knobs

A knob is something you can turn, in theory, to effect a change in output condition. In my business, I have a few knobs I can turn for customers to help them. We can be quite creative in this. We are often asked to help in cases where other companies would just start blinking rapidly.

I like doing this. I really do enjoy working with customers and helping them solve their hard problems.

Sadly, knobs are all I can turn when we have something of the flip side of this. A customer who doesn’t pay their bill in full, or refuses to pay, or ignores payment requests. We have a limited range of options in these cases.

When these situations have arisen in the past, it has caused us to change how we bill our customers and the terms and conditions attached to our offers. Far too often we’ve been left paying for their shipping, or customs/tariffs. This has happened recently, and our choices are limited as to what we can do. More in a moment. In one recent case where we were effectively begged for credit extension (and against our better judgement, granted it) with a guarantee that the customer would pay rapidly. They haven’t.

Our knobs are limited to some degree after the fact. Customers have wondered about some of our payment T&C and requirements. They are all borne from experience, sadly, with companies and groups attempting to get out of paying legitimate bills that are due, that they had agreed to pay prior to the bill being presented, or attempting to enforce extraordinarily onerous T&C upon us. We do the best we can to ensure that our T&C are fair, and we reward rapid payment in full, and rapid payment in general. We discourage long payment terms due to the cost of capital issues. In this economy, with the extreme risk aversion built into every business decision, yeah, we have to be.

Yeah, this is the annoying part of being a company. Dealing with customers only too happy to get the product, but unhappy to pay for it,. Or unhappy to pay for the costs to get it to them. Most of these customers are outside of the US and therefore outside of US jurisdiction. This does reduce our options somewhat.

This said, we have some knobs we can turn.

We can, and will, cancel all warranty and other support on all items we’ve supplied to them. It costs us money, time, effort to provide this. If they aren’t willing to pay their bill in full, then they can’t seriously be expecting support … right? We’ve done this now in two cases. I found it sad to watch one of these customers post a question to the community mailing list this morning, that we could have answered instantly, had they simply paid their bill. Which they have refused to pay.

We have a number of, more progressively painful, knobs at our disposal. I don’t like using them. But at some point, we have to insist that they do the right thing. And if they refuse, ignore, argue the point in an effort to get out of it, all we have are these other options. We are about to use this in one case, and are giving the other ‘customer’ a chance to settle up before we have to go down that route. These knobs leverage the full legal and credit reporting framework available to us. We don’t like using them, but business is business. Like doesn’t factor in.

Speaking with other business folks, our knobs aren’t anything out of the ordinary. In fact, a number of us appear to have very similar experiences with a number of geos, which drives very similar payment policies. The folks I speak with found it strange that I’d even consider granting credit to specific geos, regardless of who the company/organization is.

But that has changed. We’ve experienced enough pain from a few geos that our policy is now firm on this. But we are also going to institute some additional elements to further reduce our risk relative to the shipping duties/tariff costs and other related things.

I don’t like writing down losses. Hopefully customers with an outstanding overdue bill and a support issue won’t like not having support. Or having their property seized and sold off to satisfy a lien.

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