what’ll you give me?

2 04 2010

I’ve found the last couple of weeks that talking to grown ups about perceived value and actual value is just as hard as talking to kids about it.  LJ will not give up on saying “I know a fast, easy way to make money!”  What’s that?  “A YARD SALE!”

Um… to him, a young and active little boy with rudimentary people skills, this is a great idea.  To me, an almost 30 mom of 3 with no desire to practice her people skills, this is a terrible idea.

Just figure out how much time it takes to set up and conduct a yard sale.

  • 2 days sorting through stored junk to find stuff people would want to buy.  (2 or 3 people, at least.)
  • 1 day putting all that stuff in one spot.  (2 or 3 people.)
  • 1 day pricing, organizing, and cleaning all that stuff.  (1 sucker of a person.)  While simultaneously, the other cohorts make signs and hang them at nearby and hopefully well-trafficked street corners.  (Total, 3 or 4 people, to ensure the person hanging signs doesn’t become street pizza.)
  • Then you need a yard, some sort of ground cover, a weekend with decent weather and good scheduling, and hopefully a good location.
  • 2 days with 3 people(ish) to man and actually sell the junk on your lawn.
  • Other suckers to keep people from searching through your garage for stuff that’s not for sale and trying to use your bathroom without permission.

Assuming 8 hour days, you’ve used – at the least – 126 man hours to conduct this.  The most I’ve ever made conducting a yard sale was $350.  That’s $2.70 an hour.

HERE’S MY POINT.  Because I know the math got us all bleery eyed, here’s my point.

The value of this yard sale is based on your situation.

  • If you need the money – any money – pretty quickly you would probably be better off at a pawn shop.
  • If you need the money but have time and energy to do it, a yard sale could be a good way to do it.
  • If you don’t need the money right away and don’t have the energy or time to do it – then donating it all to charity, getting a detailed receipt and writing it off at tax season will turn a better profit.
  • If you don’t need the money but you have the energy and just need something to do one sunny week and lots of shit to give away for basically free, then this is a great idea!

Now, everyone knows I love yard sales.  I love SHOPPING at yard sales.  I do not like putting on yard sales or spending time in the sun or sorting through crap I’ve seen or chasing down wasps or being threatened by a crazy dude with a knife.  True story.

To y’all that put on yard sales, I love you.  I will visit you.  I will talk to you.  I will give you my dollar bills.

I don’t envy you.

Because to me, the value is not there.  This is my perception.

To other people, it’s a great way to make money and setting up is fun and easy.  That’s their perception of value.

To still different people, they have nothing better to do or are trying to clear out stuff with maximum efficiency.  That’s THEIR perception.

To have an idea of value, you first need to define your measurements.  Are you basing it on time? Money?  Number of visitors? Area of storage space cleared out?

Until you know what you want and how to measure it, you won’t be able to quantify your success.  You know this isn’t just about yard sales.  It’s about the job you do every day.  The time you spend with your kids.  The energy you spend on what matters to you.

If you said to me “I’ll give you a truck load of candy for that” I’d probably turn you down.  I don’t like candy THAT much and my “that” is definitely awesome.  However, if you offered me a truck load of books for “that”?

Thank you for shopping. Please come again!  I’ll see you next week when I’m done sorting this shitload of books!

So what do you actually give value to?  How do you define success?

Is it measured in time or money?  Peace?  Smiles?  Laughs?  Number of xanax taken?  Good meals eaten?  Amount of boredom?  Mouths fed and feet shod?  Health?  Longevity?  Cleanliness?  Morality?  Education?

(ok, I promise next post to be less serious and more offensive.  Sorry about the mushy, actually educational post.  I do really want to know your definition of value!)

Advertisements




make it work

17 03 2010

I’m toying with the idea of going back to work full time and letting Shaun do a stint as stay at home Dad.  Or at least hire a nanny or something.

When I say toying with, that’s what I really mean.  I know that with the heart problem and the migraines, that I need a very flexible environment and I also know that I can do the best for our home and children by being here.

I just REALLY miss working.  Not only is it 10,000 times easier than this SAHM deal, I miss figuring out problems.  I’m one of those people who has a knack for making abnormal things fix what needs to be done.  I like instruction manuals because if you read them with a critical eye you can find the ways to… adapt it to your purpose.  There, that’s a nice way to say “open door.”  If there isn’t a manual, that’s ok too.  I’ll figure out how to break it into its parts given enough time.

