Why do Businesses Lie?

Why do people even bother with lame excuses like “I didn’t receive the invoice” or “The cheque was mailed yesterday”? Wouldn’t telling the truth help build a stronger relationship? Or do they actually think people believe this stuff?

Prussia.Net serves small business clients, including a start-up which recently asked us to build them an inexpensive website. Now they’re late paying up and we’re getting all the usual excuses (see below).

Now maybe they’re genuine. But I reckon there’s a simple explanation: cash is tight and they need time to pay.

I prefer to build trusting long-term relationships with clients — as opposed to ripping them off for short-term gain. Hey, it’s easier to keep an existing client on-side rather than forever finding new victims. So I prefer the truth.

If a client comes to me honestly and says, “Hey cash is tight this month,” I’m more than likely to say “Not a problem, let’s leave it for a few weeks.”

Then we can all get on with something else, like running our businesses.

But a series of what appear to be lame excuses only wastes time and builds suspicion. If I think someone’s lying, they won’t get the benefit of the doubt in future. And the price of any project will factor in the expected delay in payment.

So what do you think? Does this sound like a genuine screw-up? Has your business received even better excuses for late payment? Please comment below.

Fibs or Not?

Here’s how it’s unfolded so far:

  • We emailed the invoice.
  • Once it was overdue, we emailed them a reminder with the subject “OVERDUE ACCOUNT”.
  • A week later, we emailed them again, “SECOND REMINDER: OVERDUE ACCOUNT”.
  • They emailed us to say they hadn’t received the original invoice, but that the account would be paid “forthwith”.

I’m not sure if they meant half past forthwith or Tuesday the 16th of Forthwith — but at this point I’m suspicious. They got the second reminder, but not the other two emails. Apparently.

  • A week later, we still hadn’t received payment, so we sent them our usual “SUSPENSION NOTICE”, warning them that Internet hosting could be suspended if they didn’t bring their account up to date.
  • This time, the guy we’re talking with says his business partner was paying it by direct deposit into our bank account.
  • No payment appeared, so we emailed them again.
  • This time, the response is that the cheque was mailed on Tuesday.

Well, that was three days ago, and even Sydney’s postal service isn’t that bad.

To recap, so far we’ve had:

  • “Sorry, I didn’t get the invoice.”
  • “Oh, my business partner was doing that.”
  • “The cheque is in the mail.”

Wager anyone?

I’m now putting my money on “Sorry, we posted it to the wrong address.” Either that or the cheque arrives but bounces, and we’re told “Sorry, some cheques from clients haven’t cleared yet.” Wager, anyone?

And no, I’m not going to name the client. Yet.

3 Replies to “Why do Businesses Lie?”

  1. I reckon businesses (and individuals for that matter) lie because they are largely afraid of being perceived as incompetent (if they were to tell the unvarnished truth). If someone perceived you as being incompetent it would lead to many undesirable outcomes (e.g. loss of work, negative referrals etc).

    Most of the time people intuitively know when they are being lied to, that’s why we start becoming skeptical and frustrated when we’re on the receiving end of (what seems like) a pack of lies. It all dates back to our school days really. If we were late to class or didn’t turn in our homework, we would always scurry to come up with an excuse so that we wouldn’t be punished for our inability to “deliver” (i.e. our incompetence).

    Since most people don’t expect to hear the truth straight off the bat, it’s always refreshing when someone does tell it how it is. The truth (most of the time) is always welcomed and appreciated and of course, reinforces what should be at the core of every relationship: trust.

  2. Paul is quite right. We often forget that businesses are run by people, that people are human, and that humans are mammals.

    It’s usually a lot easier to understand business behaviour if we remember these simple facts.

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