Why veterinarians should be more like a Louisiana shoeshiner

If my veterinary clients feel half as good as I did after visiting the 'Michael Jordan of shoeshines,' I'll be thrilled.
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Jun 30, 2014

2 Consequences are powerful

As soon as Mr. Cleo finished introducing himself, he looked down at my shoes and shook his head. "Oh no! This is a shame," he said. "These shoes need help." He then launched into a short spiel outlining what happens to leather when it's not taken care of and what would happen to my shoes if I didn't start to maintain them. He didn't make me feel bad about my neglect of something he obviously takes great pride in, but he did let me know about the potential consequences of not following his advice.

Consequences are powerful things. When we understand what repercussions we may face by choosing a certain course of action, we can make an educated decision about whether or not we will change our behavior. When we do not understand the consequences of our actions, how and why would we ever change?

We tell pet owners all the time that we recommend senior wellness testing, regular heartworm tests and fecal examinations, but how often do we tell them why? How often do you talk to clients about the consequences of not doing a heartworm test? My guess is that it's only when a client clearly states an intention not to do the test. Well, what about all the pet owners who agree to the test? Do they know why their decision is such a good one? Shouldn't we tell them?

Consequences are at the heart of the pet owner education process. If we don't let people know what might happen if their pet is not vaccinated, protected against heartworms, on tick prevention and so on, then how well are we really educating them? How equipped are they to determine the value of the services we provide? How prepared are they to continue making smart pet care choices?

3 People love a good show

After briefly explaining why the care he provides is so important, Mr. Cleo unpacked his supplies from a drawer under his chair and said, "Now, watch and I'll make these shoes come alive." Then he proceeded to put on a show.

He talked as he worked and explained every step of what he was doing. There were soap bubbles, scrub brushes, polish and rags flying everywhere. I'm sure a great deal of the production was for my benefit, and that was fine with me. This was much more than a shoeshine. This was theater, and I was the audience.

If the next physical examination I perform is half as interesting as this guy's shining of my shoes, I will be thrilled with myself. If you ask most pet owners whether or not the veterinarian did a physical examination of their pet during their last visit, they will be unsure: "I think so?" If you ask people who visited this guy if they got a shoeshine, they'll say, "Oh, heck yes."

4 It's a pat on the back

When he was done, the shoe-shine expert stepped back and smiled. "You're a new man!" he said. "You can walk around with your chest puffed out like you just left the gym."

As I handed over my payment along with a tip, I felt fantastic about the purchase I had just made. I was proud of something that I'd never thought to be proud of before. I felt responsible, successful and organized, all because I had my shoes shined.

When pet owners leave our clinic, they should feel this way too. They have made a sacrifice of time, money and energy toward their pet's health. We should make sure they feel great about that. They should be reminded and emotionally rewarded for their commitment to their pet. If there's one thing our pets have taught us, it's that everyone likes to be praised for making good choices—am I right?

For two days after my stop at the shoeshine station, I tried to stand in strategic poses so people could see how shiny my shoes were. I now saw value in something that had before seemed just routine maintenance. I felt proud because the shoe shiner in Baton Rogue convinced me I had done something to take pride in. Pet owners who take good care of their pets should feel the same way.

Dr. Andy Roark practices in Greenville, S.C. He is the founder and managing director of veterinary consulting firm Tall Oaks Enterprises. Follow him on Facebook or @DrAndyRoark on Twitter.