Effective Debt Collection Techniques

Getting paid on time by customers / debtors is an important component in the success of any company and debt recovery agency.

Handled effectively, telephone debt recovery calls are a great opportunity to remind the customer /debtor of the need to pay on time and can even be an opportunity to promote future sales. Handled badly, the same calls can alienate customers / debtors and cause friction between the credit / debt Recovery department.

Here are our ten tips to help credit & collection professionals make the most out of their debt collection calls:

Know your customer. Before you pick up the phone, make sure you know important facts about your customer, such as:

1) Are they a large, medium-sized, or small business? This is important because the size of the company will determine who your payment decision-maker will be. The smaller the company the higher the level of decision-maker. For example, in a very small business the payment decision-maker will probably be the president of the company or owner. In a medium-sized business try to reach the controller or general manager. In a large business your best target decision-maker may be the accounts payable manager or supervisor. Remember if you don't involve a decision-maker, don't expect a decision.

2) What is the debtors payment record with us? The history of the customer's payment record may help you understand why your account is past due. If they usually pay on time but have not on this occasion, there may be a dispute or grievance. In this instance, be sure to check with the customer that there is not a problem before you demand payment. If the payments are getting slower each month, your customer may have a cash flow problem and a more assertive approach may be needed.

3) Have a positive attitude. Calling customers / debtors and reminding them of their unpaid bill is not always a fun-filled task. But it never has to be an unpleasant experience. Be upbeat and professional. Your mood will be contagious. If you sound interested and enthusiastic about your job, you are much more likely to get a positive and satisfying result. Remember, if you don't sound interested in what you are saying, the other party will not be interested in hearing it.

4) Actively listen to debtors. As soon as you get through to your customer, listen, listen, listen! Be sure to listen to their name and to make a note of it for use during the call and for the next call if needed. Listen to the mood of your customer. Their mood will to some degree affect the pace and tone of the call. Listen to what they do say and what they don't say. Writing a cheque does not necessarily mean a cheque is being sent! Take notes and refer to existing notes. That way you will stay focused and be an active listener throughout.

5) Ask debtors the right questions. One of the most common questions asked by debt collectors is "When will you be sending a cheque?" It is also one of the dumbest questions because it abdicates control of the outcome. The only time to ask a customer when they plan to send a cheque is when you are not concerned by whatever date they give you. If all you are doing is cash forecasting, the question is fine, but if you are trying to facilitate fast payment it is the wrong question. A better question might be, "Will you be mailing the cheque today?" or less assertively, "Will you be sending payment this week?" In both of these examples you are still maintaining control of the time frame and are less likely to be manipulated by the answer.

6) Follow up the debt collection process progressively. Each debt recovery call to your customer should have a theme.

For example: Call #1. Benefit of the doubt. Remember some customers / debtors will pay you because you brought the matter to their attention.

Call #2. Firm and assertive. If the first style doesn't work, your next call will be designed to cause the customer to pay you to get you off their back.

Call #3. Tell them their future. Some customers / debtors will only pay when you explain the consequence of nonpayment. If you have to make a third call about a past-due bill, that is the time to apply this kind of pressure. At the outset of this call you should make sure you are aware of the consequences that you will use to negotiate on with the debtor. For example, you may be able to talk about the suspension of services, passing the account to a debt collection agency, taking legal action, recovering assets, or the effect that non-payment will have on their credit report.

7) Always keep your word with the debtor. Credibility is one of the most important aspects of a debt Recovery call. Your customer must always believe you mean what you say. If you promise action will be taken on a given date you must take that action, or don't say it. Also, be sure that other departments in your company support your actions. There is nothing worse than telling a customer a certain course of action will happen only to be overridden by another department or authority. Remember, when people know that you always do what you say you are going to do, they take you very seriously.

8) Always remain calm with the debtor . Do not allow an angry customer to aggravate you. Sometimes debtors think the best defense is a good offense. They will become angry in order to deflect you from your goal of getting paid. Do not be tempted into an argument. That just gives the customer a reason not to pay. Remain calm, be polite and stay focused. You are in the right. Ultimately, a firm but fair approach will get results.

9) Get a commitment from the debtor. Your ideal debt recovery call will get the customer to commit to pay in full today. If that is not possible, get a commitment to something! Any call that does not result in a commitment to pay is a wasted call. The only exception to this is with the true "Can't Pay Debtors". In those instances you should ensure you are provided with evidence of why they can't pay.

10) Summarise every part of the debt recovery process carefully. Did you ever receive a payment promise and the cheque didn't show up? If so, it may be that the customer forgot your call the moment they put down the phone or they decided you were not that concerned about the outcome. Never leave the customer unsure about your expectations. Summarize the agreement carefully, going over each point. If the solution was complex put your summary in writing.

And our bonus tip for debt recovery..........

11) Be effective, not efficient. Fifty debt recovery calls a day may be an efficient call rate, but if none of the debt recovery calls result in payment it was not an effective call rate. Quality rather than quantity is the key. Make each debt recovery call worthwhile and your success rate will be high.

Finally, remember that you are dealing with a customer and that, usually, you will want to do business with them again. Stimulate goodwill while collecting past-due bills and you will get paid, and get more business.

USEFUL DEBT COLLECTION RESOURCES: Use the links below to access useful debt recovery & credit management resources:

LEARN more about Debt Collection and access useful resources such as debt collection letters: Debt Collection Resources & Articles

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