Friday 25 July 2008

Payment for services - Honour and our Word

A while back we were brought in to help a fellow IT company owner by one of our local suppliers that we have been dealing with for years.

The IT shop had an older SBS setup that had a choked SMTP queue.

As we do with all drop-in situations, we outlined our hourly charges, resolution or not, and made sure that the business owner agreed to them ... which he did. We also have the local admin person create a user and password with domain admin privileges as a precautionary measure. That way they can delete that user when the job was finished.

Well, it is now almost four months later, and they are refusing to pay us for our time.

The SBS box was not setup properly. The wizards were not used and the Exchange box was an open relay. While we worked hard to get things right, the plugged queue just kept growing ... so the suggestion was made to swing to new hardware ... to which the business owner indicated they wanted things worked out instead.

Eventually, the owner decided to take over themselves, wipe the box, and let us go. We set our invoice and indicated we would reduced our time billed (bad mistake - never devalue our own time), and he agreed.

Where does the perception come from in our industry that if the task at hand could not be accomplished that our time is worth nothing?

Take a car into a shop to be worked on and try to get it back without paying ... even if the shop did not find a resolution to the problem. That just will not happen.

Then why is it an acceptable practice to not pay us for our time on the job no matter what the problem status at the end of the day?

We are professionals, and just as mechanics we know that some situations cannot be resolved at the drop of a hat. Usually, that means that after a half an hour to an hour of scoping out the situation we are already providing feedback to the client or customer (they are different) that we may not be able to "fix" the problem.

We begin to offer options to either work out the problem, with no guarantees, or we are saying it may be a lot more expedient to move on to other options.

It is a sad day when we encounter a situation where a handshake is not honoured. It is even sadder one when the person we shook hands with is in our own industry. Not honouring one's commitments says a lot about the character of the business owner and their employees who may be shaking hands on their behalf.

One of the key ways that we establish long term client relationships, in our case we have some spanning 10 years now, is by honouring our word. Our commitments are our gold. If we cannot honour our commitments with our clients and with others in our respective industry, we cannot expect to build our business up.

We are in the relationship building business ... I.T. just happens to be the vehicle we are using to get there.

When we have realized that, then we will be hiring people on who will be open to fostering those business relationships and to being formed into the type of I.T. Professional that can be counted on to follow through on their commitments.

The customer may always be right, but the client knows their options and our professional opinion on the direction they should proceed in. That is the difference between them.

Working together, we the I.T. support firm and our clients, along with the strong supplier and vendor relationships we have built, create and maintain a long term technology infrastructure and user skills vision. Along the way, we make sure to form our employees in that vision.

So, now we are in the awkward position of needing to collect on the aforementioned debt. In our five+ years of business, we have only had one payment situation go bad. It is unfortunate that this situation is turning out to be our second. :(

UPDATE 2008-08-11: It seems that paying a personal visit to the I.T. company in question did the trick. A technician appeared from the back, acknowleged my request, and called the owner to indicate that I was there. A cheque soon followed.

Philip Elder
Microsoft Small Business Specialists

*All Mac on SBS posts are posted on our in-house iMac via the Safari Web browser.


A Critical System said...

Excellent Post!!!

That perception , that our time has no value unless we accomplish the task, is the most painful part of this industry. When it comes up in conversation with clients, I prefer to use the doctor analogy; You still pay even if you do not feel better.

Lawyers too get paid even if you loose. (except for slimy personal injury types....)

Anyway, at least I feel better that its not just me. I can share some stories, but I never blog about customers.

A Critical System said...

wooops, I used clients and customers interchangeably. Gotta stop that habit......