Tim Gunn would say I make it work.

I just hacked a mop.  I’ve been painting my Circa discs with nail polish.  Later today I’m going to turn a computer desk into a table for my sewing machine.

I even scheduled laundry days for everyone and color coded the hampers (they’re really rubber bins from the garden department at walmart) to match their water bottles and their toy boxes.  They also match their junior Circa journals.  (Which the therapists promptly copied and started using for other kids they treat.)  And yes, when the kids are on a scorecard/reward system – those will match their colors too.

I miss feeling like I’ve done something worthwhile at the end of the day.  Well, on some days.  Other days I came home feeling like I was the captain of the good ship WTF.

Ok – I miss being able to say “I can provide a service that you aren’t going to find anywhere else.”

xkcd today says that the average internet user SAYS they have an IQ of 147 and has a 9″ penis. I may not have a penis, but my IQ is a bit higher than that.

I used to say “if you can teach it, I can learn it.”  Now I’m more likely to say “if you can build it, I can break it.”  Then again, I also say “if you need a better mousetrap, you may as well just start naming the mice and congratulate them on their upward evolution.”  You can either make the problem work for you or you can buy a cat.  I’m a big fan of making problems turn into assets.  “That’s not a defect, it’s an unexpected application!”

Then I get a call from the teacher saying that my child is screaming that if the teacher doesn’t make it so that she isn’t in trouble, then she’s going to make life living hell for everyone.  I can hear her screaming in the background at the top of her lungs.  And it’s good I’m only 5 minutes away from the school because I know how to fix her, too.

This is the part where people laugh and say “a good smack would fix her!” But no, my daughter is not an Apple nor does she suffer from chip creep.

I know how to make it work because her IQ is a little lower than mine but still higher than 90% of the people in her school.  I don’t talk to her like a child and I don’t dumb it down.  If she can manipulate you or out-think you, you’ve already lost the game.  I’m probably the only parent you’ll ever see saying to a 6 year old kid “I don’t appreciate you trying to manipulate your teachers.  You can’t change the past but you can stop making it worse.  Your part on the team is to take care of yourself and keep your brain turned on.  If it’s not smart – don’t do it.”

She has the mental capacity of a child twice her age.  I get pissed off when someone talks down to me and I don’t expect her reaction to be any different.  (And yes, we’re both Capricorns.)  It’s best that she learns objective and logical reasoning skills now.

OK – off the tangent.

Another problem I foresee with going back to work is that I don’t have a degree.  I have several certificates from several colleges.  I have some co-op experience at a different school.  I have a year of actual college down but I got REALLY bored with it.

I was one of those kids who was hired directly out of high school into a dotcom because of my “special” skills.  Financially, it was the right decision because I was smart enough to put a little in real estate and made some well-timed stock sales.  It’s enough to make it where we’re able to live off of one income as long as we’re frugal. It just meant that I turned down a scholarship (and it’s accompanying student loans) to take the road less traveled.

Not having a degree wasn’t a problem with my resume as long as I stayed with that company because I could bank on my reputation alone.  Now that I’m looking at jobs equivalent to what I did for that company, they require a BS or a BA.  Only one listing I saw said “or equivalent work experience.”  Now, if the company does their own hiring, it won’t matter but if they’re using a recruiter or head-hunter I’d be hard pressed to get an interview.

THEN, once I did do the initial interview, I’d probably decide that the company didn’t fit my “niche.”  I’ve tested the waters and applied to a few places since quitting and here’s how one of my interviews went:

Nice Lady: I need to be sure you know <name of certain retail book keeping software.>

Me:  I haven’t used that particular one before, but I do have extensive experience designing and reporting with many of the more complicated financial systems.  <I named a few that I’m sure she’d never heard of.>

NL:  But you’ll need to know how to enter the data from our invoices into this program.  You really need to be experienced.

Me:  By the time we speak again, I’ll have learned enough about it to make it do exactly what you need it to do.  I just have a knack for software.

NL:  I see that on your resume you have experience coordinating teams and schedules.

Me: I do.  I’ve coordinated a team of 34 people and designed reporting systems on several hundred team members that were hand delivered to all levels of management.

NL:  You will, if you get this job, need to greet people as they walk in and also handle the schedules for myself and my husband.  You’ll also keep the files orderly and handle invoices and incoming phone calls.

Me:  Ma’am, your ad said that you were looking for a coordinator and manager with experience in financial systems.  Isn’t that correct?

