Wednesday, September 23, 2009

A Question of Ethics

Here's a situation to ponder.

You own/lease a high volume color copier which you've operated for about five months. You start examining the monthly invoices, and while the monthly minimum charge matches what you agreed to pay, the charge for "overs" seems consistently lower than it should be, but since it is low as opposed to high you dismiss your concern.

As each month goes by, however, you notice the "overs" charge continues to be lower than you expect. At one point, you dismiss the discrepancy as having to do where and how "overs" are being charged, and then naively assuming your high volume months will soon be accounted for in subsequent months - i.e. a lag in billing.

Finally, after five months, you examine the math on one of the invoices and you discover quite by accident that instead of being billed $0.045 per copy, someone has used new math and entered in 0.0045 and is using that figure for calculating the cost of "overs."

Assuming it was an error that occurred just in the accounting department when setting up our account, we reached for the original contract, and lo and behold, the contract repeated the same mistake.... instead of $0.045 for color copies the contract reads $0.0045 and $0.0085 for B&W copies. Quite a mistake for a formal contract, wouldn't you say!

Well, we decide to call the company, but because of the seriousness of the mistake we ask to speak to the owner. Our first shock occurs when they tell us they can't tell us the name of the owner, but they will take a message.

As I told my wife, had we asked for the name or phone number of a sales rep we would have had an answer in seconds. What kind of company adopts a policy that stipulates it will not reveal the name of the owner?

Ok, we say we just want to leave a message and we ask that the "owner" (whoever it might be) please give us a call on an urgent matter. We also tell the secretary taking the message that we are not calling with a complaint, but it is confidential and important nonetheless.

Well, so far 24 hours have transpired and still no return call from the owner.

Part of me is hoping that he never calls, because that will become the subject of a great column for Quick Printing magazine. I think I will title it, "The Arrogance of Ownership."

Anyway, back to the question at hand - What would you do in this situation? How would you handle it? Would you be willing to correct the contract and pay the proper amount for all back copies? What about future copies, would you hold them (or attempt to hold them) to the current contract? Would you call the owner again and leave another message?

I will be curious as to your take on this issue.

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