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Friday Fail: Customers Who Won't Pay

Tired of success stories? Every Friday on Inc.com we bring you epic tales of failure and shame. This week: worst excuses from delinquent customers.
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Most people like a good success story, but who can resist an epic tale of disaster, humiliation, embarrassment, and shame? I know I can't.

Here's how the Inc. Friday Fail works: Every Friday I post a new topic, invite readers to send in their favorite stories, and publish the best the following week.

Last week's topic was Strangest Company Policies.

This week it's Worst Customer Excuses for not Paying Up.

Here we go:

3. The Return Recidivist

(Granted not a non-payment story, but still pretty funny.) We warned our security staff that a customer tried to get a refund on an $800 dress in our Seattle location because "there's a little spot," and still demanded to keep the dress.

Sure enough, she showed up at another branch to try the same thing. The store manager said "no." She threw a horrific screaming tantrum in customer service, dramatically tore up her department store credit card, threw it to the floor, and stomped out exclaiming she would never spend another dime in their stores. Her records showed she did spend $12,000 a month.

Three days later at the same store a young man was arrested for stealing three Polo shirts.

It was her son. - Cheryl

2. The Lack of Authority

After sending a number of letters I finally got the business owner on the phone. I asked him why he had not paid an invoice for a HVAC unit that was three months past due.

"I didn't order the unit," he said.

"Yes you did. I have the P.O. right here. We delivered it three days later. I have a signed freight bill in front of me, too," I said.

"But I didn't order it," he said.

"What?" I said.

"I didn't order it," he said. "Someone else here ordered it and they were not authorized. So I'm not paying for something I didn't want."

I took a couple of deep breaths. "Okay," I said. "Then we'll come by and pick it up."

"You can't do that," he said. "We already sold it and installed it in a customer's home."

"Wait," I said. "That means you wanted it."

"No, I didn't," he said. "But I wasn't going to let it sit in my warehouse."

We're still trying to get paid. - Tyreeq

1. The Hat Trick

When otherwise good customers don't pay on time we always call right away. We can't make them pay - I wish we could - but if they will not be able to pay soon we need to know so we can manage the cash flow issues their late payment eventually causes us.

We had just gotten a new customer and they immediately became a sizable chunk of our revenues. Then they didn't pay. I called.

"We should be sending the check soon," their accounts payable clerk said.

"If I can ask, how 'soon' is 'soon,'" I asked.

"Well, it depends," she said. "Might be in a week, might be in a few months. It's just the luck of the draw."

"I don't understand," I said.

"It's simple. We keep all unpaid invoices in a basket. Each month we draw out six of them. If yours is one of the six, it gets paid. If not, it's in the hat for the next month."

"That doesn't make sense," I said. We might have to wait a long time to get paid."

"Oh, I wouldn't worry about that," she said. "If a few months go by that means you might have three or four invoices in the hat, so the chance we will pull out one of yours is a lot higher. If you get lucky, you might even get two or three pulled."

We never did get 'lucky,' and eventually we stopped doing business with them. That was one time I didn't mind losing a major customer to a competitor. - Erick

Next week's Friday Fail Topic: Worst Boss Ever.

Send your stories to fridayfail (at) blackbirdinc.com. If you want to remain anonymous, let me know.

Then tune in next Friday!

Last updated: Apr 27, 2012

JEFF HADEN | Columnist

Jeff Haden learned much of what he knows about business and technology as he worked his way up in the manufacturing industry. Everything else he picks up from ghostwriting books for some of the smartest leaders he knows in business.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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