NL:  Yes…

Me:  It sounds to me that you’re looking for a receptionist.  If you need someone to create reporting systems or work out a specific problem then I’m your girl.  However, if you’re looking for someone to smile at customers and do basic data entry, you probably need a different applicant.

NL:  Um… ok… thank you for your honesty.

Me:  You’re welcome.

This was all over the phone, thank goodness.  I doubt she could have looked at me and been as polite.  All my tattoos cover up and I clean up very well, but I’ve been told that I’m rather intimidating when I’m talking.

I’m the secret agent girl. 😉  I walk in to a meeting, looking young and well-dressed, carrying my signature bomber jacket Circa and a few documents disguised as simple files.  I get mentally written off as a girl who got hired to do grunt work and be an art piece for the male and lesbian contingent.  Then I wait for a lull in the conversation of “power players” and I say something outrageous.  All eyes turn to me and I open the file to my supporting document and prove to everyone that I’m right and I am going to get what I want.

Smart managers know how to use that to their benefit.

Not so smart managers are either enlightened or pissed off.

Neither matters.

Because THAT is what makes work worth going to for me.  I’m not looking for money or acclaim or to climb the corporate ladder.  I could give less than a damn about a vertical promotion.  I love solving problems in interesting ways, making them work, and convincing people to support the solution.  My thrill is in creating harmony where there was none and in turning data into a language people can understand.





who told people the recession was almost over?

24 11 2009

Seriously.  I want the person who told people – out loud – that the recession would be over by the holiday on my doorstep.

Whoopdy doo – good news.   Yay for money and jobs!

But really now, we’ve come head to head with my love/hate relationship.  Advertising.  I like ads for the most part, but they should be in their place – not hidden inside magazine articles or designed to look like instructions on something that should be useful.  Holiday editions of magazines are THE WORST.  It’s not like they’re showing a shopping guide (I like those.)  It’s that 3/4 of the magazine is advertising and the other 1/4 is so badly done that the ads are more attractive.   It’s not like someone just announced that suddenly it was going to be Christmas in December and it’s this new thing we need to rush around for.  Come on now, isn’t there like an archive of something or other you can set aside say sometime in July?

I was 3 pages into a decorating article before I realized it wasn’t just another shitty ad from Pottery Barn. (Really, have you just caught on to the whole “people decorate with brown and a pastel” trend yet?  My bedroom has been two shades of brown with “pops” of color for over 5 years now.  Even all my Ikea furniture matches.)

Last year, magazines were slender because advertisers were using their cash efficiently and thriftily. I have a tiny shelf unit in my bookcase that holds 18 months of Real Simple and a year of Architectural Digest.  It’s maybe 18″ of shelf space.

This year, they’re 200 pages with 50 pages of actual content that’s squeezed into half a page because of the Hellman’s mayo ad taking up the opposite page and spilling over.   My Real Simple came in the mail and is an entire inch thick!  (I measured it.  It really is.)  I got home from the hospital yesterday and saw it on the edge of the couch and Shaun said “it’s huge!  It will take you a week to read it!”  But no.  It was mostly advertising.

See – the sandwich method is being fucked up!

The Sandwich Method is an informal rule you’ll probably only learn person to person in the breakroom at work.  It’s a bald-faced manipulation tactic that is used mainly on evil supervisors or stodgy neighbors.

Here’s how it works:  when you give someone bad news, first you say something good then say the bad thing then immediately follow up with more good news.  It goes like this:  Hey Jimmy, I noticed that your flowers outside bloomed while I was checking on the soft spot in the grass.  It turns out your septic tank is leaking.  Hey, did you hear about the 50% off sale at Home Depot?

Your target is still getting the info – the septic tank is leaking – but you at least have a pleasant lead-in and a get-away plan.  The sandwich method is not to form an action plan.  It is meant to inform and escape.  Then after the escape, your target can think about what you said in the middle at their own pace.

This is also the basic theorem of advertising within content.  You have 10 minutes of TV, then 2 minutes of 30 second commercials with the expectation that if you sit there and watch them, soon you will get 10 more minutes of content you care about.  If it’s any longer of a time, the target will run away or take up under-water basket weaving or something.

Because what you want the customer to SEE is the middle.  That’s the meat.  What the customer is there for is the package – the sandwich.  What your advertising should be is the MAYONNAISE!  The customer takes a bit thinking “wow, turkey and bread are great, we should do this more often.”  Then they taste the mayo and go WOW, mayo is awesome!  Then you keep slipping in stuff and they start to expect the cleverness and interest your mayo adds to their experience.

