Friday Q&A: Can I Go After the Planner for an Unpaid Damage Fee?

Damages are the worst, #amiright? And then getting the client to pay for them is super frustrating! This week's Q&A is from Wendy about damages to a sofa and the chaos that ensued.

Check out this email we got about how to handle an unpaid damage fee: 

And then here’s the follow up:

Does this sound familiar? Kinda heartbreaking, right? When things are damaged, we want them to be made right. But we also want justice! That line “They are messing with the wrong girl. This is not ok.” resonates with so many of our clients. When customers don’t act fairly, we definitely want to react and stand up for what is right. While that desire for justice is admirable, it can be a double-edged sword in this business. 

Regarding an unpaid damage fee, Wendy asked:

Here’s my response to this sitch:

Just popping in here to answer your question. I’ve got a couple thoughts for you. 

I wrote a post about Dealing with Damages here. I also talk about damage policy options in this article. I hope you find each of those helpful. 

As to your specific situation, moving forward, I would definitely suggest that you encourage your clients to pay with credit card using the online payment pages within RW Elephant. That ultimately saves you time AND it allows you to save their credit card info on file so you can charge the same card for future damages. If you do that, you won’t run into the problem of not having the CVC (3 digit code) again. 

You also asked about “going after the planner” so I wanted to address that as well. I tend to encourage my clients to be as clear as possible with their customers about who their contract is with. If the contract/order is in the name of the planner and the planner is the one signing it, then I think your communication should be with the planner. If she has the customer pay directly, that’s fine but your contract is still with the planner and she is responsible for all of the details of the contract and ultimately for the terms if they are violated. 

However, in general, I advise my clients to do a few things in regards to damages: 

1. Be as clear as possible up front (during your sales process) using friendly language about your damage policy. Make sure everyone understands so there aren’t surprises later. You can use language like “We have a ‘you break it, you bought it’ damage policy so everything has to be returned in rentable condition. If, something happens at the event, we can take care of it. You’ll just be responsible for the cost of repairing it to rentable condition or replacing the item if it can’t be repaired.”

2. At the end of the event, have your crew take pictures of damaged items onsite at the venue (to show the items were damaged before they got back into the truck). Have the planner or another venue rep sign off on the Delivery Ticket acknowledging the damages at the venue before the truck gets loaded. 

3. Give yourself a gift; don’t take damages personally. In this business, things get damaged ALL THE TIME. The bride’s cousin’s date spills red wine on your white sofa. No one did it intentionally. Always imagine the best possible motivation; it was an accident and that the person was super sorry, but they just didn’t know who to apologize to. The bride didn’t know it happened. The bride didn’t even know the cousin’s date.

Give yourself a gift; don't take damages personally. In this business, things get damaged all the time.

You have to expect that a certain number of items will come back damaged each week. Have a professional cleaner on standby (or a standing Tuesday appointment), a carpenter ready to repair broken table legs once a week, and a staff member trained to repaint scuffed up items every Thursday. It isn’t personal. It is just part of the business.  

4. Since you’ve hopefully communicated clearly to the customer ahead of time, the collection process after the event should be easy. You simply go to the bride or the planner and let them know the total for the damaged items from the event. In the communication, be warm, friendly, empathetic, and clear. Include the pictures from your crew as well as the signature of the person who acknowledged the damages onsite.

Do this not to “prove your point” or “go after” the client, but so you can pre-empt questions, back-and-forth emails, and any confusion. Make sure your damage fees are fair (just covering the cost to repair or replace… not exorbitant or punitive). Make it convenient for the client to pay and be sure to tell them when the payment is due.

5. Internally, you should have a budget for $X per year in damages that you will write off. There are going to be situations when the client objects, the planner says “it didn’t happen that way,” it isn’t really clear if the item was damaged by a guest, by another vendor, or by your crew, etc.

In general, it isn’t worth it to ruin relationships with other event pros, otherwise-happy past clients, or potential future referral sources over a few hundred dollars. Small claims court is rarely worth the fight. Your time is too valuable and it takes up too many of your emotional resources for you to care that much about damages. 

Obviously there are exceptions to this rule and there are times when you need to hold a firm line. But I’d caution you to avoid being punitive or “standing for justice.” Most of the time letting the water roll right off your back and moving on to the next customer is better for your bottom line and for your soul. 

Focus on that loss prevention up front with clear policies and communication. Document everything along the way. Present the info in a thorough and friendly manner. And then move forward if the customer turns nasty. You don’t have to become nasty too. You’re better than that. 

Hope that helps!


P.S. You’ll be happy to know that her customer did pay the damage fee and she is moving forward. 🙂

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