This is awkward but how do I make this sound unawkward?
June 26, 2015 5:19 AM   Subscribe

A vendor invoiced us to send us our own stuff. Boss tasked me to go back and challenge the invoice- awkwardness ensues - help?

We have a vendor that keeps items in inventory for us to ship out per requests. This vendor is located in the same city as we are so when I asked to pull three items from rotation and return them to our HQ the vendor pulled them and sent back using a courier. We are a little fish in their big pond of customers but they are a new vendor and I am new in this position and want to build a relationship with them. The invoice for labor and courier service came back ... and on principle my boss doesn't want to pay it and tasked me to go back and say something to them. How do I phrase it? Should it just be a call rather than an email? I am usually pretty good at these type of things but I am at a loss right now. A few scenarios I came up with:

-Say that we received the invoice, as a newbie I had no idea they would charge us and if they would do me the courtesy of covering this invoice this time?
-Phrase it as my boss did and it rubs us the wrong way that they are going to charge us to bring us our own stuff...
-Say that we will pay it this time but .. ??
posted by xicana63 to Human Relations (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I don't understand why your boss thinks this bill should not be paid in the first place.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 5:30 AM on June 26, 2015 [8 favorites]

What am I missing here? The items are yours, but they provided labor and a courier. Why would you not pay for that?
posted by pyro979 at 5:33 AM on June 26, 2015 [12 favorites]

Have they charged for this sort of thing in the past? Or was this the first time?

And echoing a fiendish thingy, it was stuff that was pulled and shipped. Why should you guys being the recipients be any different than sending it to customers? Presumably the labor and costs would seem to be the same on the part of your vendor.
posted by jquinby at 5:33 AM on June 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

Maybe your boss is under the impression that this sort of delivery is covered in the overall contract you have with them to store your inventory. If so, that would be the path I'd take--"Hey boss, did they agree to cover delivery in the inventory agreement?"

I wouldn't use either of the 3 lines you propose, because you need to get this cleared up for good, one way or the other (you don't want "a favor" this time, you want to make sure everyone is on the same page about who pays for what going forward).
posted by msbubbaclees at 5:43 AM on June 26, 2015 [8 favorites]

-Say that we received the invoice, as a newbie I had no idea they would charge us and if they would do me the courtesy of covering this invoice this time?

Don't do this. It paints you into a corner if this is not a one-off occurrence. The next time your boss doesn't want to pay, you won't have this excuse any more.

-Phrase it as my boss did and it rubs us the wrong way that they are going to charge us to bring us our own stuff...

Yeah, pretty much. Draft a letter, show it to your boss for him to sign it (say that it would mean more coming from his level) and send it off.

-Say that we will pay it this time but .. ??

Don't do this without approval from your boss. He said what he wants. Don't go against that.
posted by inturnaround at 5:43 AM on June 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

Not to threadsit but as they are a new vendor, she was accustomed to the old vendor being accommodating considering we are in town. I see what everyone is saying that this should be treated like it was being sent to anyone else.. so then what do I say to my boss? I didn't go back to the vendor because really this was a task like anyone else and from now on I'll just go pick things up if we need them (which is very rare)?
posted by xicana63 at 5:45 AM on June 26, 2015

I am not your boss but I am A boss in this capacity.

No. Delivery from a vendor/3PL/warehouse to ANYWHERE costs money/time. That's invoiced.

My warehouses will, as a courtesy pick and hold the items for me for free. I can then send someone to pick them up if I don't want to pay for a courier. I would expect to be charged by ANYONE for delivering something to me.

