How I Combat the Common Excuses for Customers Not Paying

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The job’s over, the tools are rolled up, and a phase I like to call the “Final Finish” begins. This is where we hunt for things that need attention. When that’s over, I’m thinking all that is left is to get paid. You all know this part. It’s the best part, the part we’ve been waiting for. Some jobs or contracts, as I like to call them, are easier than others, while some fight you to the bitter end. So when the contract is complete, we are all thinking of the money.

This is where it can get squirrelly. Some customers have a pre-written check cleverly placed near some knick-knacks on an adjacent shelf or under a book on the mantel. Some write the check on the spot and ask that we verify the spelling of our company name, or ask if we want our personal name on the check. These are the good times, the nice endings to a small job or a large job.

Then … there are the excuses. Here are some of the excuses I have been handed and how I reacted to them. Even though my contract is explicitly worded “Payment upon completion,” when the customers have the money, they have the POWER. So if they make you wait, or have some sort of issue, you roll with it as best you can. Sometimes I have had to apply firm pressure and get stuck in a fiasco, but that only happened three times, I think. People are people, and you gotta love them all … haha!

Excuse 1: “I left my checkbook …”

This is the kind of excuse that can go both ways. Maybe we just put the final coat of finish on the floor, and the checkbook is out of reach until it is dry. In this case, I wait in the driveway until it’s safe to walk on the finish. In the case of water-base finish, the wait may be 1 1/2 hours or so. In the case of oil-base finish, it may be the next morning. Whatever it may be, I hover real close to the dry time and make the customer know it.

Somewhat related is “the checkbook is at work, not at home” excuse. This happened to me with a husband and wife who were prison guards at the same prison. The wife was home and pleased with the work, but the husband had the checkbook and was on duty. Guess what? I drove to the prison right then and there. THAT was an interesting experience. There were three sets of gates, if I remember right, and I made it inside the first gate and waited there for about an hour. I was thinking waiting that long may be a test, with perhaps the husband gambling on me going home instead of remaining. I wasn’t leaving, and he had some smart attitude when he arrived from inside the facility, walking past the two remaining gates like he owned the place. He gave me my check and I left, went straight to the bank and cashed it. I won.

Excuse 2: “I want to wait till the finish is dry before I pay you so I can see if there are any blemishes.”

Really?! Yes. I recall distinctly that some of my customers had unpleasant histories with other contractors, and I had walked into a hornet’s nest on the first visit to the home. So when I heard this excuse my heart went out to them, and I said I’d be back the next day. I knew there were no issues, and I got paid the next morning with no delay. But for the few customers who I sensed were trouble, I reminded them of the contract where it states, “Payment upon completion,” and I squared off on their concern—trust—right away. They were thinking I wouldn’t come back if there were an issue. This is where I reminded them of who really has the power here. Let’s say I take the check and leave, and they call me to report an issue after I have received full payment. Being that I am licensed, they have tremendous power in my State of California to obtain satisfaction. I remind customers of these little bits as needed, and sometimes mentioning this makes it all better and I get a check right then. For these customers, I call the next morning, and when they answer the phone I say, “Well?” in a comical way to invite their critique.

RELATED: Customer Excuses for Not Paying: Yes, This Happened to Me

I know there are some unscrupulous customers out there I have not met yet, but when I do, I hope to keep my emotions in check and rely on my training and experience to get me through.

Excuse 3: “I want my girlfriend (or uncle or mother or friend from work or neighbor) to see the work before I pay you.”

Yes, this, too, has crossed my path. This is where I say “no.” I recall a family who brought perhaps four or five lady relatives to the home to inspect the floor; they were on their hands and knees over the whole floor looking for “things.” This job was where I was doing a favor for a restoration contractor, so I called my handler and informed him of what was happening. He was a dud and totally wimped out on being helpful. I had to do this myself, so I stayed there for what may have been two hours or more filling the tiniest of pores in the floor with putty to make them happy. I may have run a tack rag over the floor to make it completely dust-free, and “polished” a finger print from the floor with a paper towel. Those lady friends of the owner made the whole experience distasteful and unrewarding at best. I got paid after they just couldn’t think of anything else to aggravate me with, and I went straight to the bank immediately. I won again, but it wasn’t pretty.

Excuse 4: “Even though this big installation is done, without that T mold on back order, I just can’t pay you.”

These are fun. Maybe two of my customers put me through this, and they were resolute that I NOT get paid until that last part was installed to their liking. If I remember correctly, my vendor said the part was on backorder for like a month or something. Not accepting their solution, I reasoned with the customer politely (yet firmly) that since the contract was 99% finished, I should get paid 99% of the money. This actually worked, with a tiny bit of consolation. One time I got that 99%. The other threw my own reasoning back at me, saying something like, “I’ll short the payment by $500. Even though the last bits are much less than that, I know you’ll come back for $500, but you may not for $25.” There goes trust again. It seems like you just can’t impress or exude trust to the point that it matters unless money is entered into the final equation. Yes, I went back and got my $500 when the back order arrived. I won, but at a higher cost: my time and aggravation.

Excuse 5: “You are going to be done tomorrow? Great! We are leaving on vacation tonight. When we return, we will call you and you can come over and we can settle up.”

Yes … really happened.

On this one, I was already deep into the contract and it felt like we were on the 5-yard line going for the touchdown, which is finishing the contract. This new bit of information was timely on the part of the customer, no?

Well, this is how I handled it. I told them “No, that will not work,” and I simultaneously issued an order to my crew to stop and pack it up—we were leaving. The customer had big plans on the contract being finished in the next day or so because they had scheduled their housekeepers to clean the house so it would be perfect when they came back from vacation. If we were stopping, then their magic plan would not work, and this caused them concern. I knew this beforehand and used this angle in my strategy. I reasoned that I need full payment because we will be done, the contract will be satisfied on our end and I need to pay my guys and the material distributor, making it look like me getting paid wasn’t even my concern.

It worked. They wrote the final check right in front of me and left it with a relative. That relative would open the house for us in the morning and dis-arm and re-arm the alarms in the absence of the homeowners. They left for vacation that night, and we finished the contract in the next day or two after that, and we got the check from the relative.

We also had the same circumstance with a slight variation. A different homeowner was also leaving while we would be completing the contract, but he gave us the check before we were done. THIS was a customer we all really wanted to do a good work for. The whole crew was like-minded on performing well, and this customer is a friend of mine to this day.

In the end, I do not take lightly a delay in getting payment when the contract is satisfied. I do not want to hear excuses, I do not want to listen to their story, I do not want to modify the contract by waiting when I wrote very clearly “Payment upon completion” on the contract. So far (knock on wood), I have not lost any significant battles yet. Small losses, yes (we’ll hear about that in my next blog). Perhaps others have experienced the same thing, and this is just a part of the game. But this part of the game is where I plant both feet and stop giving in. There was a time when I lost by not being mindful of the posture I was shaping by backing down to silly excuses.

I am reminded of ancient Chinese wisdom that goes something like this: “If someone puts a saddle on you, they will ride you.” I cleaned that up quite a bit for this public audience, but I hope you get the point. If I have to wait for the finish to dry, come back in the morning, drive you to the bank, wait for Auntie to drive over to critique the work … if that puts me closer to getting paid, I will do it. I do not like admitting that, but at this stage it’s “MY” money, not theirs.

See all of Angelo DeSanto's popular blog posts and magazine articles here.

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