Who pays when a third party makes a change and causes issues?

An ecommerce site we recently built included a payment gateway. When the site went live, and for 3 months afterwards the site functioned and processed payments as expected.
The payment gateway provider changed servers and to our knowledge did not notify the client.
The client rings us to say that visitors weren’t getting a payment success screen and so were trying a couple of times before giving up. Can we check it out?
So we spent literally 3 days going through all code trying to figure this out.
We send the client a bill. The client says that they will not pay it as it was not their fault and that we should send the bill to the payment gateway provider.

So should I send the bill to the payment gateway provider? What is standard in this sort of situation? Anybody else had this kind of thing happen to them?

You have a relationship with the client, they requested the work, they pay the bill.

If they feel their provider should cover the costs, that’s up to them to pursue but the provider did not ask you for a change nor do you have an agreement with them. If you bill the provider they will [literally] laugh at it. You wouldn’t bill facebook for a change to their api or icann for a change to dns.

Of course this should be covered in your agreement… when they make a request, you will proceed with it up to X hours at which point they would authorized a statement of work to cover a larger sub-project.

thanks Ted S. That’s reassuring and I felt the same but wasn’t sure how to go about it. I will amend my contract to cover this going forward.

Definitely send the bill to your client, they requested the work and it is them you have the relationship with. Although at this point TBH, I’d be seriously questioning that relationship, it’s fairly concerning that they would deem it acceptable for you to bill their provider directly.

Good advice, and also be careful to manage your clients expectations carefully. If you are doing billable work, you need to be clear with them that it’s billable work. If your client is not experienced with professional services (i.e. thinking you would work 3 days then somehow not bill them) you need to keep them posted at all times to manage their expectations. More experienced clients don’t behave like this, so start working your way up!

If a client called me with this type of issue and asked me to “check it out,” I’d done exactly that – spent a limited amount of time determining the cause, then got back to them with a cost. I wouldn’t have spent 3 days sorting through code unless we first agreed on the cost involved, and he gave me the go-ahead.

I’m assuming this didn’t happen in your situation, and that the client clearly didn’t expect “check it out” to mean “3 days of billable hours.” It’s very important to manage expectations up-front. When third parties are involved, clients don’t necessarily understand what falls under your realm of responsibility and what does not. (It’s a lot like the phone company telling you that your phone problems are caused by the wiring outside the house, and that they only cover the inside wiring … which tends to upset the majority of customers.)

And, yes, it’s a good idea to have a clause in your contact stating you’re not responsible for a third party modification to their site.

Agreed, the only thing you can really do is anticipate such situations and provide a useful error message. None the less, the thing will not work until new work is done. Perhaps something needs to be added to your contract specifying that when integrating with third parties it is the responsibility and at the cost of the client when something does not work due to a vendor change.