Surviving the client herd


The next chapter in Dr. Michael Obenski's humorous look at client types.

Last year, I told you how my colleague Arnie and I had developed the science of client categorization. Although we have identified 83 client behavioral types, I shared only a few with you. By October, I received several letters pointing out a serious omission on our part.

Here is just one example:

Dear Dr. Obenski:

Apparently you have been in small-animal practice too long because you can't see the forest for the trees. You view your clients as individuals. Many are, but others are members of specific behavioral groups.

In my practice, I spend half the day in our small-animal clinic and the other half on the road making farm calls. We no longer view our dairy herds as individual cows. We practice herd-health management. We treat the group.

You and Arnie should be focusing some of your efforts on group veterinary client behavior.


Juan Armup, DVM

I must admit that I owe a debt of gratitude to our colleague in the plastic sleeve. Over the last 30 years, my closest association with cows comes when I put milk on my cereal in the morning. After reading this letter, Arnie and I decided to look into veterinary client herd mentality.

First things first, we needed a name.

Do clients come in flocks, pods, packs or clumps? After heated debate, we decided that they come in gaggles. This month, we will discuss just a few of the gaggles that we have identified so far.

The "Loud Gaggle" would be a good one to start with. An excellent example would be the Decibel family. Each ear-splitting office call is attended by no less than three of the Decibels. Their dogs, Racket and Thunder, never stop barking. Blare Decibel finds it easier to shout over the noise rather than quiet the dogs. Meanwhile, her kids, Buzz and Rowdy, play noisy, portable video games.

Mr. Decibel stays in the waiting room. He and his wife relay information back and forth by shouting down the 40-foot hallway.

By the time they leave, our staff is ready for some aspirin. (The narcotics are locked up.)

Among the most frustrating of gaggles is the Audio Gaggle. They are rarely seen, only heard. Typically the encounter occurs over the telephone. As you speak with someone concerning their pet's problem, you make the mistake of asking an unanswerable question such as: "How old is your dog?" or "What is your last name?"

Soon, you hear disembodied voices in the background. (Members of the gaggle.) They are shouting conflicting information. Once this begins, you have lost all control of the situation and might as well hang up. They are so busy talking to each other that they won't even notice your absence.

Argument Gaggles present a similar frustration. Each gaggle member has his or her own version of the patient history. On top of that, an intra-gaggle fight breaks out every time you ask a question. Even if there are only two of them, they will quack out conflicting histories like a couple of ducks, which make it impossible for you to write either down.

The final gaggle that I would like to present is the Extended Family Gaggle. My practice has an excellent example in the Grape Family. Mrs. Grape has three daughters, all of whom are married and living in different parts of town. However, once or twice a year, they gather up all the children and pets and meet at my office for a combination office call and family reunion. They never warn us in advance that the appointment is actually four different ones. So, there is never enough time scheduled. They are so busy talking to each other that it is difficult for us to get anything accomplished. Furthermore, the sheer bulk of three generations of Grapes clogs our traffic flow. They are quite a bunch.

Strangely enough, these gaggle members often seem to feel that group outings represent some sort of advantage to the attending veterinarian and staff. Such was the case last week when Mrs. Grape approached me with a suggestion.

"Doctor," she said, "since I always come with my whole family, and we have so many pets, don't you think you should consider giving us a group rate?"

"I've thought of it," I told her. "But I didn't think that you'd be willing to pay extra."

Dr. Obenski owns Allentown Clinic for Cats in Allentown, Pa.

For a complete list of articles by Dr. Obenski, visit

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