seeing is believing
Great Expectations
“Customer” status comes with a catch: payments.
Another morning in America. Mornings bring trouble. In various guises, but always in simple declarative sentences.

“Trouble here. Line down. Big problem. Management screaming. We need your immediate help.”

Like clockwork.

No matter. Trouble is my business. (Cue breathy melancholic saxophone solo.)

This fine day’s episode comes in the form of defective batteries. The call, invariably frantic, continues thus with the symptoms:

“We have six defective batteries that need to be CT scanned. Field failures. Possible cracked electrodes. Very upset and belligerent customer, threatening litigation. You come well recommended for speed and precision. We need time on your machine now. Our entire production is halted until we identify the root cause of this field failure. Quarterly results hang in the balance. When can we come in? Today, hopefully?”

Standard request. Civilization’s survival is once again on the brink. We’re all going to die. Again. Blah blah blah. I have a seven-inch thick file of ’em. Is melodrama an inherited skill or something best taught in graduate school?

Happily, we have immediate space.

How about this morning? 11am.

“We’ll be there.”

You’re a new customer, right?

“Yes.”

Do you have a purchase order? Can you get a P.O. set up now? How do you propose to pay for this? It could be expensive. Overtime, weekends, big data dump, etc., etc.

Silence. Then a throat-clearing noise.

“Oh, for that you’ll need to talk to our purchasing people. They will need to set you up as a vendor. I need to go now, to round up our, ahem, charges, to bring to you.”

Not so fast.

Please put us in touch with someone in your organization who can get us a purchase order.

We’re used to it. Send us the paperwork so we can set you up, and you can set us up. Elementary. Sometimes I think form-filling is our real business.

Not so simple: They have a portal. We have to set up an account. They have contracted all accounting and purchasing functions to a third party. In Malaysia.

“This won’t delay x-raying our batteries, will it?”

Perish the thought.

No, it will not delay x-raying your batteries. The 11am appointment stands as agreed.

We never delay x-rays. We want to be helpful and easy to do business with. However, they don’t need to know (at this point) that we may delay their reception of the results. That nagging little payment thing again. The incriminating images remain ours until further notice. Do we know a thing or two about leverage? You bet we do.

Please give us the link to your portal.

“Oh, we can’t do that. We can’t permit you to establish an account on our portal before you sign our nondisclosure agreement. It’s one of the built-in checks-and-balances we have in accepting new vendors in our system.”

Very Orwellian. We need you desperately, but we really don’t want you known or noted. The definition of an un-person.

“How long will it take your legal department to review our NDA once you receive it?”

Twenty minutes.

Silence again. Then astonishment.

“REALLY? How can you do that so fast?”

You really need to get out more. How can you not do that so fast?

We’re good. We also review five NDAs a week. Most adhere to a familiar format. I know what I’m looking for and, if it’s there, I sign it. If it isn’t, I redline it and send it back to you for review. Simple and straightforward. Extra points if you limit the verbiage to one page. Double points if you insert a threat that if you violate the terms of this agreement, black vans with tinted windows carrying large unsmiling men in dark suits with wires in their lapels will alight at your door to administer swift, merciless corporal punishment with rubber truncheons. That delivers the unequivocal message, but I digress. Once I sign it, how long will it take you to countersign it?

“Oh, that depends on our legal department. Turnaround time averages three to six months. By the way, you’re funny.”

I’m here all week.

Whole historical eras have changed in three to six months. Depending which battle you choose (Gettysburg, Trafalgar, Waterloo), entire epochs have changed in the course of one day. Now some pencil-pushing pinhead wants to justify their existence by holding up an inevitability for the sake of propriety? Heaven help us. Meanwhile, the clock is still ticking, x-rays have yet to be performed, and management is still screaming.

To read six pages of a standard form that a six-year-old can navigate? That’s how you define urgency?

“We’re a big company. We have our ways.”

No s–t, Sherlock.

My mind wanders to speculative thoughts about the number of jobs in America that involve actual productive, contributive work. Not many, I fear.

“This won’t delay our urgent job, will it?”

That kind of depends on you.

“How so.”

