Article Text


A practitioner ponders

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It's time for me to get a new wallet. Not, regretfully, because the old one is so full of money that it can hold no more, but rather because the current one is crammed with all sorts of detritus and is basically worn out. It's stuffed full of faded till receipts, long-forgotten shopping lists, dog-eared business cards, and the all-essential credit and debit cards, with the odd wrinkled five-pound note hidden among it all. It's done the job but can do no more. On closer inspection, I realise that it bulges for one reason more than any other – because I have so many so-called loyalty cards in it.

Are these a curse or a blessing of the 21st century? I have loyalty cards for hotels, coffee bars, supermarkets, petrol stations and clothing shops, and not just one but several for each type of business. If I stop for a coffee in town, I fumble through my wallet looking for the correct card to present as I order a latte. My wallet's contents end up strewn across the floor as I search for the correct supermarket card at the till. The receptionist taps her fingers impatiently as I hold everyone up looking for the appropriate piece of plastic when I check into a hotel.

I know why businesses have loyalty cards – the clue's in the name, isn't it? They want me to come back to their coffee bar, their shop or their airline and get a paltry reward after 500 coffees, a million pounds spent on groceries or a billion air miles flown. And, of course, the really smart operators like the big supermarkets will use the card they give me to track my spending patterns and send me personalised mailings to encourage me to go back to them for more and more products.

So, should vets go down the same route? Should we too be offering every client a card that they present each time the cat has an abscess or the dog needs to have its toenails clipped? I know some vets are already doing so, but is it a step too far into the brave new world of professionalism? Will it even make any difference to which vet they register with or how many times they come in through the door? I wonder whether these cards really work. I don't usually choose a coffee outlet on the basis that I have a certain chain's loyalty card tucked away in the recesses of my wallet; I go to whichever coffee shop is nearest to where I am at the time. I go to my preferred supermarket because it's just down the road from the practice. And if my car needs petrol I'll stop at the next petrol station; I'm certainly not going to drive 20 miles out of my way to add a few more points to a loyalty card. I'm old fashioned enough to think that people come to see me because they like me and because I can get their pet better, not because they get a free cat toy once they've spent £1000 at my practice.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to go and buy that new wallet. It needs to be bigger than the current one because I seem to have so many things to carry in it. Oh, and I'm going to a certain department store to buy it – because, of course, I’ll get the points added on!

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