Wednesday, September 5, 2012

It Takes All Kinds

I made a phone call this afternoon to a customer who has yet to make a payment this year, and his first purchase was in May.
I am patient and understanding to a point, but this particular customer goes way past that point every time he does business with us.
In fact, before today, the last time we spoke was two years ago when he let me have it for charging him a finance charge on a balance that was over 6 months late.
I'm not his biggest fan.

Before I called him I gave the guys in the office the chance to make the call.
"If I call, I can't guarantee that I will be nice," I warned.
I know, Nice Matters, but not always, especially when you're in charge of collections.
And as much as it pains me to admit, there is a serious lack of gender equality in my line of work.
BUT...that's another post for another day.
The guys declined my offer and so I made the call.
This is how it went:

"Hey _______ (if nice didn't ever matter, I would put his business name here) this is Noelle.  I'm just calling to see when I can expect a payment."

"Is my balance past due?"

"Yes, since May.  Do you get the invoices and statements I email to you regularly?" (Because on the chance he hadn't gotten my emails, I would be all about patience and understanding, even if I don't like the guy.)

"Yes I get them, but I don't ever print them out.  I don't pay a bill unless I get a hard copy of the invoice in the mail."

"When I set you up on email billing at the beginning of the year I asked if you wanted hard copies and you never responded, which told me you didn't need them."

"I won't pay the bill unless you send the hard copies to me."

I thanked him and hung up the phone before the tone of my voice betrayed what I was thinking.

I did however send him a note with his invoices:

"Can you clarify something for me?  You made the purchases.  You signed every invoice personally.  You took a copy of every invoice with you the day you left our store.  You readily admit you get my emails...the emails I send every three weeks informing you once again that your balance is past due, and if there is a problem, will you please call me.  You know you owe me for the invoices.  And yet since May you haven't contacted me at all, even once.  What am I missing?"

I left work after that, but on the way out I informed my brother that there was a possibility we would lose this guy's business again.  (He stopped doing business with us the last time I had the nerve to charge him a finance charge.)

Good riddance.

I have far too many of those kinds of encounters, and they leave me feeling somewhat cynical about the human race.

Tomorrow's agenda is emailing another customer who owes me money too...and has done all season long.  The difference here?  We're Facebook friends and I happen to know how many vacations he's been on this year.  At the risk of being unfriended by him, I'm going to bring that little point up.

Wait...there's more.

Another customer informed me today that I'm not living up to what God expects of me because I haven't yet considered having another baby.
He was serious.

It's amazing I haven't gone postal.

WAIT!  There's more again!

But this more makes me feel a small amount of vindication.

Once several years ago I had yet another customer who owed me money.  (And trust me, my cynicism would make every person who walked through our doors pay with cash, but sadly my brother and cousin have never reached that level of cynicism.)

He gave me an amazing song and dance.

"I'm going through an ugly divorce and all of my assets are tied up."
"I will pay you as soon as I can."

months later:

"My wife is dragging this divorce out.  I promise I will pay you."

a year later: (after many phone calls in between)

"We're getting closer.  Can you do this and this and this and this for my lawyer?"

a year later:

"We're sorry but the number you have called has been disconnected."

a year later:

Our attorney informs us this man is not to be found anywhere...he's disappeared out of thin air.

a year later:  (which was just last week)

As I was driving home from work I pulled up to a red light.  A big white truck pulled out of a parking lot next to where I was waiting for the light, and I looked up at the driver.  It was the man who had disappeared out of thin air.
He didn't see me.
He drove past me and got stuck at the same red light, but only temporarily as he was turning right.
I grabbed a piece of paper and a pen and finished writing down the last of his license plate number as he pulled away.

I called my brother and asked, "Remember ________?"  He did.
"Would a license plate number help?"
"Seriously?" my brother asked.

My brother called in a favor from a friend who is a detective, and within just a day had a current address for the guy who owes us a bunch of money.

As of yesterday, he had been served papers from our lawyer.


And the moral of this very long story is this:

I should have become a librarian.

* * *

my daughter's preferred seat


Angee and Thom said...

really a librarian? but then what kind of adventures could you have?

Bridget said...

I can't believe the nerve of some people. Goodness.
You are awesome. That is all.

