Ask the expert: Oops—I missed a charge. Can I still collect?

Ask the expert: Oops—I missed a charge. Can I still collect?

This Firstline reader wonders about the right approach to handling missed charges after the veterinary client has left the hospital. Bash Halow weighs in.
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Oct 21, 2016

Q: What do you recommend if charges are forgotten on invoicing? Is it OK to contact the client by phone and also invoice with an inconvenience discount?

—Leaky ship

Dear Leaky:

Getty Images.Oh boy. I’ve been there. The client is at the desk with a whopper of a bill north of $750. She hands over the card, vacantly reaches for a biscuit out of the cookie jar and passes it to her pet.

The quiet is unsettling and you search for something to fill the void. “Now, if Powder Puff shows any additional signs, just give us a call. OK?” The owner thanks you, signs the credit card screen with her finger and makes her way out the door with Powder Puff.

Forty minutes later, Marge emerges from the back. “Did Powder Puff’s mom leave already?”

You think, No, she’s taking a nap in the breakroom. She figured you’d have something else to tell her, so she decided to stick around. But you remember the latest team meeting on infighting and settle for something less inflammatory. “Yes, she’s gone.”

“Then you’ll have to call her up and tell her we forgot to charge for Powder’s sub-Q,” Marge orders. “Dr. Connolly says he wanted to make sure she got charged.”

OK! Let me get going with that. ’Cause nothing says “I care about you” more than calling up a lady and stickin’ her for another $13.50.

Again you exercise restraint. For which you feel you should get a medal.

Anyone who’s worked in a practice with rigid client payment policies knows there’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all approach to client happiness or practice prosperity. In our efforts to be both financially successful and “fair” we’ve swapped out loyalty to our patrons for loyalty to our payment policies. The upshot? More revenue. The cost? Well—I’m sure you have your share of stories.

It sounds to me like you’re a practice leader who’s trying to adopt a stricter protocol on what to say or do if someone fails to charge clients appropriately. But to what end? If I call up Powder Puff’s mom and ask to take another swipe out of her card, she may happily give her credit digits over the phone or slam it down in my ear. And no amount of policy making or verbal linguistics is going to move those odds in either direction.

Inconvenience discount? Ask yourself what part of this unpleasant business the discount is mitigating. In my opinion, the “solution” of an inconvenience discount isn’t solving the problem at all; it’s just orbiting it.

Here’s my take: Give your team members some guidelines on how to talk about money. Educate them on the value of what you do. Upload them on the economics of running a practice and the importance of capturing charges. And give them the authority to make decisions about calling (or not calling) clients about missed charges as they see fit.

Adopting a protocol on what to say to a client about a missed charge is not leadership; it’s paperwork. Leadership is getting team members to feel, think and act like owners. Build a practice team that’s adaptive and responsive to what clients want and give them the authority to make decisions in the best interest of both clients and the practice on an individual basis.

Bash Halow, LVT, CVPM, is a management consultant with Halow Tassava Veterinary Business Consultants, CVC speaker and frequent dvm360 contributor.