Mystery . . .Unsolved18 Jan, 2001 By: Ronelle Ingram imageSource
Mystery . . .Unsolved
My frustration level has continued to escalate, as I have had to deal with bogus, end of lease charges that are being billed directly to our customers.
It seems to be happening on a regular basis. Trumped up, end of lease, mysterious bills that multiple leasing companies are sending 30 to 90 days after a copier is returned off the lease. The normal progression of these complaints begins with a mysterious, non-specific bill being sent directly to the business that had recently returned the copier.
In all of these cases, as part of a new lease deal, our company was responsible for picking up and returning the leased equipment to the designated wholesaler.
When the customer receives the after the fact bill from the leasing company they immediately contact their sales person. Normally the unexpected bill is faxed to the sales rep that recently sold the equipment. Invariably, the sales rep brings it into my office and asks me to look into it.
“Disc. meter . . . $400” was stated on the bill. I followed the regular procedure of calling the leasing company to make my inquiry. I encountered the normal voice mail prompts and waiting time before finally hearing a human voice. I recited my lease number. “There is a $400 charge for ‘disc. meter’. Can you explain that charge?”
“Yes, there is a reference to ‘disc. meter’ on this file.” The leasing agent who identified herself as Maryanne passively agreed as she read from her computer screen.
“What does ‘Disc. meter’ mean?” In my mind, I thought of disconnected meter, discounted meter, disgusting meter charges. “What does Disc. meter stand for?” I repeated the question twice.
Maryanne had no idea. Politely she asked my name and telephone number. “Someone will call you back,” she reassured me.
“How soon should I expect this call? I queried.
Maryanne politely replied, “In two or three days someone should get back to you.”
I finished our conversation asking Maryanne for her last name and extension number. Maryanne quickly replied, “Any of our customer service reps can help you. Is there anything else I can help you with today? Have a nice day.”
Two days later, another sales person brought me another bill one of her customers had just faxed. This one listed a missing sorter, and a paper feed deck that was inoperable and that now infamous ‘disc. Meter’. The bill was for $450.
It was from another leasing company. I am familiar with this customer. They are the only company I have known who leased an 85 copy per minute copier without a sorter. An innocent enough mistake I thought. No one bothered to look carefully at the return documentation. They just took for granted that there should be a sorter.
As for the inoperable paper feed section, I knew this copier was feeding properly when it was picked up. Again, I saw ‘disc. meter’. Maybe it is secret lease talk for unscrupulous dealers who set back or disconnected the meters. I knew we don’t tamper with meters.
I dialed the 800 number on the bill. Shelia (the customer service rep.) sounded a little more knowledgeable and authoritative than Maryann had. She took my lease number (which I already had input through my touch tone dial pad) and matter-a-factly told me the sorter was missing and the paper feed section did not work.
“Look closely at your lease docs”, I suggested, “there was no sorter included in the original lease.”
“Well it doesn’t really matter.” Shelia said, “The paper feed didn’t work and then there is the meter issue. The base rate for problems is $450. It doesn’t change the penalty fee because the sorter wasn’t on the lease.”
I masked my outrage, with a matter a fact statement. I decided to deal with the issues one at a time. I told her, “I was involved in the installation of the replacement copier. I know the paper feeder was working 84 days ago when the equipment was picked up. The copier was shipped to a wholesaler’s warehouse that is less than 10 miles from the customers location. I will send one of my factory trained technicians to repair this broken paper feed or we will provide any needed parts.”
Shelia’s tone did not change. “I will look into this.”
I had Shelia’s name and phone number on the original billing that was sent to the customer. I knew who she was and how to get hold of her.
Fast-forward One Week
Neither Maryann nor Shelia had called me back. I called Maryann’s 800 number which lead to, voice mail, follow prompt, voice mail, follow prompt, voice mail, input lease number; Jim asked me, “How can I help you?”
I told Jim that I was following up on a previous conversation with another customer service rep. “It must be all taken care of, the account is clear. There is no outstanding balance.” Jim stated with conviction
“Is there any mention of the $400 billing and why is was charged and then credited?” I still wanted to get to the bottom of what ‘disc. meter’actually represents.
“There is no outstanding balance on this account. Is there anything else I can help you with today?” Jim asked in a polite robot-like manner. I requested an emailed verification of this zero balance. “Thanks for your help Jim.” I hung up. One small victory for our customer!
I would call Shelia again. I recited my lease number. Shelia instantly seemed to remember my case. No one had gotten back to her from the warehouse. “They have been very busy,” she said and I would follow-up.
Three days later, Shelia called me. I was impressed. “The main gear was broken on the paper deck.”
“Main gear” I replied. “That narrows it down to one of eight gears. Any chance of knowing a specific part number?”
“The main gear,”she again stated.
“No problem,” I said. I can play this game to. “Where shall I send this main gear?”
Shelia gave me the warehouse address and contact. I upsed the biggest gear I could find on the paper feed section.
A week later, I called back. I gave Shelia the lease number. I still was going have to deal with the ‘disc. meter’situation.
As soon as Shelia pulled up the account she quickly said, “The account was clear, no money is owed.”
During the past two months, this scenario has been replayed two additional times. The ‘disc. Meter’ continues to be referenced. Each time the billing is credited when I follow-up after my initial inquiry. I have yet to get an explanation.
I did receive a little insight when a leasing company clerk asked me to check directly the wholesale facility, when I questioned the ‘disc. meter’ charges. The warehouse manager (asked I do not reveal his name) explained, “For years copier dealers took advantage of leasing companies. Half the equipment we received off lease didn’t work. Boards were missing; entire feed and fuser sections had been removed before the copiers were shipped back. Now the leasing companies are tightening up our review procedures. We have to check out every machine. Paper has to feed through. A copy has to come out. Any copier that has over one million copies is being accessed an overage fee.”
A light bulb flashed in my mind. ‘disc. meter’ “How are you designating these high meter readings on your paper work?”
“We just note the meter count.” He said. The leasing companies started charging for excess copies. A lot of people complained. It was not legal. Nowhere in the lease is there a provision for additional excess copy charges. I was told the leasing company’s lawyers said the extra charges were illegal. But I know they are doing it, because dealers are calling me all the time. Anybody who complains gets the bill canceled. But I bet a lot of companies are just paying the invoice.
“What exactly does ‘disc. Meter’ stand for. That abbreviation ‘disc.’ What does it stand for?” I was still trying to get an answer.
I could almost see the warehouse manager remove his baseball cap and scratch his head. “I honestly don’t know. The meters aren’t disconnected. I don’t know what ‘disc.’ actually stands for. All I know is the leasing companies are charging the extra fee, dealers are complaining and the fee is credited.”
SCAM? Are leasing companies getting even with dealers who took advantage of the lease return system for years? Maybe everyone is just trying a little harder to make a profit in this digital conversion, dot COM, Y2K+1 business environment.
I do not know any ultimate truth. No one I spoke with would talk “for the record.” I am only retelling my personal experience. Every additional, unwarranted charge was credited off. In each case, I requested and received emailed or faxed confirmation of a zero balance on the account.
In fairness to your customers, keep your eyes open. Encourage your customers to forward any after the lease return billings directly to the dealer. Follow-up, follow-up, follow-up.