Pigs may fly before veterinarians will ever agree on this issue, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth discussing. After all, veterinary medicine is retail fare and discounts are the stuff of retail, so it only makes sense they might merit a mention in a column that relies on the politics of practice for monthly sustenance.
But first a broad statement to kick off the festivities: I don’t now, don’t plan on, and probably won’t ever offer discounts to my clients for anything.
Not for being my first or favorite clients, not for coming in on Tuesday mornings, not for having dentals done during the winter doldrums, not for bringing me Cuban coffee and guava pastries on a Saturday morning, not for bringing in more than one patient at a time, and especially not in recognition of the simple virtue of owning more than one pet at a time.
Nope. Not a chance. Never.
Though many of us may rely on discounting to bring clients in the door and I’d never begrudge anyone the right to seek or offer such concessions, I won’t lie and say I wouldn’t prefer that veterinarians who provide such niceties rescind their offers.
Mostly, that’s because I happen to have an issue with clients who expect financial consideration for their large, multi-pet households. Here’s why, with a couple of simple examples as fodder for discussion:
No. 1. Roger is a great client. He owns three dogs and, on average, fosters one or two more. He spends $300-$400 a month on veterinary services. He relies on his vet’s "one office call charge only” whenever he brings in more than one at a time. And he says he saves big on annual exams by bringing them all in at once.
No. 2. Marjorie has four cats and manages a small colony of "outdoor kitties” who reside in her backyard.
She calls her vet’s 10 percent discount for owners with three or more pets "a godsend.”
With these fine examples in mind and the wind of a withering economy at our backs, how could any self-respecting creature-loving veterinarian decline to offer multiple pet discounts for those of us who adore animals so much we’re willing to take on several at a time?
Indeed, that’s the position plenty of my clients adopt when arguing against our clinic’s longstanding, one-exam-fee-per-patient policy. To summarize their peevish opinion:
"I’m doing you a favor by bringing in two cats at once and you punish me by charging me double? That’s not right. Most vets offer multiple pet discounts. Your policies are unfair and inhumane for those of us who have so many pets to take care of.”
Here’s the standard answer I offer in response to such invectives, in seven parts:
The choice to bring pets into your life is yours and yours alone. If you elect to care for more pets than you can reasonably afford, it’s not my responsibility to take up the slack.
2. Whose convenience?
I don’t know about you, but bringing more than one animal in for an exam is not more convenient for me.
If anything, it seems like it would be more convenient for them. Which is probably why mine tend to do so (since I offer no discounts for more than one at a time, there’s no other good reason).
Moreover, our space concerns are such that clients who bring in multiple pets at a time are likely discouraged from doing so by virtue of their own discomfort.
3. Best practices.
As a clinician, my personal preference is to deal with one client and one patient at a time. Based on the way I practice medicine, more than one patient at a time often means that someone’s getting shortchanged in some way, even if it’s only because most clients can’t readily internalize my recommendations for multiple pets in one visit.
So why would we provide incentives for offering less than what we believe each patient deserves?
You may disagree, but I believe most pet owners do a far better job of caring for their pets when they keep only one or two. They can typically afford to keep their pets in better condition if they don’t stress themselves out trying to shoulder the work more of them require.
Of course, that’s not always the case (as many of our personal and professional experiences will doubtless attest), but why should any veterinarian offer further inducements to the already too ubiquitous, "mo’ pets is mo’ better” policy?
In my experience, colleagues tend to offer multiple pet discounts because it helps build loyalty with clients whose penchant for keeping many pets at a time means continuous business. But if we’re offering multiple pet discounts, does it not stand to reason that those with fewer pets are effectively subsidizing those who keep more?
This is why I happen to think these discounts are inherently unfair to clients who either know their own personal financial limits or simply elect to keep fewer pets.
6. Discounts beget cut-rate thinking.
I’ll confess that I tend to harbor resentments against those who expect discounts and other financial concessions. And nowhere does that kind of thinking permeate the culture of a place like the whiff of a price cut.
In other words, when clients know you offer a discount in one area, they’ll have a tendency to look for—and perhaps even come to demand—"special considerations” elsewhere.
All of which can lead us to feeling ill-treated or taken advantage of. Which is one precursor among many to burnout.
OK, so here’s where I’m most likely to recruit the wrath of those opposed to my thinking on this subject: Yes, I do happen to believe that discounts are tacky. Deeply so.
In fact, I believe it devalues what we all do to mark it down as if it were so many rolls of toilet paper or some other commoditized stuff, a mere product stripped of the professional expertise and personal commitment most of us sink into it.
Of course, it’s still up to you if you’d prefer to offer discounts for your own services. I’d never want you to lose the privilege of pricing your services in whatever way you deem appropriate. It’s a free country, a free market and all that.
Nonetheless, anyone who thinks price cuts on services offer a clear path to professional success should probably ask a pharmacist how he or she feels about that. Unfortunately, it’s unlikely they’d know … now that few have any control over how many family discount cards they swipe per shift.
One final note: All of the above applies only to institutional discounts. Not markdowns or two-fers, first-time freebies and the like; pricing alterations that are presumably promoted and possibly advertised. But in those cases I don’t use the term discount. Instead, I call it what it is: a gift. And that makes all the difference.