We like to get paid. It’s a thing around here, kind of a quaint custom. You have yet to reveal how that will happen. We’ll listen; we don’t have a portal.

“We have systems for that. You need to have reservations in our portal.”

I already have abundant reservations about your portal. What more do you want?

“Once you’ve signed and returned our NDA, we will electronically transmit to you an access code with a temporary password. This will give you eight minutes of access to our portal, enabling you to set up your own account login and unique password. With the password, be sure to use at least one number, one lower-case letter, one capital letter, and one special symbol to authenticate your password and make it sufficiently robust for our compliance team in Kyrgyzstan.”

You mean like ‘D3@th2PWDs!’

“Yes, exactly like that. So, you’ve done this before?”

Once or twice.

“Once you click Submit you will receive automated instructions via email about how to upload invoices. Oh, and be sure to click on the box accepting our net 120 terms. Otherwise you will not be able to proceed further with account setup. And you need to do this in eight minutes or less; otherwise the system will throw you out and you’ll need to start over. If you are thrown out three consecutive times, you’ll need to wait 96 hours to reset.”

And while I’m sprinting to do this in eight minutes, does the theme music from Jeopardy play in the background?

“What was that?”

Nothing.

“You will also be asked a battery of security questions to further establish and validate your identity. This is part of our NIST 800-171 compliance. You know, the usual questions: First kiss; first traffic accident (when and where); where you lost your virginity (names and dates, please); first use of a misplaced modifier, dangling participle, or pluperfect subjunctive in a run-on sentence, etc. Basic questions, we think. We want to get to know you.”

Sounds reasonable. Can I obtain a copy of these questions afterwards for my records?

“Oh no. Our privacy regulations are governed by the European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). By those terms we cannot reveal that information to anybody. Your signing up on our portal is tacit acceptance of these opt-out terms.”

I see.

“We take your privacy very seriously.”

Clearly.

“We use your personal data as part of our Industry 4.0 compliant ERP system. We monitor supplier trends this way, to see if they deviate from our standards.”

What standards? My main question remains unanswered. Once I’ve successfully navigated this obstacle course, what assurance do I have that we will be paid timely?

“That’s the exciting part! Once you’ve followed the 37 easy steps to upload each and every invoice, you may click Submit and a grey button marked Appeal Payment will turn blue. Click that button and a page will open, listing various discounts you will offer to expedite payment.”

Will offer?

“Of course. Otherwise you’ll need to wait 120 days for a check to be cut and sent via regular mail. From Malaysia. After vetting by the financial security compliance team in Moscow. (Could you please provide us with the configuration of your servers for the benefit of our Moscow team?) Be advised we cut checks on the fifth and 21st of odd-numbered months when those days don’t fall on Sundays. Sundays are for rest and reflection, you know.”

Naturally

“If you offer a 2% discount, our accounts payable team will consider payment in 90 days. A 5% discount accelerates payment to 60 days, 10% to 30 days. The higher the discount, the more weight the team will give to accepting your application. Isn’t that exciting? I call that progress!”

I call that bribery.

Not that I wish to take leave of this thrilling discussion about your extortionate payment methods, but weren’t you folks interested in x-ray services on a bunch of bum batteries? At last glance you still had a problem, and we still have a solution. What should we do?

“Right. Almost forgot.”

I didn’t.

“I guess we have a problem regarding immediate payment, don’t we?”

Very observant. Your talent precedes you. You big-company guys think of everything.

“Will you accept credit cards? We may need one for this first order, as I see no clear path to overcome the inherent slowness of our internal vendor portal.”

Clearly nothing gets past you. Your organization must be so proud.

Yes, we accept credit cards for first orders. Be advised, however, you’ll need a card with a high credit limit. This is a big job. It’s going to be very expensive. This is not some $750 job. Plan on multiplying that number at least ten-, maybe twentyfold.

Silence once again. Then resolution.

“Very well. I’ll put my credit card department in touch with your accounts receivable team. You should hear from them in the next 30 days, maybe sooner. After all, this is a rush job. Management is anxious.”

Robert Boguski
Robert Boguski
is president of Datest Corp. (datest.com); rboguski@datest.com. His column runs bimonthly.