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Sep 01 2017
Do I Dare Ask That Question?
Shane Inglesby, CCE, Geneva Rock Products, Inc.

If there's one thing credit managers crave its information. We pull credit reports, we call trade references, we attend trade groups, and we talk with business owners and employees. We want as much information as possible to make better informed decisions to help minimize our company's risk as we extend credit to businesses.

Once an account is approved, often our work as credit managers has just begun. We must continue to keep tabs on our customers to ensure there are no unexpected changes in a company's condition, character, collateral, capital and/or condition. Sound familiar? That is a lot to stay on top of especially when you consider companies may have hundreds, if not thousands, of accounts to track.

The tools made available to credit managers from NACM are invaluable and cannot be underestimated. However, one tool that requires no additional cost is one that is frequently overlooked...our mouths.

We need to be on top of our game when we have these interactions. Even though information is being given, at times the information may not be clear or complete. As credit managers, we cannot be afraid of asking follow-up questions. We cannot have the attitude that having a customer that is willing to talk is sufficient. We must be willing to fully develop the conversation and receive needed clarity. Sometimes this understanding will only be achieved by asking a follow-up question.

As you are visiting with a customer, if, for any reason, you are still unclear about what has been stated, do not be shy about asking for a clearer picture of what is going on. If you find yourself making an assumption based upon what has been given, clarify with the customer and ask if your assumption is correct. A plainly stated question will allow a customer to better explain what is going on and what you as a creditor can expect.

Interactions with customers, especially when there are concerns about payment plans, are not a passive endeavor. Credit managers must be their most attentive when these conversations take place to pick up on even the most subtle reference as to why a company is behaving the way it is. Whenever there is a lack of understanding, a credit manager must have the willingness to ask the next logical question...as tough as it might be.

Asking a tough follow-up question or clarifying perceptions communicates to customers that a creditor requires understanding to make a better-informed decision in how to work with the account. Do not misinterpret, using this approach does not mean you should come across to the customer as the grand inquisitor that is demanding information. The tone of such questions is vital to have a productive conversation. Following up or clarifying questions should be phrased in a way that sounds conversational and not confrontational.

Defaulting to questions that start with "Ihelps take the focus away from the customers behavior and demonstrates a willingness on your part to try and understand. "To make sure I understood, is this what I heard...?"

Conversations with customers regarding payment can be challenging. These types of visits require great attention to detail through active listening. Anytime the information provided is questioned, credit managers cannot be shy in asking needed follow-up questions to ensure better understanding. Improved conversation and questioning skills will help credit managers make better informed decisions.