Friday, 29 June 2012

The Queen messed up my cash flow!

Well, cash flow has been a tad off this month, and finally I have tracked it down. Things like this niggle at me, as you can imagine.

Thanks to the customer that raised this - actually telling me that we gave him extra credit. He did not have to, but it was useful understanding what happened.

The problem is the Queen's Jubilee! Or more specifically the extra bank holiday right at the start of the month.

We have a number of customers who are billed on 1st of each month but selected Direct Debit on the 9th. Well, obviously "the 9th" has some leeway as it could be a weekend, etc, but within a couple of days on or after the 9th is how it normally works. We allow people to pick one of four dates during the month for collection of Direct Debits.

The problem is that people billed on 1st June could not get the agreed notice for Direct Debits (we work on 5 working days notice) before the 9th, or 10th, or 11th. Normally this does not happen, but the extra bank holiday pushed it too far, and the cautious programming in the accounts system erred on the side of the customer and gave all those affected an extra month's credit. So hundreds of people billed on 1st June are paying on 9th July rather than around 12th June.

The system did what it was told, it was not actually an error (which is why we had trouble finding it), but I have changed the rules for the future. It now allows 3 working days after the "agreed" day in the month. By allowing working days it should cope with things like this (which could happen for an Easter). The DD rules allow 3 working days after notified collection date so this is consistent with the rules, even though it would mean notifying a later date in our case.

The invoices we sent were, of course, right, and clearly stated the extra (interest free) credit terms. The DD notices are, of course, right. The payments are not seen as "late" and no penalties charged. The system did what it was told!

What worries me with this is not just the tens of thousands of pounds of payments delayed by a month, but the fact I can pretty much guarantee that someone will complain! Someone will be unhappy paying two months in July even though they paid nothing in June, and even though the typical amount is around £20. I will be really pleased to be proved wrong on this. I am sure 99% of affected customers will not complain, and many will realise that we have given them a month's free credit, but someone will complain I bet you...

Am I just getting cynical in my old age I wonder?

At least we have made changes to avoid this confusion in future. It is one thing making any sort of mistake, but another not to learn from it.

9 comments:

  1. My wife and I discussed this shortly after the 9th June whilst reconciling our accounts, and we came to the conclusion that there weren't enough working days (from when you've discussed the billing system previously) to collect on the 9th, and thus were fully expecting that you'd simply collect two payments in July.

    Didn't really think to let you know, as we assumed that you were already aware, otherwise we'd have been in touch sooner - sorry about that. Glad you've been able to update the changes to avoid this sort of thing causing you cashflow issues in future.

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    1. Thanks, and I did not mean to imply anyone being wrong not to say. It was helpful that someone did point out that it was a bit odd, that is all.

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  2. Probably not this problem, but related to direct debits. I was confused last month. My bill seemed to be saying that I would be billed on the 1st and then again on the 9th of each month. I couldn't understand it so I asked support and while they were very helpful I didn't really understand what they were saying.

    But that's my fault as I didn't really follow it up. I figured that I trust A&A to do the right thing, and that if I got billed twice or wrongly I'd be able to get it sorted out without any fuss :) As far as I can tell I've been billed correctly.

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    1. The issue is almost certainly confusion over when "billed" and when "money is collected". Most customers are billed on the 1st of the month (i.e. a formal invoice stating what is owed is issued on that day), but payment collected by Direct Debit, which could be the 9th of the month. The DD notice and the invoice are separate things but I can see that some people find them confusingly similar. If you are not sure still, do let me know. But yes, if we make a mistake we'll be happy to correct it, and try to improve the processes to avoid such mistakes being made again.

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    2. You are entirely correct and there was no problem. Looking at it all now I don't really understand why I was confused about it at the time. I'll blame being overworked :)

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    3. Even when we are correct I am always keen to try and make improvements to avoid misunderstandings :-)

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  3. > we have given them a month's free credit, but someone will complain I bet you...

    Recent events really have knocked your perception of we custmers haven't they? But I guess it's understandable.

    So in the interests of trying to improve that perception and living up to expectations: if you don't get any complaints please let me know and I'll send one in ;)

    --
    Geoff

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    1. Well, accounts have not said anyone has complained, so maybe all is well :-)

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  4. Ha, OK, so far the only complaint is that we did not let people know, i.e. email them "at the time". Even though we did email 1st June stating due date 9th July, and late June saying DD collection 9th July, and put on status pages, irc, twitter, and my blog... Always someone has to complain :-)

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