Phone Calls: What’s Fair When Time is Money?
Time is money, right? Whether I’m at work, at home or out at play, when clients call I’m officially on the clock and deserve to be compensated. But there’s never any direct association with a dollar amount. In other words, I don’t bill for my telephone time as a lawyer might. Yet sometimes I get to thinking I should.
Telephone face-time is an ancillary service I extend to clients free-of-charge. Well, sort of. There’s an unwritten understanding that all current and prospective clients deserve my ear when issues arise; because they’ll eventually pay for my expertise at the hospital.
Which means that good clients often have a way of being able to get me on the phone quickly. Great clients will get extra time. The superlative ones might even earn themselves my cell phone number. And while it may sound unfair to restrict access, I assure you it’s not. I’m generous with my time when people are generous with me. There’s a 1:1 relationship there that I work hard to comply with.
And it’s not even necessarily about the money thing. Respect for my time, skill, knowledge base and effort isn’t always reflected in how much cash eventually comes my way. Attitude goes a long way towards earning telephonic niceties and excellent client status.
And then there are the duds. You know who they are. Anyone in any kind of service business knows them extra-well. They’re the kind of people who expect something for nothing, and will fight you tooth and nail to get what they mistakenly believe they deserve without having to compensate you fairly.
Yesterday’s client was a great example of this: He calls up in the a.m. asking for sedatives for his dog; the storms we’ve been suffering here in Miami are apparently causing the dog to bark incessantly. The receptionist tells him he has to make an appointment because every pet who receives sedatives must have a current evaluation (he hasn’t been in for 14 months), and because storm phobia is a serious condition which deserves a consultation.
Makes sense, right?
The guy’s not buying it. He wants to talk to the veterinarian. He’s not real nice about it either, according to the berated receptionist, which is why I call him back in the afternoon, after he’s had a chance to calm down. And — truth be told — because even veterinarians can feel passive-aggressive when they’re not feeling a client’s love.
When I finally do call, he’s annoyed. Apparently the impending late afternoon storm means the dog will howl bloody murder while he’s trying to watch the evening news. So sorry, but policies being what they are, it’s out of my control. Storm phobia is a complex issue that deserves a detailed explanation before drugs can be prescribed. But suddenly he wants a lowdown on all the issues he needs to know about storm phobias so I can prescribe something … NOW!
As I’m talking about consultations and the necessity for making an appointment — since there are clients in the hospital waiting to be seen — he interrupts me with this gracious offer: "Call me later, then."
The nerve, I think.
Needless to say, he isn't happy when I explain that he’ll need to make an appointment if he requires any more of my time.
Him: "Is that how it is?"
Me: "Ummm ... yeah. So sorry but this is an important issue and your dog deserves the benefit of a physical exam and current labwork. We don’t prescribe anything at all without an annual visit — much less sedatives."
Him: "Then you won’t be seeing me again."
Good riddance. Still, it got me to thinking. How much time is fair? Is the sliding scale I offer a reasonable one? What do you expect?
Dr. Patty Khuly