Business or Profession, Customer or Client: The Faint Line of Trust

The problem with making a business out of a profession is that a client becomes a customer. And when that happens, the professional becomes a businessman.

The other day my friend Swami was asking me this. “Am I a patient or am I a customer when I visit a hospital?” I did not have a clear answer, and neither did my broker friend. He was similarly puzzled. “I am not sure” he said. “I treat my investor clients as patients, not customers. That’s all I know.”

trust_me_im_a_financial_advisorI remembered my experience with the barber a few months back. That’s when I had realized that the simple barber next door had become a hair and beauty services provider. I guess the doctor has also become a health care service provider, and the financial adviser has become the financial service provider. May be the lawyer has become the legal service provider. And the accountant became the accounting service provider or something like that. A few days back, I saw a board outside a dentist’s clinic saying Smile Dental Hygiene Services. Schools should perhaps be called teaching and educational development services.

“Is it good to be a client or a customer?” My friend Swami asked.

I could see my wise broker friend warming up a bit. “Well, it depends. I don’t know whether it is good or bad. Good in part, bad in part” he remarked.

I don’t know why so many of Swami’s questions have ‘may be’ or ‘depends’ as answers.

“Again you are giving me your usual answers” Swami remarked, now quite used to Jigneshbhai’s answers.

“Hmm. Well, unless you become the customer, you won’t get the facilities and quality of treatment. So it is good for that. But what if you knew that the doctor treating you has revenue targets? So it is bad for that” my broker friend clarified.

trust-me-im-a-doctorPerhaps it is bad for the client as well as the professional. But perhaps, it is good for the business. And the professional needs the businessman.

It is not easy to run a profession as if the money does not matter. And it is not possible to run a business without the profits happening. And when the businessman meets the professional, it works for both. At least till they get into a tussle. Whether it works for the person availing the service is anybody’s guess.

While I was thinking about it, Swami’s next question came up. “So the surgeons have targets?”

My broker friend replied “May be not sacrosanct targets. But I am quite sure that a good surgeon not making much money is less preferable to the somewhat reasonable surgeon who brings in the money for the health care services business.”

Well, looks like that may be true. So what if one come across someone for whom a treatment is not strictly required, but taking it won’t hurt things anyway? And he can afford it? A procedure or diagnostic here or there, or a small addition of a stock that doesn’t impact the portfolio much, or a legal advice that isn’t going to change much. But provides the fees.

Well, that, perhaps, is the faint balancing line between a profession and a business. The balancing line between what’s good for the profession and what’s good for the business. Between being a client and being a customer. The faint line of trust. That line is fading fast.

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