Our company is a small business with about thirty employees and I have been there about five years as the person in charge of collections. After I arrived, I inherited a long time customer who always had a very up and down payment record with us. Although he would pay timely for a few months, he might have a six-month period where he would be late by 30 or 60 days. On occasion we even let him pay at 90 days since in the end he always made good on payments.

Over one year ago when this customer started to become late, I called as usual and inquired as to when payment would be forthcoming. He responded that due to various personal issues, which he shared with me, he would need more time to pay. Knowing his paying history and the company’s flexibility with him, I responded very understandingly and he told me he would get back to me as soon as things got clear.

Then a few minutes after that conversation, he called again and told me that he really appreciated my empathetic words and tone, and asked if we could meet for coffee so that he could tell me more. Well, when someone I feel I know for a long time tells me a very serious problem, the heart in me takes over and as much as I can, I want to help them, and so I responded that meeting and talking after work would be alright. I did not mention anything to my supervisor about this.

From that first conversation I learned about all the problems he was having and my heart just sunk. I wish I could tell you that it was only one meeting but our initial conversation evolved into several more meetings and eventually a full-blown relationship.

One year later, I have been struggling to balance my affection for him with the outstanding invoices he still owes the company. Along the way I have reminded him but it seems he’s continuously ninety days out and I’ve been so reluctant to push him, even when I think he can get close to whittling the balance down significantly.

Although I believe no one at the company knows about our relationship, I do understand that it’s clouding my professional judgment. How can I get back on track?

Signed: Torn Between Love and Collections
 

Dear Torn,

Oh goodness, I don’t want to be too judgmental but you have really put yourself into quite a pickle. As I’m sure you already realize, when you are employed at a company, you need to prioritize their needs and goals first. Along the way, should a romance begin, either within or outside the company and with another employee or a client respectively, you need to let the management know so that everyone can evaluate if your responsibilities and relationship could cause a conflict of interest.

What to do? As hard as it will be, I would talk to your immediate supervisor or manager about what has been going on. Although their reaction may result in an unpleasant outcome, I think you’ll actually end up free from this constant nagging feeling of knowing that your secret amore situation is not only running counter to your collection and professional judgment, but may even present some legal issues as well.

Please let me know what happens.

Crabby

Dear Crabby is a credit and collection advice column by Nancy Seiverd, President, CMI Credit Mediators Inc. Your thoughts (nseiverd@cmiweb.com) on what to advise are most welcome, and with your permission, we’ll reprint your comments in the next issue of our newsletter.

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