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.