Spend any time in the computer repair business and you’ll learn that difficult customers often surface when it comes to paying for necessary repairs. The same consumer that wouldn’t blink at paying for an automotive repair will often balk when presented with your bill. Many computer owners don’t think paying a professional to fix their computers is worth the investment and will delay picking up their merchandise for long periods of time. Customers will also abandon their computers altogether if they feel the bill was “more than the computer was worth.” You won’t be in the computer repair business long if you find you’re “eating” too many unrequited repair jobs like this. Fortunately, there is a fair and legal way to make sure you get paid.
Employ a Structured Transaction Policy
Present the customer with a written estimate at the time of “drop-off,” combined with a detailed Service Agreement. Promise to call them if the cost of the actual work will run higher than the estimate. Ask for all, or a percentage of, the estimated cost up front. This up-front charge or deposit will eliminate most “abandonment” cases instantly. Make it clear that there may be a balance due at pick up. Finally, warn the customer in writing that you won’t release the computer until it’s paid for in full. Have the customer sign and date the Service Agreement and take a copy of the form with her.
Give Fair Warning
Inform the customer that they he be expected to pick up and pay the balance for his merchandise within a reasonable time after the repair is completed. A two-week deadline is probably liberal enough. Inform the customer in the Service Agreement that if he fails to pick up and pay for the computer after this time elapses, he risks losing ownership of the computer as you escalate your options. You can’t afford to delay getting paid or storing other people’s computers on your limited shelf space.
Apply a Mechanic’s Lien
Small claims courts universally provide for a procedure known as a Mechanic’s Lien. A Mechanic’s Lien gives a technician the legal right to take possession of property that he hasn’t been compensated for in full. Mechanic’s Liens don’t discriminate about “balance due” amounts. Even if the customer only owes you $25, you have the right to apply a lien to recover your labor, parts and overhead -- even if the value of the machine exceeds the balance due. Send the tardy customer a certified letter informing them that you are applying a Mechanic’s Lien to her computer. Give the owner a brief period to redeem the property or you will take permanent ownership of the unit.
Once the final deadline has passed, send another letter to the customer informing him that the computer is now your property. Sell or part-out the computer as you wish to recover your losses. Remove the customer’s hard drive and replace it with another drive. Reinstall the operating system on the new drive using the license key code on the case -- which you also now own. Safely pack and ship the customer’s hard drive to him. Never resell a seized computer that contains a previous owner’s data. This will protect you from recriminations that you breached his privacy and security by exposing his data to other people.
Stand Your Ground
Computer repair customers will ply you with “hard luck” stories in an effort to get you to lower the final bill or give them their computers without paying for them, with promises of course to pay you “next week.” As a business owner you must be disciplined enough to listen to these stories — and then stick to your bill. Don’t give customers breaks, because as the saying goes, “No good deed goes unpunished.” After all, if you are a professional, you’ve honestly earned your reasonable fees. You won’t be in business long if you don’t collect for your work — one way or another.