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Big business and the art of negotiating
I suspect that most veterinarians would consider Mr. Swagger to be a good client.
I suspect that most veterinarians would consider Mr. Swagger to be a good client. He takes great care of his animals, follows my advice to the letter, and pays his bills on time. Personally, I can't stand the guy. He is a bit of an obnoxious blowhard.
I clearly remember the first time he came to my office. It was 1978. He was a whining, ill-mannered, 9-year-old brat who came along with his mother when she brought in their dog. He couldn't keep his hands off my exam-room equipment and threw a tantrum when he was told to stop opening the drawers. Moments after they left, I found that part of my otoscope was cracked. In my mind, there was no doubt as to who was to blame.
It was probably about a decade later, when he came in with his own puppy. "It's not really my dog," he announced. "She belongs to all of us. We got her as a mascot. She lives in the fraternity house, and we all take care of her."
I recognized this instantly as a formula for disaster.
"You know, Doc," he continued, "we're just college students, and we don't have extra money to spend on her. I'm sure you remember what that's like. Can you help us out?"
I wanted what was best for the dog, and I knew that a house full of adolescent knuckle-heads might not function as reliable caretakers. So, I spayed the pooch and provided vaccines all at no charge.
Later, I learned that the frat brothers thought it was funny to get the dog drunk on a regular basis. I filed a formal complaint with the college, but I never received word of the outcome.
Now that he is a full-fledged adult, I see Mr. Swagger about twice a year when he brings in his two dogs, Hy and Mitey. However, the last time he came in, he didn't bring them along.
"Doctor, I'm here about my mother's bill," he announced. "She's been worried because she hasn't been able to pay you. I told her that I'd take care of it."
(That works for me.)
"You know Doc," he went on. "Everything I am today, I owe to my mom. Now that I am a business executive, I try to look out for her best interests. She is on Social Security, and extra money for veterinary bills is hard to come by. Shouldn't she be getting a senior citizen discount or something? Can't you help her with this bill?"
(The discussion was taking an ugly turn.)
I listened politely as he continued to pontificate.
"I told my mom that I'd take care of this, but you don't seem willing to meet me half way, Doc. You know, in the world of big business, we often use something called negotiating when it comes to the awarding of major contracts. I think we should consider that here."
I was impressed by the ego of the guy. His vacuum-cleaner repair shop could hardly be considered big business any more than two vaccines and a worm pill could be called a "major contract."
And so, after some "negotiating," he begrudgingly paid the bill in full. He wasn't happy about it, though. Then again, neither was I. From my point of view, he still owes me a new otoscope.
Dr. Obenski owns Allentown Clinic for Cats in Allentown, Pa.