I do most of my business with credit cards and while I realize that the CC companies and merchant banks are making a killing off my sales with merchant percentages, the convenience of having credit card processing fully automated to the point that I often have to do absolutely nothing other than review orders is well worth the extra expense.Credit card processing (or PayPal processing for that matter) is convenient for the customer too, but most of all the process can be mostly automated. I run through my online store and a related offline application which is a very slightly modified version of our West Wind West Wind Web Store to do all my order processing. The process is completely automated except for most software updates which require manual validation. I'm using Authorize.NET with a merchant hookup through MerchantPlus and with this setup life is good. The review rate for these transactions for declines or other CC processing issues is under 2%.
I wish it was all that easy
So the vast majority of customers (a little over 95%) use Credit Cards and things are straight forward and easy. There's an occasional W9 form that gets sent but other than that the process is nearly automatic with minimal effort and immediate confirmation for customers without any need for their interaction either.
But the remaining 5% tend to be highly problematic and take more time to process than the entire rest of the bunch combined (and that's including the occasional chargeback research). The remainder tends to be Purchase Orders with each customer requiring their own setup and configuration. Most of the time these customers will throw you a PO that is 5 pages long with Vendor number, department numbers, not one but 3 PO numbers and instructions of what the order has to look like for the privilege of serving them. To top it off a few recent POs had a Politically Correct questionnaire for Equal Opportunity regulations that apply to my business.
Now I may be extremely arrogant in this, but WTF do these people think? I realize some organizations have strict rules and regulations for how order processing needs to proceed and I can relate to that as long as the requested information is reasonable. Obviously some sort of manual filling is in order and that's understandable. There are organizations that have a clean way to provide vendors to submit the necessary information and provide POs that are 1 page or 2 pages with instructions that can be easily followed and completed in a few minutes and without fuss. No problem there.
But it's those 'other' customers (generally they are the mega institutions or government orders) that are painful and require an hour's worth of form filling and additional research just to satisfy their need for information that is ridiculously out of sync with any requirement for the order processing. Companies and Government organizations that try to completely force their order processing on the vendor for some small one off order seems ridiculous. Here's an example: A couple of days I ago I got this PO Order that was literally 10 faxed pages. In addition, this document required a separate W9 form filled out for a purchase of $199. The whole process was to be set up as a vendor. I sent the form back and told them to send back a 'short form' or order online or else forget it. A few emails went back and forth and in the end they did actually order online by credit card - not out of good manners, but because it saved them $15. So let's see here - these guys value $15 more than the forms they sent me to fill out.
Arrogant, yeah I know. I should be so happy to have customers. But seriously I draw the line when I see customers whose bureaucracy has crazily gone out of hand and is going to make me pay for it. If I had filled out that form I would have easily spent an hour looking up all the various references required some of which did not - uhm feel exactly appropriate. Equal Opportunity Rights are OK to a point, but please give me a break on whether this really makes a difference in placing orders with vendors especially when it's a trivial amount of money on a one off order.
Because there's a lot of extra effort involved with Purchase Orders we charge a $15 surcharge for their processing. The amount doesn't really cover the extra time spent for any but the most simple PO's, but it's meant to discourage use of POs. It used to be that using credit cards caused a surcharge because of the extra fees a vendor pays (which is actually not allowed by CC merchant contracts), but I actually feel that the opposite is true in this day and age: A credit card transaction typically is cheaper if paper work and routing and excessive back and forth chatter can be avoided. The $15 surcharge is an added incentive NOT to use POs.
Some companies get really pissed off at the surcharge to the effect that they simply cross it off the PO and send it back - without note or comment. And so the PO goes back and forth a few times. And more time's a wastin'.
Another vendor (a reseller) recently contacted me and wanted to know where their order confirmation was for a third party customer. I had filled and submitted their Purchase Order request form ( a 'mere' 5 pages) and sent it back. In the next 3 days I heard from 3 different people in the same vendor company, but not one had confirmed my original PO form that I had requested verification for. Nor did they ever reply to any of my requests like who the heck to send the final download links to. In the end I had talked to 5 DIFFERENT people in the company and only heard back from one last manager who finally figured out to cc the others in an email in his department and get their story straight. Apparently all the bureaucracy is confusing even these folks in THEIR OWN office! It took the customer starting to complain loudly (apparently they had paid the vendor before the PO was even approved) to get these folks off their butt and finally resolve the issue. Incredible.
Is it Arrogant?
Stuff like this happens all the time. 90% of effort for 3% of total order volume.
So here's the question of the day: Is it truly arrogant to say "Enough is enough!" and hold the customer to provide a reasonable PO request? Or is the customer always King no matter how screwed up their process is and whether it's a giant waste of time (both theirs and mine)?
Granted my case is special because I'm a one man shop and handle everything myself. A bigger organization can probably manage better because there's a full time person to handle order processing and knows how to deal with all the crazy forms, but regardless it's still a massive waste of time when 3% of customers cause 90% of the order processing work load - it's so rare that it really sticks out when it happens. In the end it depends some on the amount of an order, but on small orders especially, I tend to give customers some grief to keep things simple that a form can be filled out in a timely manner or tell them to - well, "Stick it!"
Got any good PO stories? I know I have a couple of repeat customers who have personally apologized for the PO practices of their company (one in a rather rather humorous way recently that I unfortunately can't print here)...
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