Local trucking sometimes involves the collection of small invoices. Sending out bills is good; but getting a new customer can be nerve-wracking. Will they be happy with the service? Will they pay their invoices? Did they switch because their previous carrier cut them off? References and credit checks only go so far, and that is not far enough. Ultimately, it is always a risk to add a customer. Here are some ways to lessen the risk.
Let’s suppose that your shiny new customer has failed to pay the first few invoices. What to do now? Legal action is very expensive, and you can never be sure of the outcome. Here are a few ideas to try after your in-house efforts to collect are exhausted:
- Invoice Other Parties to the Transaction: There are numerous court cases and their rulings sometimes conflict, but there is enough case law out there to justify your taking this step. Unless section 7 of the BOL is executed, you can try to collect freight charges from other parties to the shipment. It may be the shipper, or consignee, or both if arranged by a third party. Start with an apologetic call in which you inform them that, even though they may have paid for shipping already, they are liable to you for the charges because “……………” (whoever is not paying you) did not pay the freight invoice. You can tell that other party that you are sorry, of course, to have to take this course of action, but the law is clear, and it was put in place to protect carriers like your company from situations exactly like this. Gently suggest that they call the offending party and encourage the invoice to get paid, solving the problem. This puts huge pressure on your customer, as now THEIR customer or vendor is angry with them. If this initial call does not do the trick, go ahead and issue an invoice, and follow with collection calls to everyone.
- Find a Specialized Attorney: There are attorneys and firms that specialize in small collections and can be effective with claims under $1,000. Typically they start with a series of letters and then go to lawsuit. Here is a common arrangement: You send the attorney copies of unpaid invoices (with supporting documents and any explanations). The attorney will try to collect and, if successful, will charge you a fee between 20-30% of anything collected. If this fails, you may be offered the choice to file a lawsuit by paying for court costs (different in every state, often over $100). After this point the attorney keeps about 50% of anything collected. The attorney may suggest you accept less than the amount owed, meaning you end up with well under 50% of the original charges. What you’ll be left with is better than nothing, and in particular, the act of documenting the deadbeat customer will help future carriers make better credit decisions. Word gets around. Because some shippers are in the habit of stiffing local trucking companies on a regular basis, your taking strong action in this way will make it less likely that shippers will pick your company as a victim.
- Settle: It is unpleasant, but sometimes the situation calls for a business decision. Try calling and asking what THEY think is the fair amount to pay–and then, when an amount is mentioned, just accept. Better to get something rather than nothing. The process of settling is not only much faster but also probably yields the same amount (after fees) as a collection placement. Make sure you have a system in place that prevents accepting more work from that party in the future.