The problem is when your sandwich comes with 6 oz of mayo, a thin slice of turkey, and a handful of croutons that were graciously called “bread” last week.   Then your customer is not only gone, but they’re pissed off.  When they think of your brand they’re going to think of a giant, goo of white fat that has overtaken the awesome memories of a plain ole turkey sandwich.

What you have said is “Jimmy, I got out of my car and noticed your yard was sinking into a puddle of shit.  Your flowers look nice, but that’s only because of the “extra fertilizer.”  Here’s the name of the most expensive guy in town and he’ll even beat you with a monkey wrench if you complain about the bill.”

And now advertisers have money again and they’ve forgotten about their role as unexpected, awesome goodness that’s needed as a layer of fat and flavor in between actual content.

Magazine editors – you should be ashamed of yourselves!  You cheap floozies!  So yeah, we toughed it out for a while, but if you’re going to suck this bad just sell the company to the advertiser and let them frame some made-up content with pretty pictures.    It appears that your skilled writers and photographers all work for the advertising companies now.

I can honestly say that in this 200 page magazine I just finished had 2 interesting things in it.  (Normally I flag 30 or so things to follow-up on.)  It was a giant mayo glob with poo pellets and some regurgitated wheat germ.

This is also an apt analogy from one of my favorite movies, Robin Hood:Men in Tights

(apparently my rant has now turned into another episode of the “free business analysis for how to not suck” segment of my blog.)





Love Poetry to Excel

13 07 2009

I’m building an Excel spreadsheet to keep track of my lace inventory and love poetry dedicated to the program has been popping up in my head.  It goes like this:

Oh, Excel

How your name astounds me

To be based on excellence

Even though you’re a fucking bitch

If you were more user friendly

You would make good money as a whore

Um, that didn’t work so well, did it?

It’s always like this when I first start a spreadsheet.  It goes from “I hate your guts” in the beginning.  Then, when you’re in the middle of it actually being usable, you think “this is pretty cool.”  Afterwards, when you use it to analyze stuff and make graphs, you think “fucker, why won’t you work the same way two times in a row?!”

I better go ahead and build in the data validation coding so I don’t screw something up during the entry part so that the analytics part will work later on.  Fun, fun.  I used to do this for money… now I do it for free.  Damn.  Hopefully my lace will be easy to find when I need it.





Etsy, social networking, and lost dictionaries

9 07 2009

I’ve been slowly getting things up on Etsy.  I want everything to be perfect.  That means taking pictures, cropping, editing, and all the while writing down ideas that come from the air whenever something creative is going on.

If you want to see the etsy page with just two items listed, it’s here:  Ballew Family Artisans

I have tissue packs that say “Do not open unless for tears of joy” that need to be photographed and put up next.  Then I have some vintage toys and jewelry…  you know how it goes.

I’m also getting antsy now that the summer break is half over.  Soon, the kids will be back in school and me and E-man will have the day to ourselves while I’m not driving the taxi.  LJ and A won’t be going to the same school, so it will be quite the taxicab.

I’ve been a SAHM for over a year now and it’s freaky.  It’s good, it’s just abnormal.  I’ve never been without a job for so long.  Like a job where I got to get in the car and go somewhere else for several hours at a time.  It’s nice because I can do things around here the way I like them, but when it comes down to it, I’m not good at the home-ec stuff.  If I can’t program it or hack it, then I’m not good at it.  I can’t garden worth a shit.  I can’t sew or knit or any of that.  I’m a halfway decent cook but I really dislike cooking.  I’m decent at cross-stitch but that’s only because you can count it out a like little pre-computer ASCII art project.

And now we’re back to the idea of work.  I need SOMETHING to keep me from going brain-dead and I also don’t want industry to run off without me while I’m playing at home-ec.  Really, I just want the kids to have a mom at home when they are.  They may not want to be close to me all day, but they like the freedom of playing in their rooms or reading or beating the new DS game.  I like it too – I always learned more when I had time just to screw around.

So I joined Etsy and I signed up on LinkedIn.  I already have a Facebook page and a Myspace page I never, ever log in to.  LinkedIn is a strange site.  It’s not built… to be user friendly.  It’s like a technology test to see if you’re astute enough to actually use it because none of the buttons are in places you’d think to put them and all the links are vague.  Plus, they want you to pay to see other people’s profiles.  Um, no.  I’ll put it up there so I have a consistent web presence, but I’m not going to pay to see other people’s consistent web presence.

