Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Sorry Excuses and Customer Service in Cattle Industry

I had a professor in veterinary school, an equine surgeon in fact, who had a phrase he used when people came to him with sorry excuses.  It went something like this: "The horse doesn't give a #@!%"

It was a good lesson to learn early on.  When working up a veterinary case, the horse doesn't care if you are tired, or if your car isn't running well, or if the relevant information wasn't in the assigned reading.  All the horse cares about, is that it is sick or injured, and whether or not you correctly identify and treat its problem is totally independent of whatever excuses you might have.  The horse just plain doesn't care.  Cows care less.  Dogs will look at you like they care, but sorry excuses won't make the difference for them either.  Cats . . . well most cats I know lives their lives in a constant state of indignation, and I'm certain they care the least of all beasts about your sorry excuses.  The bottom line is, sorry excuses won't get you far with animals, and not much further with their owners.

I have found this rule to be especially true in the case of cattle clients.  The men and women who own cattle for a living are well acquainted with just how little cows can care about whatever excuses one might have.  When cows have or create a problem that needs attention, they don't care about the time of day or night.  They don't care about whether or not it's the weekend or a holiday.  They don't care about whatever your plans are, or were.  They just do their cow thing, when they decide to do it, and if you don't respond appropriately the consequences are unforgiving.

As a result, when a cow client calls their veterinarian with a problem, it is hard for them to be sympathetic to whatever else might be going on in your life.  That's not to say they don't recognize that they are inconveniencing you, most of them do and they even feel bad about it deep down.  However, you will likely not get very far with them if you don't at least recognize that they are only calling you because some critter decided to mess up their plans first.

I once had a client from British Columbia drive 2 hours in the middle of the night to my clinic in Alberta with a cow in labor because the vet that was 45 minutes away in Cranbrook couldn't be bothered to deal with the problem.  The veterinarian did at least answer their phone, but when she found out it was a calving, she tried to wash her hands of it by advising the client to "just pull harder."  I wasn't personally present when the phone conversation took place, but I got enough of the content from the cow's owner to surmise that this veterinarian either didn't have a clue about calving, or she was seeking to excuse herself from having to deal with it.  If a rancher calls you in the middle of the night with a calving problem, you can bet they've already tried pulling harder, or if they haven't, they've pulled enough calves to know when not to pull harder.

Either way, the client was not impressed.  When you spend nights on end checking your cows and dealing with whatever problems come your way, it's hard to be sympathetic to someone who can't be bothered to get out of bed long enough to at least give an intelligent assessment of your problem. Too at least be able to say, "I'm sorry, I think you're cow needs a C-section but I am not able to do that for you."  As it was, the cow made it to our clinic in time to deliver a live calf via C-section, however the calf was severely compromised due to prolonged oxygen deficiency and died a few days later.  Had it gone to Cranbrook it might have had a better chance of survival, though I doubt the owners of the cow will ever darken the doorstep of the Cranbrook clinic again.

Interestingly enough, I have found that being sensitive to this aspect of owning cattle will often times get you further than successfully treating the animal.  Most cattle producers have pretty low expectations when it comes to treating sick animals.  There's a saying I've often heard cattle producers use that goes, "if you're going to have livestock, you're going to have deadstock."  All cows die eventually, and there is always going to be a certain percentage that die unexpectedly.  Anyone who makes a serious attempt at earning a living from raising cows will learn this hard lesson very early on.  It is true that as a veterinarian, there are many things that one can do to help keep this number low.  However, people don't care how much you know until they know how much you care, and being understanding and patient with cattle producers when they call you in the middle of the night will elevate your medical skills in their eyes far beyond what they actually are.

I had this lesson driven home for me on a steer that came into the clinic with a swollen abdomen.  It wasn't a rumen bloat, or a displaced abomasum that I could detect.  However, after performing various tests and examinations, I came to the conclusion that the steer had some form of a blockage in its gastrointestinal tract.  The steer weighed close to 700 lbs and we were heading into the weekend where I would not have the support staff I needed to do a full abdominal exploratory surgery.  I offered to go to surgery right then and there, however the owner opted for a lest costly, more conservative medical treatment.  The medical treatment did not work, and I eventually ended up coming in on a Saturday to do a flank surgery in a hail-mary attempt to find the blockage and relieve it.  The surgery proved to be in vain and the steer eventually died, but these producers showed up at the clinic with some summer sausage and ground beef nonetheless to thank me for my troubles.  They expressed appreciation for being willing to try, especially on a weekend, even though the chances of success were slim.  It was a powerful lesson to me about how important it is to be available for my clients in their hour of need, and if I can't be available, to at least pretend that I give a #$!%.

The same goes for any aspect of veterinary medicine.  There are going to be times when you are busy, or tired, or you simply do not want to deal with it all anymore, and in those times you will be presented with animals that need your help.  They don't care if you're tired, or burnt out, or if you haven't eaten for the last 2 meals.  All they care about it that they are sick, or hurt, and the biological systems that dictate whether they live or die will play out the cards their dealt regardless of what your schedule dictates.  It can make life real tough, but the veterinarians that I respect the most are the ones who can push all of those excuses aside long enough to get the problem taken care of.  Coincidentally, these are also the veterinarians who develop loyal clients, especially in the cattle industry.  So while it is true that the cows may not give a #$!%, if you want to provide superior customer service to their owners, make sure that you do.

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