Mr. Thompson and Me said...

Oooohhhhh....this makes m sooooo MAD!!! And at 1:34 in the morning, I shouldn't be feeling mad.

You need to send a letter about doing business local (which you appreciate) but the realities of what this means is that when they don't pay their bill, you don't feed your family. worse yet, YOU GO OUT OF BUSINESS!

I am going to draft it. Because I am MAD!

I hate dishonest people. (which is exactly what this is. They couldn't stay in business if their clients behaved this way, so how can they expect it of you?! Frankly, your lawyer needs more license plate numbers and your dadbeats need more finance charges! Jerks.)

I told you I was MAD....

-stephanie- said...

If you need help, I could go postal with you. Sheesh...some people.

Anonymous said...

I really feel for anyone who has to deal with collecting delinquent accounts. It's hard not to take it personally, and it can give you a bad attitude in general. I quit teaching piano lessons for that very reason. The parents of one of my students hadn't paid me for two or three months, plus I babysat her in the morning before school, so I asked her mother if they were going to be able to pay the balance. The next thing I know, her father is at the door with the check, shouting at me and practically, no, literally, throwing the check in my face. Sigh. It's not so much the money, because if they had just told me they couldn't pay, I would have done it for free. Except that their daughter always wore the most expensive clothes, had the best school gear, and every neat gadget a kid could want, while my children went without many things. Recently I read a news story that he wrote bemoaning the lack of common courtesy in the world today. I guess paying your bills isn't part of common courtesy...

Anonymous said...

The last line of your post made me laugh, that is so funny! Sorry that your customers don't pay. That would be so frustrating! Awesome that you got that guys license plate!

Elizabeth said...

I do collections too. It sucks. After a certain amount of time, we can just cancel their service. Good riddance, I say. Too bad you can't just go and rip out the plants they bought from you. They'd wonder what hit them.

OK, so. That man who told you you're not living up to what God expects of you, give me his phone number and I'll show him "nice." Since he clearly has no boundaries someone should probably explain to him that, her heart and other medical issues aside, Emily is only a year old. Two kids under two? You couldn't pay me enough. Besides all that, it is absolutely none of his business. It is nobody's business.

Back to collections: It amazes me the way that people view their financial obligations. I often have to wonder if they don't pay all their bills, and if that is the case, if the bank has foreclosed on them yet? When you place an order for goods sold, you are making a contractual agreement to pay for those goods. It is dishonest--stealing even--and just plain wrong not to live up to your end of the bargain. The stupid thing is, you have to tiptoe around it when you're dealing with them because if you're too direct, you lose their business. It kind of sucks because they have the leverage, which is completely backwards.

I have to deal with that today. There are six companies who are about to get their service cancelled, and that gives me some small amount of satisfaction for them wasting my time trying to get money out of them.

I'm glad that you found that guy who disappeared. I hope you nail him to the wall. Nicely, of course.

xo -E

Nessa said...

It's almost like you're a bounty hunter, chasing down people for their money. I hate people who don't owe what it due. Don't buy if you can't pay.

Anonymous said...


If you never have another baby, that is just fine. You have enough to worry about. You have already done your share.

Of course if you want to have another baby that's fine too, but it's your decision. What ever you feel is the right thing to do.

You are doing just great now. Don't let those other people bother you.

You're fantastic.

Elleny said...

Ohhh collections makes my blood boil. I did that a little at American Crafts and I just couldn't believe some of the people who would get ticked at me for owing the company thousands of $... Grrrr!

Anonymous said...

We owned a business and I had to collect on past due accounts. One time a police officer owed a lot of money and was months past due. I finally got mad and called the police chief. Guess who paid their bill. Gotta do what you gotta do and not feel bad about it. It's even worse when it's family that won't pay. Been there too. You're doing a great job with Em. Love your blog!

Judie said...

Noelle, you are way nicer than I would be in your circumstances. I would take out an ad in the personals section of the paper, listing every person whose balance is more than four months old. After 6 months, I would put their accounts out for collection. When it comes to people who owe me money, I take no prisoners. Let them go elsewhere, AFTER they pay you. If they are not going to pay their bills, why would you want them for customers??