Seriously – Google me.  There are two Cynthia Dollins in the entire US of A.  I’m the one that DIDN’T write the book on academics and I’ve never been a professor of anything.  I’m the one that wrote the professional learning techniques article and the one that wrote the spiritual oneness article that shows up on all the pagan webpages.  (Which I think is very odd and very cool at the same time.)

Social networks make you define yourself in new and masochistic ways.  What is my specialty?  Um.  Being a geek.  You can’t get up on the web and claim to be a hacker because people think that’s illegal.  They’re thinking that you bust internet security.  No, crackers break security.  Hackers build shit from shit that used to do different shit.  Also, saying anything about hacking or modding anything brings tons of little punk ass teenagers who want to talk about your notoriety or what programming languages you use.

*sigh*

So what do I do?  Um… I solve problems.  Don’t ask me how because I don’t know yet.  First you have to have a problem.  Then I need the context around your problem and access to your system.  Then I need some coffee and some chocolate and some alone time.  I’ll let you know if I need something else.

Really, that’s all I do.  I make people’s lives easier.  That’s a good one, but again, hard to define.

Let’s see.  I have to be more skilled than that.  Oh, I know:  I’m great at pissing off developers.  I’m not a code monkey – I don’t care if it’s beautiful and poetic behind the user-interface.  I want it to actually fucking work.

If I click this, it’s supposed to do that.  If it does that by doing this other thing, turning that date code to zero, and fucks up all my reports, you are going to have a problem. When it comes to software engineering – you should always expect one fix to cause at least seven other problems.  The artistry comes in making the fix not trigger those other grenades.  It’s possible, it just may not be pretty.

I don’t want to form a meeting of all the beta testers and their supervisors and the developers and their supervisors so I can tell you your link is screwed.  I want your little pale ass to come over to my computer station (or link up with me on a web conference) and see what happens when you click the link.  This way, I can with my finger point at the computer screen and go THAT ONE. This is so that you, as a developer, don’t go and break a link that worked just fine because the naming convention was off.

Um, I also translate geek to human and then from human to sales.  That’s talent, right there!  You could not count the number of times I’ve been pulled into offices to translate.  Developers, project managers, BIS, analysts, middle management, service personnel, sales personnel, and upper management all have different languages.  They’re all talking about the same thing but with the lingo, they don’t know it and suddenly there’s a huge fight and everyone is mad and doubts the other folk’s intellect, and managers are being called and it’s a big cluster fuck.  This is where I come in.  You tell me what you want.  Now you, and then you.

Here’s a way you can all understand it and who is doing what.  *everyone nods*  Here’s what’s going to happen in two weeks.  Here’s what’s going to happen in the mean time.  Here’s who does NOT need to be involved.  Once everyone is happy and shaking hands, my work is done.

How do you define that?

I think in another year, I’ll be ready to head back into the fray.  Right now, I’m still a little too hot about it.  I only got mild heartburn while recalling the events above.  I feel things a little too strongly and my main value is in diffusing high stress situations but adrenaline can only take you so far.  If you keep going after burn-out, alcohol, drugs, and other misguided decisions lay on the other end of the spectrum. You don’t believe me?  Ask people who look 10 or 15 years older than me how old they are.  What?  Only 5 years?  Yeah, buddy.  Hard living shows on your body.

Everyone knows how to define a burn-out.

And no one is going to admit to it on social networking sites.





Procrastinating

28 06 2009

Procrastinating

or

Suddenly, I have 9000 other things to do

Last Sunday, my dad sent me home with a very simple request and two digital picture frames.  My job: to load them with pictures.  Simple, right?

This puts a project I have been avoiding since I left ATC in the forefront of my “things I do other than parenting.”  See, I was like the first person in the family to have a digital camera.  I actually have three on my desk at this very moment.  I have not been so lucky with computers – it seems like I get all the pics burned to disc or moved to a portable drive right before something really freaky happens to the computer.  It never kills the PC outright – it just turns everything in the memory banks into gobbledy-gook.

Fast forward through 7 or so different computers, and I have all the photos on a portable 500G MyBook, backed up onto another drive.  It’s just every folder has a name like “laptop photos” and is 7G big.  It’s a filing nightmare – and now that people actually want to see those photos – it’s a photo editing nightmare.

