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  • Writer's pictureBill Petrie

The Cost of Doing the Right Thing

Updated: Mar 15, 2022

A parable of the escalating cost of avoiding responsibility

“Screws fall out all the time; the world is an imperfect place.” - John Bender as played by Judd Nelson in The Breakfast Club

If you’re over the age of five, you know that there are few things truer than Bender’s comment above. At the ripe old age of 52 (but I don’t look a day over 51), I fully accept and embrace that life is simply a series of curveballs with brief respites of tranquility between pitches. Last Monday, our family got a breaking ball that buckled our knees.

As many of you know, we have a two-year-old Red Tick Coonhound named Shelby. While she weighs in at 78 pounds, she is the sweetest dog I’ve ever been around – something that is continually mentioned to us by friends and veterinary staff alike. Being a Coonhound, she needs a ton of exercise so we send her to doggie day care a couple of times during the week so she can run wild and play with her friends. She truly loves it and, because of her disposition, they even use Shelby to help acclimate new puppies to group play.

Last Monday, we received a call from doggie day care – let’s call it “Perky Pups” – that Shelby had been injured during play and a good chunk of her ear had been torn. Not punctured, torn. We immediately picked her up, took her to the vet, and they put in over 10 stitches in an attempt to reattach it. In addition to the outlay of cash, this meant Shelby had to wear a cone of shame.

Once we got Shelby settled, we started to get an understanding of what happened: Shelby was playing with a dog – let’s call him “Bob” – and as play escalated, Bob clamped down on Shelby’s ear and wouldn’t let go. In fact, staff had to physically remove Bob from Shelby. As parents who send their pet to daycare, we understand things happen during play as Shelby has come home with cuts and bruises on numerous occasions. This was clearly different.

Shelby has regularly attended day care at Perky Pups for well over a year, so we reached to the staff to get a better understanding of what happened. That’s when the metaphorical screws began to fall out. In short, Perky Pups washed their hands of the situation by chalking it up to puppy play. They were quite defensive when we asked them how an ear tear could happen if they were truly watching play as they state and instead gave us the name and number of the owner and the breed of Bob to “work things out.” The bottom line is that we signed a waiver so Perky Pups isn’t liable for much of anything which meant we had no choice but to reach out to the owner.

Given the aggressiveness of the breed (yes, Bob is a pit bull) and the nature of the wound (a tear vs. a puncture or cut), we felt that the owner was liable for the cost of veterinary services. If roles were reversed, we would’ve asked Perky Pups for the owner’s information and initiated conversation to see if Bob was okay and how we could pay for all the care necessary to heal him.

As that didn’t happen, we called the owner Monday evening and left a voicemail. By Tuesday at 5:00 PM, we hadn’t heard back so I decided to text both owners – with pictures – asking for a conversation. We waited for a bit which was almost as uncomfortable as making the call and placing the text.

As we waited for a response, I resented being put in the position of having to ask someone to do the right thing and it made me think of how many businesses delay doing what is best for the customer because it’s either costly, awkward or both. We hope the client won’t notice the PMS color isn’t an exact match on a product, that it’s not a big deal that a launch date is missed by a day or so, or that it’s not inconvenient if the shipment arrives on separate days because they are sent from separate locations. Far too often, businesses stick their heads in the sand assuming that no complaint means that everything is dandy when nothing could be further from the truth.

While it’s not uncommon for clients to ask for reparations when things go wrong, it damages the relationship regardless how responsive the business is to the issue. When you know something has gone sideways, the price of doing the right thing will always cost less if you initiate the conversation and ultimate resolution. Yes, it’s hard to pick up the phone and let a client know a mistake was made but being proactive shows them how much you truly care about their business relationship.

As for the owners of Bob, the owner did text back the following:

“Heard about the incident. Bob comes home with cuts and stuff like at a lot too. Are you looking for help with the vet bill?”

While I appreciated the offer because, frankly, I was looking for them to pay for the vet bill, I resented that I was – again – put in the position of having to ask. Instead of inquiring about Shelby’s health and offering to pay, I was made to feel like a jerk by letting him know that I did indeed want his help on the vet bill. He immediately paid via Venmo and we had a pleasant text conversation where he committed to paying anything resulting from the injury. At the end of the day, the owner seems like a nice guy who did the right thing.

The issue is, he did the right thing only because I asked him. That doesn’t make the owner a bad human, but it does make me view him differently. If I hadn’t reached out those two times I don’t believe there’s any chance the owner would have acknowledged the incident where his dog was responsible, let alone pay for it.

When businesses take a similar approach of only doing the right thing when asked, it tarnishes the client relationship. To be clear, the timing of doing the right thing has more than immediate financial implications as it will also cost you relationships, loyalty, brand equity, credibility, and, ultimately, profit.

Had Bob’s owner proactively done the right thing by asking about Shelby and insisting on paying, I would view the entire situation differently. His delay and approach didn’t impact the hard costs of the vet bill, but it did impact my immediate perspective of him and not in a positive way. There’s an important business lesson here:

The price of doing the right thing will never be less expensive than it is today.

The faster you do what is right on behalf the client, the lower your ultimate cost - financial and otherwise - will be.

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