, and that justification comes from your professional institution.

This is why, when you discuss medicine, patients go to another doctor to “seek a second opinion,” not to “buy a different diagnosis.”
How Does This Change How We Act?
How clinics look at pet owners changes how they act towards both the owners, and towards you. If your clinic treats them as customers, then it’s time you talked to your boss about making a change!
Unfortunately, in today’s veterinary world, so many clinics look at their pet owners as ‘customers’ that need to be kept happy, instead of ‘clients’ to whom they are providing a service.

Vet clinics need to focus on providing excellent professional services, and have the clients that want excellent service come to their business, instead of focusing on the customers’ wants and changing their service to accommodate. Now, this doesn’t mean that if a client thinks you are rude, or your clinic is dirty, or disorganized, or the invoice wasn’t right, or that there are problems with the delivery of your service, they can’t mention it and you shouldn’t strive to improve.

We should always strive to provide our services in the best way possible, and that does mean having clear, polite, nice, organized, honest and accurate client communication. This is part of providing your service to the full extent.

Part of providing veterinary care is understanding the human component and understanding the financial component. Part of providing veterinary care is providing options for owners. This is all part of our professional services, working with the owners to get the best outcome possible for their pet!

However, making clients ‘happy’ shouldn’t be the main focus of a clinic, and this should not at all extend to how medicine is performed in your clinic!

Clients should NOT be demanding and forcing staff into treatments/services they do not agree with. Clients should NOT be demanding discounts and refuse to pay for service because they “didn’t like the opinion.”

Clients have every right to hold us accountable when we make mistakes, therefore it is our right (and duty) to perform/offer and only provide the medical services that we feel is accurate and correct for that patient.
WHY Does This Matter?
bike covered in squeaky ducks.
When the squeaky wheel gets the oil it learns when, where and how to get the oil. Clinics that treat owners like customers reap what they sow- and as a result you end up oiling those wheels despite what you professional feel is right.
How your clinic views pet owners, and how they interact with, respond to, and deal with pet owners, will depend on whether that clinic views your pet owners as clients, or customers.

Customers will have their demands given into, even if it isn’t medically correct. Customers will get discounts and capped bills just because they are the squeaky wheel. Customers will LEARN that bad behaviour- complaining, arguing, treating staff badly - will be rewarded with discounts and priority service.

Clients will be respected and treated as humans, however ‘demands’ will not be tolerated. Clients will be expected to pay for, and respect, the opinions and services that your professional staff supply, and complaining won’t change that fact. Clients will learn that bad behaviour will not be tolerated, and they are welcome to seek a second opinion if they disagree, but the professional opinion offered will not be swayed by a client’s wishes or thoughts and feelings.

This also changes how a clinic sees their staff. A clinic that sees customers, sees their staff as being in the clinic to make the customer happy, despite their own feelings and beliefs. A clinic that sees customers doesn’t respect the professional integrity of their staff. A clinic that sees customers will put customer happiness/satisfaction/enjoyment over patient care, over proper medical approach, and over their own staff’s professional opinions.


Make sure you work for a clinic that knows, and understands this difference! Make sure you work for a clinic that respects you, your brain, your degree, and supports your professional integrity!
Written by Dr. Ann Herbst BSc, DVM

Published May 29th, 2020

Advocate for yourself, you are the only one that will!

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