My project is to organize these photos, delete the duplicates, and then optimize each image.  I also have scanned photos I need to separate, file, and optimize.  My excuse for the scanned photos is that my scanner doesn’t like talking to my home network and will only work if you send it a request from the computer – instead of hitting the “scan” button on the scanner.

Last Sunday, my dad sent me home with a simple request.

This Sunday, I still have not gotten the frames out of the back of my car.  I’ve added some lace to a glasses case, then removed it because the glue looked funny behind the mesh part of the lace.  I’ve painted a paintbrush hot pink.  I’ve reorganized the shelves that hold my BookMooch inventory.  I’ve read Catherine Coulter’s new novel Knock Out.  I’ve played about 1000 levels of Bookworm on Shockwave.com. I’ve watched Season 3 and Season 4 of House twice each.  I’ve dreamed about my next tattoo and changed the blog settings on this blog.  I’ve thought about doing freelance analyst work.  Am I at 9000 yet?

I did download the photos off the Nikon camera, so hey, not a total loss!  I really like Nikon’s transfer software – it creates subfolders by date, so that if you haven’t downloaded in a month, it separates Easter from LJ’s birthday party.  It’s nifty stuff.

Now, I’m going to take a nap.  All this not doing what I’m supposed to is making me sleepy.





Credit Card Collection Calls – a customer service review

23 06 2009

Credit Card Collection Calls – a customer service review

or

A Business Analyst Turned Stay At Home Mom offers Free Consultation to Random Businesses

I seem to have these odd urges to give out business advice to businesses I don’t work for but have to interact with.  Today during nap time, I had some thoughts on a recent trend in this economic SNAFU: the credit card collection calls.  I love the alliteration, but that’s about the only thing they have going for them.

Here are some tips to you credit card companies on how to deal with your customers and end users.

1.  Have a real, live person make the call.

I picked up the phone last week and said “Hello?”  Nothing.  “HELLO?”

A mechanical female voice said “please hold for the next available customer service rep.”

Click.  I hung up.  I have to work myself up to deal with voice mail systems of companies I initiate the call to.  I don’t need the voice mail calling me and immediately putting me on hold.  I have not allotted a time frame to sit with the phone to my ear and I have no personal reward in waiting for the customer service rep.  The CSR can call me when she has the time to have my account up and ready on her computer.  I’ll talk to her – I won’t sit on hold because a computer told me to.

2.  Don’t insult your customer

This should just be common sense.  Really.  If you want customers, then you should – I don’t know – maybe value your customers?

“You just trying to buy stuff to show off to your friends when you have no intention of paying for it.”

“What kind of man goes and buys himself a big ass TV then can’t even work hard enough to pay for it.”

This astounds me because not only did the company agree to extend the non-collateral-based loan, they saw something in this person’s credit history that made them approve it.  If someone doesn’t pay their creditors, then why would you loan them money like you got a cousin named Bruno who has never failed at collecting the return.

3.  Don’t sell the customer something during the call

My goodness, people.  A collection call’s purpose is to get money.  It’s not to sell the customer a “Job Loss Protection Plan” for only $2.50 a month or “Life/Disability Insurance” that pays off the c-word if you should encounter something that would make you unable to pay.

Just get the payment and hang up.  Let the sales force or the CSRs who handle the non-delinquent account handle the extra products.

4.  Don’t insist on a payment over the phone but refuse to waive the fee to make the payment over the phone

This is a great way to get me to hang up on you.  If I can pay the balance over the phone, great.  I’m not going to pay you a fee for the “convenience.”  That’s not convenient – you can wait for the check I’ll mail out or for my online bank bill payer to transfer the money over.

5.  Don’t insist on knowing why the payment was late

Because I really don’t want to go into it so you can choose an option from a drop down menu on your account management software.  It’s also none of your business.  Your business is my payment history and whether or not you got your money.  You don’t need the sordid details of my life just to collect data for your analysts.

More than likely, in this economic climate, the customer had a choice.  Pay the electric bill or pay the credit card.  I’ll bet you they’ll pay the utility every time that choice comes up.

Moral of the story:  Your customers are everyday human beings.  Very few of them intentionally charged up the account with no intention of paying for it.  Deal with it and make sure your policies reflect it.  An amazing thing happens when you treat grown, civilized people like grown, civilized people:  they act like grown, civilized people.