Making the Call

Invariably, at some point in their careers, translators and interpreters will have outstanding invoices that do not get paid in a timely manner. While we have been quite lucky on this front, we have had to make extra efforts to get some invoices paid -- usually one or two a year. Recently, a new interpreting client in the U.S. had an outstanding invoice that had been on the books for some 35 days.

Instead of sending an e-mail, Judy tried an old-fashioned method: the telephone. Sure, it's fallen in disuse, but it's a powerful way to communicate. It's immediate and a bit uncomfortable for all parties: perfect for a please-provide-payment call. The entire call did not take more than five minutes. Judy called the main number for the law firm and kindly inquired who the correct contact person for accounting would be. She was promptly transferred to the office manager. Judy briefly introduced herself, said that she'd e-mailed the invoice to the attorney (as agreed with him) and gently asked when she might expect payment on the overdue invoice. She also mentioned that it was a small sum and that the reason she was calling was to make sure nothing had slipped through the cracks. Turns out the mortified office manager had never seen the invoice because the attorney had apparently not given the invoice to her for payment. She promised to take care of it immediately and Judy agreed to e-mail the invoice again. She did, and sure enough: two days later, she received the check in the mail. Sometimes a call really is more effective than e-mail.

Here are some guidelines to keep in mind:

  • Take a deep breath. You might be a bit nervous, but it's just a phone call. 
  • Sit in a quiet room. Make sure there are no barking dogs or children within earshot.
  • Be friendly, but firm. Give the other person the benefit of the doubt, especially if this is the first time you have an issue with the customer.
  • No diatribes. Say what you need to say, but keep it brief. Then pause for a few moments and give the other person a chance to respond.
  • Don't threaten anyone. Be polite and accommodating -- it's easier to get paid this way.
  • Offer solutions, including sending the invoice again via the postal service, etc.
  • Ask to be added to the customer's vendor database to prevent future glitches in the payment process.
  • Be gracious. This might very well be an isolated incident and this customer might turn out to be a superstar long-term client (that's happened to us).
What about you, dear readers? When do you pick up the phone? We would love to hear from you. 


16 comments:

Corinne McKay on June 26, 2012 at 6:50 AM said...

Totally brilliant advice! I agree with you on two fronts: a) picking up the phone in a potentially confrontational situation is stressful, but generally results in a better outcome than e-mail does; and b) with a modestly overdue invoice, allowing the client to save face ("just wanted to make sure nothing has fallen through the cracks"-perfect!!) generally results in a better outcome than threatening legal action. Awesome advice!!

Judy Jenner and Dagmar Jenner on June 26, 2012 at 8:59 AM said...

Thanks, Corinne! Even though phone calls can be awkward, they usually do allow us to resolve issues more quickly. Most of the time, we wish we'd made this simple phone call sooner because the client simply didn't have the invoice. It's amusing to see that in our e-mail/Twitter world, a phone call almost feels, well, intimate in a way, doesn't it? Still, we are not cancelling our phones. :)

AndyCW on June 26, 2012 at 10:01 AM said...

Hi,

What if I don't want any more glitches in future?

"Ask to be added to the customer's vendor database to provide future glitches in the payment process"

Sorry, couldn't resist ;-)

Richard on June 26, 2012 at 10:28 AM said...

35 days is hardly outstanding by European standards, the worse case country I know being France where suppliers don't have to be paid for up to 60 days from the end of the month that you invoiced, meaning yu could effectively wait 3 months to be paid.

Judy Jenner and Dagmar Jenner on June 26, 2012 at 11:58 AM said...

@AndyCW: thanks for the comment. We don't get it, hehe. Confused. :) Perhaps we should have been more clear. Sometimes the client has not entered the vendor into the vendor database and that's the root of the problem. Sometimes there's a W-9 missing, etc. In our experience, once we are part of the database, there are never any glitches at all!

Judy Jenner and Dagmar Jenner on June 26, 2012 at 12:00 PM said...

@Richard: thanks for commenting and for sharing your thoughts! Legally speaking, the invoice is overdue after the date indicated on the invoice, which is net 30 for both our European company and our American company. Our customers agree to those terms when they sign the price quote/translation agreement, so we think it's reasonable to enforce those terms. Waiting three months to get paid sounds pretty unreasonable to us, but again, it's important to put your terms in writing with your client so there is no dispute.Can you tell one of us is married to a lawyer?

Elisa said...

Judy&Dagmar: Hi! I think AndyCW wanted to point out that you wrote "provide future glitches" while you surely meant "prevent" ;-)
Very good advice anyway, and brilliant blog! Thank you for that!

Judy Jenner and Dagmar Jenner on June 29, 2012 at 8:35 AM said...

@Elisa: ah, duh, thanks so much for pointing this out to us! We kept on re-reading it and silly us.... we could not find the mistake. Will fix it now. Thanks for commenting and for reading; delighted to hear that you like the blog!

Dolores on July 3, 2012 at 8:24 AM said...

I agree 100% Judy! Sometimes it is as easy as a simple phone call and that is the end of the problem. We have to find the courage to do it! As you positively say, nowadays, a phone call does seem awkward sometimes.. Thanks a lot for sharing!! You are great!

Dolores on July 3, 2012 at 8:25 AM said...

I agree 100% Judy! Sometimes it is as easy as a simple phone call and that is the end of the problem. We have to find the courage to do it! As you positively said, nowadays, a phone call does seem awkward sometimes.. Thanks a lot for sharing!! You are great!

Judy Jenner and Dagmar Jenner on July 3, 2012 at 3:59 PM said...

@Dolores: our pleasure. It is quite odd how we have collectively moved away from phone calls. Just read that making phone calls is only the fourth thing that users do most frequently on smartphones. Things sure do change!

Fernando D. Walker said...

Very good advice! I especially liked the “Be friendly, but firm” point. In fact, I would add that you should smile while talking on the phone since people, believe it or not, will feel it and the conversation will surely lead us to better results. Personally, I have tried both ways (friendly and unfriendly attitudes), and the first one plus a pinch of cooperation was the perfect combination that helped me to avoid strong headaches. And of course this proves that old-fashioned communication methods still work! :)

Fernando D. Walker on July 5, 2012 at 8:38 AM said...

Very good advice! I especially liked the “Be friendly, but firm” point. In fact, I would add that you should smile while talking on the phone since people, believe it or not, will feel it and the conversation will surely lead us to better results. Personally, I have tried both ways (friendly and unfriendly attitudes), and the first one plus a pinch of cooperation was the perfect combination that helped me to avoid strong headaches. And of course this proves that old-fashioned communication methods still work! :)

Judy Jenner and Dagmar Jenner on July 6, 2012 at 9:58 AM said...

@Fernando: thanks for commenting and happy to hear that you like this little nugget of advice. And you are so right: friendly is always better than unfriendly.

Jenni on July 10, 2012 at 12:59 AM said...

Sometimes you may really need to call in such situation. Generally it's not advisable to call up your client and ask about payment etc., but after sending invoice, emails with request if there would not be any changes seen then you don't have any option left for it. So I totally agree you and if I would be in your situation I would do the same thing.

Judy Jenner and Dagmar Jenner on July 10, 2012 at 8:51 AM said...

@Jenni: thanks for reading and commenting!

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