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May 01 2019
Choosing Our Credit and Collection Words Wisely
Stephanie Johnson, CCE, Gritton & Associates

My phone rang last week with a call from a vendor (shall we call him Tim? Not his real name) who was looking for payment status on a past due invoice. Now, being in collections and knowing what a hard job it can be, I try really hard to make sure that our company bills are paid as close to terms as possible. But like everyone else, some invoices slip through the cracks. I looked in our accounting system and my email for the errant invoice. Nothing. I told Tim that I did not have it in my folder and asked if he could please resend? His response floored me.

"I sent the invoice on [date] and I think you are not being honest that you do not have it."

I paused letting that sink in. I asked Tim if he just disparaged my integrity and called me a liar? He said, "Yes, because I sent it." Harsh, Tim. Harsh! Now, Tim doesn't know me. He has never had to call me before now looking for payment status. I grabbed the stress ball on my desk, took some deep breaths, reminded myself how a professional speaks, and finished the call with Tim.

As collectors and credit professionals, we have a choice every time we pick up the phone. We can be positive and try to work with our customers, or we can ruin someone's day. I am confident that Tim did send the invoice. I am also confident that there are Gremlins in the internet that sometimes grab our emails before they can arrive at their intended destination. I am confident that I did not receive this particular invoice. I am also confident that I do not need to speak with Tim any time soon.

When I was made the credit manager at my company, and subsequently needed to start making collection calls, I put a post-it note on my phone that said: "Smile, then dial" It worked ... mostly. I have many great phone relationships with customers who just sometimes need a little extra time to pay. I often need to remind myself when making calls that I have the great power to help the person on the other end of the call, or I can spew my "Tim-like" bile and ruin their day.

The following collection call outline has worked for me:

  • I ask the person how their day is going. Small talk asking about something I have learned of interest about them in the past.
  • I let them know I have an older invoice outstanding and I want to make sure they have a copy.
  • If they don't, I resend it.
  • If they do, I ask if there is a reason for the delay in payment.
  • I verify that our customer email/mailing address are up to date.
  • Whenever possible, I offer help with payment options if they need time.
  • I give a date when I will follow up with them, and then I follow up on that date.
  • I send a follow up email with notes from our phone call to make sure that we have an understanding in writing.
  • Always, taking detailed notes on what is discussed to refer to at a later date if needed.

Now, my circumstances might be very different than yours. My industry might be different than yours. My method might be different than yours. This outline might not work for you. You will find the best fit for you and your organization.

I dare say that most of us want kind human interactions. As collection and credit professionals we can choose how we treat our customers. Our words matter. Our attitude matters. And a little effort to choose kind (but appropriately firm) words can make the collection process a tad more bearable for those on both sides of the call.