Sunday, October 5, 2008

Ensuring Proper Delivery

We, as do many businesses, rely on the receipt of paperwork via the US Postal Service. Some call it snail mail, and sometimes it is, in fact, slow. Other times, it's lightning fast - a thank you note dropped into the post office box down the street from my house not only arrives at it's intended recipient's home across town the next day, but I get a follow-up phone call of thanks from that person.

We do everything we can to ensure proper delivery to us, yet what do you do when you get an envelope with a stamp like the one at the right on it?
(Continued after the Jump)

Curse in frustration. As you can see, this wasn't some random solicitation - it was a check for just under $2k from a client. This check arrived in the mail to me on Saturday. Thankfully, the honesty of whomever recieved it, opened it, and returned it, I have to thank ever so much.

I looked closely at the address - had the client misspelled something? Nope. Was the zip code wrong? Nope - in fact, we use the USPS' Zip+4 to make it that much more certain that the mail would arrive. That was accurate as well.

Every single one of our clients gets their invoices via "Electronic Original", meaning it's a PDF that gets e-mailed to them. About 10% of our clients have some form of electronic payment/direct deposit set up. About 3% pay with credit cards. That means, like most of you, we are reliant on getting checks in the mail from clients for our survival.

We remain vigilant about checks that are delayed, contacting clients to ensure we are in their system to pay, determining when a check will be cut, and then following up when it's not. Occasionally, a client says they sent the check, but we have no record of recieving it. In that case, we ask the client to confirm it's been cashed. So far (knock on wood) they have all come back and said it had not. They issued a stop-payment on the check, and re-issued it.

Take note - until such time as you receive payment from a client, the onus is on them to pay you. Perhaps they mis-typed your address, or perhaps it got mis-routed, as this one did. Regardless, until such time as you get it, they are responsible - similar to F.O.B. for a product you've purchased. For example, suppose you ship original film to a client for review and consideration. Your terms of delivery state that you are responsible for the package until such time as the images arrive to the client. Once recieved, they become the responsibilty of them to ensure safe handling, as well as their safe return. When they ship them back to you, until such time as you sign for their return and confirm they have all been sent back (usually within 24 or 48 hours) the client is responsible. They chose the return shipper, they paid that shipper, and thus, are responsible.

I have had clients who have sent me payment via FedEx. Costs more - yes, but there are fewer mis-delivered packages that way. That client chose a safer/more secure form of delivery than a USPS delivery - especially when it's USPS without return receipt, or delivery confirmation.

This is also a cautionary tale - when the client says "The check is in the mail", they may well be telling you the truth. My approach in handling this - "trust but verify."

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