To Be or Not to Be … Outstanding!

Our veterinarian is featured in the Outstanding! book in Chapter Twenty—“Be Flexible: Put People Before Policies”—as an example of not-so-great customer service. Unnamed, of course.

Unnamed because “Dr. D” is a nice guy and a terrific doctor for our pets. But the good doc needs to wear his other hat, though I fear he’s misplaced it.


Let me be transparent regarding my veterinarian philosophy:

My dog is not his customer—because “Nug the Pug” does not have a debit card, checkbook, or cash. But I do. So that makes me the customer.

Said differently, I expect to be taken care of as the paying customer as well as Nugget is as the patient.NUG AND JOHN WITH TITLES

So, I took Nug in for some minor issues last week. During the exam, Dr. D and I agreed on a course of treatment. One action that was considered but rejected was a urinalysis.

However, minutes later at the front desk where I paid the bill, the vet technician suggested I take a “urine collection” cup with me just in case I decided to capture a specimen from Nug and then bring it in to be tested. No fee was mentioned.

Once home, I noticed I’d been charged $35 for the “just in case” cup that I wasn’t planning on using!

I called back and left a voicemail asking for my refund.

I had to leave a voicemail on a weekday during business hours for the same reason the vet tech had been the one taking my payment at the front desk:

Dr. D. has been trying the “no receptionist” approach for two years.

Note to all vets: Customers should not enter your office to be greeted only by Animal Planet playing on a television!

Anyway, 30 hours later, I received a return call from Dr. D’s wife. Even though I’m certain my voicemail had been quite clear, she asked me to reexplain it all. So, I did.

Two things came next:

1. No apology. 

2. She said, “Well, bring back the specimen cup and we’ll refund your money.”

Let me understand …

I need to return a plastic cup that cost you $.59 from your vet supply vendor so that I can get my money back that I should not have been charged in the first place!?!


I returned the cup and received my $35. As always, the technician had to come out of the lab to do receptionist work. No further comment on that.

But, here’s a comment:

The technician who processed my return of the plastic cup was the one who had incorrectly charged me the $35. Smiling all the while as if nobody had been inconvenienced, she never said these powerful words:

“I’m sorry for my mistake, and apologize you had to come back in because of my error.”

So I said, “Have an outstanding day!” and left.

But we’ll be back. Why? Because Dr. D is a levelheaded, practical, and caring animal doc that never recommends procedures that aren’t necessary.

I like that in a vet. It makes him outstanding—as a pet doc.

Now if he could just put on that “small business owner” hat, his entire practice would be outstanding. When that happens, this is how a mistake will be handled:

Someone will promptly answer the phone and, after listening to the paying customer describe the problem, that person will tell the paying customer …

“So sorry for the mistake. I will rectify it immediately. If you can, drop the cup off sometime, please. If that doesn’t work for you, don’t worry about it. Thanks for your business!”

Yes, to BE OUTSTANDING is just that easy.

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20 Responses

  1. Recent restaurant experience:
    1) Had to “remove” 2 roaches climbing the wall next to us.
    2) Got the incorrect salad.
    3) Had to put up with two “gentlemen” cursing quite loudly at next table while drinking lots of beer.
    4) When given the full answer to “So how was everything” the manager said “Oh, I don’t know how that happened, we have an exterminator every month.” (no apology for it or the other problems) And that was the last thing she said as she dropped off the bill and the last time we will go there but not the last time we will relay that message to our neighbors.

  2. I perfectly understand your situation. I had a wonderful doctor and miss him to this day; however, his reception and billing practices are awful (to put it lightly). One situation, I paid my co-pay; however, there was a balance. The billing office sent the invoice to the wrong patient and the bill went to collections due to non-payment. When I went to the next exam, I was refused service. The receptionist discovered the error (no apology) and referred me to billing. The billing manager refused to take back the bill from collections and would not offer any alternative except for me to pay the bill through collections with the added fees. I never looked back.

  3. I had a similar situation happen to me recently at a McFastFood restaurant close to my home. The McManager on duty took my McOrder. The drive-thru attendant took my money and gave me a receipt. Looking at the receipt, I found that I was charged for an item in which I had a buy one, get one free coupon. Upon telling the attendant that I clearly stated that I had a coupon prior to ordering the item, I was told, “the manager must not have heard you.” No problem, I thought. Give me a refund and everything will be fine. No so easy. The employee told me that the store’s McPolicy is “no refunds, but I could get something else.” If I had wanted something else, I would have ordered it in the first place. Come to mind, I did. The McShake machine was broken, so no shake for my wife. I asked to speak to the shift manager. The manager told me that only the store’s general manager can refund the error and that I’d have to come back when she was on duty the next day. Really? As I drove home, I could not believe that a company would not empower a shift “manager” the discretion to correct a $4.00 mistake. I went back the next day and got my refund. It was not a surprise that there was no apology from the general manager.

  4. Great story!! Not uncommon for a vet’s office. I’ll make sure to share this with our learning centre managers – just in case they forget who the customer is. 🙂 Keep up the good work John. 🙂

  5. John

    Are you going convert him to “Outstanding!”?

    Otherwise aren’t you rewarding behavior to which you don’t subscribe since Nugget wouldn’t necessarily
    know the difference. . . 🙂 Just wondering!

    1. John, Debbie has a point. The tendency would be to stay out of other people’s business, but, this situation opens itself to an opportunity. The good doc may not even be aware how his lack of good service affects his clients. You are willing to go back, but others may not be so generous. I suspect he spends money on advertising. Referrals are a more effective way to grow and maintain a business. Let us know how he responds.

  6. John,

    Great column as always. Now the question; What can you do to make this situation better? Is there something you can do to improve things? QBQ. Perhaps just owning up to your feelings and sending this column to the good Dr. D would be enough to help him see a blind spot. He may be oblivious to what impression he is leaving with his customers and if he is as good as you say, he is worth taking some time to help out before his poor customer service drives him out of business and you have no one you trust to treat poor Nug the Pug.

    Just a thought,


    1. Bryan! Thank you so much. Let me tell you about me: I once told a KFC manager to fire an employee on the spot due to her apathetic and negative attitude. I have no I hesitation about giving advice and input. But in this case, as I shared with others, I’ve decided not to pick this battle with Dr. D. My marriage is too important. ????

  7. John,
    This is the norm, businesses being transparent about costs is very rare, simple changes can make huge impact on businesses and can become outstanding unfortunately the businesses may not even be aware the amount of distrust it is generating amongst their customers.

  8. This is a valuable lesson for anyone in Customer Service, and no matter what capacity you work, EVERYONE is in Customer Service. Treat your position as if it was your own small business. If a mistake happens, apologize for it and fix it with the least amount of further inconvenience to the customer as possible.

    And what ever you do, don’t upset your partner. Pick your battles wisely.

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