Making the dreaded call

Brian O'Connor
The Basics

Many credit controllers and business owners will often be anxious about making calls to their customers to chase them up for payment. Even the most experienced credit controller rarely looks forward to having to make that call. For many, it can be the worse part of the job, as depending on the customer it can often consist of being fobbed off, deliberately lied to or just constantly given the run around.

However calling your customers remains the most effective method of debt recovery.  It allows you to interact with your customer on a more personal level, it allows you to better judge the situation and make more appropriate decisions.

Most customers will generally pay once they have been prompted. They could have genuinely forgotten or even if they have deliberately left your invoice out of the payment run, a simple phone call from you will typically encourage them to make sure it is included the next time. There will however always be customers that will deliberately try to withhold payments for as long as possible and these are by far the most challenging calls to make.

The secret to managing these type of calls is all in the preparation!

Set some time aside

Rather than having an adhoc approach to only making calls when you have some spare time, is it so much better to plan and put some time aside specifically to make the calls. For example maybe one hour at the same set time each day. Make sure you colleagues know that this is what you are doing and that you are not to be disturbed during this time.  This will allow you to focus all of our attention on the task at hand.

The right time of Day

The next step is to carefully choose the time of day that you are going to make your calls.  This should be a balance between the time of day that you feel most effective and a time of day that you know your customers will be available to take your call.  For example most credit controllers will generally not make calls first thing in the morning.  They allow themselves time to  prepare for the calls, they check bank balances to see what payments might have come in during the night, they reconcile accounts and they check and respond to any emails.

The right number of calls

Making an endless number of calls in one sitting is always going to be difficult, regardless of your level of expertise.  Maintaining your energy and enthusiasm is going to be your biggest challenge, particularly if the calls are in any way difficult. It is much easier t set a defined number of calls that you know you can make and still maintain the level of energy required to manage that call.  That number could be 10 or might be 20, only you will know the number that works best for you.

The toughest calls first

Another useful trick is to tackle the most difficult calls first.  These are the customers that you know will not be easy either because they constantly delay payments or make false promises.  Its always best to tackle these types of calls while you are fresh.  As the number of calls progresses and your energy diminishes you should switch to the easier customers.  It's all about matching your energy levels to the call difficulty.

Be mindful of your tone

All companies have different types of customers, from good payers to sensitive accounts, from habitual delinquents to customers with endless excuses.  Having a distinct tone for each customer will greatly increase your chances of debt recovery.  Knowing when to be assertive as opposed to persistent will make you appear much more professional and more importantly… control!

Have the right information to hand

Phoning an awkward customer to chase a payment is very much like a negotiation, you want to be paid…..and they want to delay payment.  One of the key tactics in winning any negotiation is to maintain control of the conversation, and one of the best ways to achieve this is to be in possession of all the facts.  That way you can quickly and confidently refute any claims that the customer might use ion an attempt to avoid or delay payment. Information such as what was agreed the last time you spoke, the order or invoice details, notes, and a history of previous communications (including details such as dates, time and content) will help you to maintain control over that call.  Chances are that your customer will not have kept that level of detail and as such you should hold the upper hand.

Following these simple steps should help you with your customer calls.  Try it and let us know how you get on.

photo credit: Eckhard Hoehmann on Unsplash

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