I would talk to your boss first and establish what she wants. Does she expect to not pay every-time or only this one-time? If it's a one-time thing give them a call and explain that, don't email. If it's an every-time thing than she or someone at a contract making level needs to talk to them about this being part of your SOP.
posted by French Fry at 5:54 AM on June 26, 2015 [6 favorites]

Ehh, it's not personal, I am very confrontation averse too but you just have to do it. Tell them you didn't expect them to charge you to return your own stuff, the old vendor didn't, and can they reverse the charge.
posted by ftm at 5:55 AM on June 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

Call or email (email might be better as you have a "paper" trail then).
Say that you are seeking clarification for your boss on their billing as they are a new vendor and this is the first time you have been billed for this type of service. Is there a way to get a reduction in cost for this type of service.
posted by edgeways at 5:57 AM on June 26, 2015 [8 favorites]

Also, presumably there is a contract with the vendor. What does it say about this? Get the contract and check. It will help you ask a relevant question of the vendor and it will help you have a good conversation with your boss. And it's totally not personal. It's a billing query, they get lots of them.
posted by koahiatamadl at 6:21 AM on June 26, 2015 [2 favorites]

so then what do I say to my boss?

Either the warehouse invoices you explicitly or the warehouse includes packing/preparation labor in their price. You pay for it either way.

In general, warehouse employees and couriers make close to minimum wage and warehouse/courier operations are optimized for cost. If you make more than minimum wage, it is likely cheaper to have the warehouse package/courier them to your work than it is to have you retrieve them.
posted by saeculorum at 6:21 AM on June 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

Your vendor fully expects an invoice that was never discussed nor agreed to be rejected, unless their right to bill for this is EXPLICITLY provided for in a written contract or signed work order.

Go into them strong: "Hi, vendor. Accounting has declined this invoice, as routine adjustments like this aren't billable."

They'll come back and complain. The right outcome is for them to tear up this invoice and negotiate a fair rate for inventory relocation requests going forward, and maybe a procedure for them to be sent UPS rather than courier, etc., to reduce costs.
posted by MattD at 6:34 AM on June 26, 2015 [3 favorites]

By the way, to the extent that your new seat is a vendor relations job, asking for discounts, time extensions, and write-offs is either your most important duty, or second most important duty (after buying the right quality and quantity). Get used to making this kind of request without any hesitation or qualification.
posted by MattD at 6:37 AM on June 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

Find the contract, see what it says, proceed accordingly. If your boss has the contract, ask him for it and tell him it's so that you can point the vendor to the relevant part of the contract when you contact them and ask for the payment to be waived. If the contract turns out to say that they are right to charge you, go back to your boss with it.
posted by penguin pie at 7:56 AM on June 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

MattD makes a good point regarding the nature of this work, disagreeing over invoices is a common part of being in AR/AP or being a Buyer. Receiving an invoice and owing someone money are not the same thing.

I get the impression that this is not the most formal arrangement, that this is a vendor who just happens to be storing things for you but is not a warehouse or 3pl? If you have a contract or sales agreement you should find it and read it, something like this may not be covered at all. If you don't have a contract regarding the storage make sure you get one (as I said before this may be your bosses job). These kinds of unwritten arrangements, where something like storage or shipping is added ad-hoc to the responsibilities of a manufacturer/product vendor, have burned a number of small businesses I've consulted for.

Regarding what to say I always suggest keeping things short and sweet. phrases like "We've declined the invoice.. We're canceling the payment.. we're returning the defective product.. we're modifying the PO" Etc. Focusing on "We" is an easy was to keep things sounding official. Remember this is not personal. Do not make personal excuses or apologies, don't say things you don't have to. These things can get contentious and you don't want to provide the other party ammo by saying things they interpret as promises or policy that you meant as general placating conversation.
posted by French Fry at 8:14 AM on June 26, 2015

I am a purchasing agent. What does your contract with this vendor say regarding HQ shipments (samples?). If they provided a service (delivery) you need to pay, unless your contract says otherwise. If you don't have a contract with this vendor, then you are SOL here as billing for services rendered is standard operating procedure for most vendors. If you want delivery charges waived for shipments to HQ you need to negotiate that and put it in a contract signed by both parties. That's really it in a nutshell.
posted by thereemix at 10:08 AM on June 26, 2015

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