Volume 37, Issue 3, March 2002
A Credit Experiment
How Other Industries Deal with Late-Payers
by Max Perilstein
One of the things I always wanted to write about is the credit and collections in our industry. Maybe because that’s what my wife, Beth, does or maybe because that end of the business just seems so colorful. Somehow the stories Beth tells me about trying to get payment are more interesting than my adventures in trying to pull off that order of 200 square feet of bronze insulating glass.
To truly enjoy the whole credit experience I decided I would put to use all of the great stories, excuses and lessons that Beth and all of the other fine credit folks I’ve worked with over the years have told me about. So, I decided I wasn’t going to pay my cable bill. The results were pretty interesting ...
The first month went unpaid and I received no calls—nothing. I was bummed. I was reminded of a story of a customer who called us to complain that he was at 61 days and no one called to tell him. He was legitimately depressed because he was truly expecting that call at the 60-day mark.
The second month went by and I received a notice in a pink envelope. Now that’s an interesting tactic. Embarrass the manly man with the pink envelope. Maybe we can send some polka-dotted envelopes with our statements—maybe these cable guys are on to something. Inside the pinkness was a statement and a note that I was “severely overdue.” Wow, I was “severely” overdue now; what was next “critically” overdue, or would I be “critically” overdue but still stable? Anyway, I decided to call the number to discuss the issue.
After sifting through ten different voice mail options, I got an actual human on the other end of my phone. I explained that I had received this notice and wanted to know what it was all about. The person on the other line was flabbergasted. “Sir, you’re two months behind on your payment—that’s what it’s all about. If you don’t pay soon, your service will be interrupted.”
“I wasn’t aware I was behind,” I said. “Can you fax me a copy of the previous invoices and I’ll get with the proper folks?” With that, I got silence. I repeated my request and the person grudgingly asked me for my fax number. I told him I’d be back to him in no time to work this out.
Believe it or not, he faxed me the previous bill and the statement that came in the pink envelope. So I waited a few days and called back. I let the cable company know I got the fax but unfortunately I couldn’t pay all of it. See, on December 13th, the cable was out for two hours and my daughter missed her episode of “Dora the Explorer” and the pain was too much to bare, so I had deducted this from the bill. I was again greeted by silence. (Note to self: tell our credit folks that silence is a pretty strong approach.) I went on to say that I’d get a check out as soon as I could.
At this point I was ready to drop some of the other great lines on them, such as “I’m out of checks,” “it’ll be on check number 34518” (like that actually means something) or “we have a new computer system.” But knowing the disaster I may have had at home if the cable did get turned off, I was ready to give in. I was hoping that maybe the cable company would be worried that if it cut me off that I would never pay and would go to one of its competitors. Surely it would want to keep me happy just to get its money. Unfortunately, that strategy, which rarely works, only happens in the glass industry.
So, I dutifully wrote the check for two months worth of cable bills and sent it off. I then proudly called to tell them I sent it and that they really need to improve service or I’d go elsewhere. After all, I now held the upper hand. Ah, life doing the credit thing. Who knew it could be so much fun?
Max Perilstein is vice president/general manager of PDC Glass of Michigan. His column appears bimonthly.
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