Sunday, August 08, 2010


Having to replace a company you hate doing business with can be a real pain, but the contract-renewal process should be fairly simple. After all, if you're happy with them and they're happy with you, where's the problem?

Nonetheless Peter, a reader from Manila in the Philippines, has managed to find a catch.

Peter likes the service his company receives from the termite-control company it has retained to ensure that its premises are free of pesky pests. The annual contract calls for the exterminators to check out Peter's facility every month, even if no pests have been spotted in the interim, to make sure that the premises are free and clear. If termites are detected, the pest-control company eradicates them. Like clockwork, the exterminators show up to do their job.

Their home office is not so efficient, however, about getting a new contract to Peter's company for renewal each year.

"Every year we have to remind them two or three times to send a contract," Peter writes.

Though a new contract has not been signed, however, and technically there is no agreement between the companies, the work still carries on.

"Their field personnel continue to go to our place," Peter says. "Obviously it is the administrative personnel who is not preparing the paperwork."

The same thing happened this year, but with a significant difference: Once again the contract has lapsed, but this time Peter and his colleagues have not reminded the termite company about the renewal - meaning that, for the past couple of months, they haven't been billed for the services they're receiving.

"We have always been honest in the past," Peter writes, "but feel that, if they don't bear the consequences of their negligence, they will never shape up. Are we justified not to remind them anymore and enjoy the free service until they find out?"

Having to remind a vendor to bill you can indeed be a nuisance. There's simply something wrong about having to chase people to give them money. It's their job to bill you in a timely manner and, when it comes time for contract renewal, it's their job to see that it gets done.

There's obviously some satisfaction to be gained by withholding payment from the termite-control company until such time, if ever, that its administrators realize that they've been working for free. I'm not convinced, however, that it would actually get them to change their poor management of existing contracts. Presumably their ineptitude has cost them in the past, but not enough to get them to shape up.

More broadly, it is wrong to take advantage of their inefficiency to get free service. However vexing their inability to follow through may be, it's no excuse for Peter and his company to get service that they're not paying for and, therefore, not entitled to. Getting something for nothing is only occasionally the ethical route, and this isn't one of those times.

If Peter's colleagues are sufficiently vexed by the exterminators' habitual laxness with contracts, they have every right to not re-up and instead find another company that's more to their liking. If the current company asks why they're making a change, they should answer truthfully.

If they're overall satisfied with the services being provided, however, they should simply accept that a once-a-year headache is part of the cost of doing business with this company. They can and should strongly voice their dissatisfaction at having to remind the company every year when the contract comes due, but not paying for what they're getting isn't a fair way to express their annoyance.

Personally, I'd bite the bullet and carry on as in past years. Nagging the exterminators to send you a contract once a year is surely aggravating, but I imagine it pales in comparison to the problems of dealing with a company that sends its contracts promptly but does a lousy job on the actual termite control.

c.2010 The New York Times Syndicate (Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate)


Anonymous said...

Peter is a crook if he believes because the administrative end of his pest control business is goofing up that he can avoid paying for the service. What an evil mind he has if he gets service and avoids paying for it on the premise that the business is failing to send a contract. The very least he could do is threaten not to pay unless they send a contract.

Charlie Seng
Lancaster, SC

Anonymous said...

Just photocopy the old bill, clearly highlight the date, change it to the present date, and return it to the company with payment. Note that I did not mention changing last year's price to a higher one. That should be up to the pest control folks. Perhaps they will begin noticing; however, you have done your part.