I may have written about my dad in the past. Dad is a retired dentist. He grew up during the Depression, barely got through high school while he worked multiple jobs to support his family and joined the Navy at age 17 during World War II. My Dad was truly part of the “Greatest Generation.”
After completing his naval service, Dad went back to school. Not college. He went back to prep school. He was 21 years old, taking 7th and 8th grade classes. After two years of preparation, he attended St. Michael’s College where he was consistently on the Dean’s List. After college and a year of work, he went on to dental school where he thrived.
Throughout my Dad’s career, he never forgot about the hard work that he had to put in to his future. He also never forgot about the lucky breaks that he received and the people who helped him along the way. His own father died before my Dad had even turned 19, he had supported his sick father, his mother and his two sisters for a time when he was 12. He held any job he could get from the age of 5. He never gave in to poverty itself or to the oppression of poverty. He also never gave in to bitterness.
By the time I was born, my Dad already had a thriving dental practice in a suburb of Boston. I was a blessing because my parents had lost two children before I was born. Two years later, my brother was born without functioning kidneys. That resulted in 6 years in the hospital until he was old enough for a transplant, with a donated kidney that he received from my Dad. Still my Dad was never bitter.
My dad continued to work hard despite all of the tragedy and hardship, but he never passed that hardship on to anyone else. Every month I would hear my dad tell my mom (who always handled his billing) that she should not bill patients because “they were going through a hard time” or that she not bill other patients because “so and so is in the hospital.”
While most businesses are run on the principle that money should be paid for services rendered, Dad operated under the principle that we are all part of the same community and that those who are suffering should be helped. And help is what he did.
Despite his magnanimous ways, my dad still had many patients who complained about his fees. They just did not realize what a good deal they were getting. When my dad retired, he sold his practice to a dentist who raised the fees to the going rate at the time — triple what my dad was charging. Only then did my dad’s patients realize what a deal they had been getting.
Perhaps my dad was on to something. If we all looked at our clients and customers, and helped them out where possible, they should become better customers. Certainly, we will become better people. If you identified the neediest customers each month and did not bill them, or gave them extra services for free or a discount, do you think it would be devastating for you? What if we all tried to help the people who we encounter each day? Wouldn’t that help more people to become loyal customers over time?
I don’t think that is why my dad was so generous when he was in practice. That was just his nature. It still is. Nevertheless, he very rarely ever lost a patient to another dentist and mom was always able to collect more than 99.5% of the bills she sent out. Can you claim as much with your business?
What do you think, if we all tried to bill our clients and customers based on what they could pay instead of what they should pay, would it be better for all of us? Should businesses invest in the emotional health of customers and clients? I think so. What do you think?