By Dean Kaplan+
Debt collections happen in almost every operating business. They are just part of the business landscape. In today’s tough economy, customers may be having more trouble than normal paying their debts. When invoices aren’t getting paid, it may be time to hire a commercial collection agency to help get these debts paid. Commercial collection agencies are experts in business to business debt collection. As in every industry, there are good ways and bad ways to perform debt collections. Here are some ways to increase your success.
Be Prepared. Before you make the initial contact with a delinquent customer, make sure you know everything you can about the customer. Make copies of all invoices, contracts, and any other information that will help you speak knowledgeably, professionally and personally with the customer.
Document Everything. While talking to the customer about the outstanding debt, take careful notes about everything that was discussed, including the customer’s comments in case there is a future debt dispute. If your company has tracking software, input everything into the system while the conversation is fresh in your mind. Over time, continue to add any additional details to your file to keep it as up-to-date as possible.
Don’t Assume Anything. When making your initial debt collection call, quickly make sure that the debt has in fact not been paid. Don’t alienate the customer. Remember there may be potential future business with the customer. The debt in question could be a mistake and not a collection problem at all. Be careful with your tone and your words at this point. Wait and listen to what the customer has to say, and be sure to document the interaction carefully and accurately.
Be Pleasant and Control Yourself. The tone you take with your voice can impact how successful the conversation will be. If you start off the conversation with a friendly, non-confrontational tone, the customer may respond more positively. Once you have confirmed that you are speaking to the correct person about the unpaid invoice, ask if you can do anything to help. Ask if they need any additional information. If you act like you care or can understand the debtor’s side of the story, you may be able to prevent the person from becoming defensive. However, remain detached from the situation. Your job in debt collections ultimately is to collect the debt in full as soon as possible.
Avoid Confrontation and Manipulation. Attempt to find out if the debtor’s excuse for not paying is legitimate. For example, if the person blames the non-payment on someone else, confirm this is true or false by contacting the other person. Listen carefully to what the person is telling you, and get a sense of whether the person is being honest with you. Often, your gut feeling will be right on.
Put a Stop to Anger or Harassment. Always try to stay calm even if the debtor becomes abusive during the contact. If this happens, you might suggest calling back later. No matter what, always listen carefully to what the customer tells you and try to keep the dialogue constructive as much as you can. It’s important to let the debtor feel he is making progress.
Give Options. If a customer is having trouble paying off debt, it might be possible for him to make payments over time. Try to work out a plan that will work for both the customer and your client. The goal is to get the customer to pay the entire debt as quickly as possible. Listen carefully and offer options until something workable is defined.
Recap the Terms. Once a payment plan has been agreed to, verbally summarize the plan for the debtor. This summary should include specifics of when the debtor will send each payment, and what form of payment will be used. Then document it in writing via email, fax or letter. Ask the debtor to call or e-mail you once a payment has been sent.
Keep Communicating. Even if the debtor can’t pay right away, it is always important to keep communications going. He may be able to pay in the future, and by talking to the debtor and really listening to what he has to say, you may be able to help him figure out a way to start paying sooner. While the older a debt becomes, the harder it is to collect, sometimes circumstances change and payment may become possible.
Debt collections are common, especially in difficult economic times. Using these collection techniques should increase your odds of success. But, if all this effort doesn’t result in getting paid, you may want to use the services of a reputable collection agency.
For more information on debt collection strategies, check out our post on Basic Strategies To Promote Debt Collection Success.