Excuses are a dime a dozen, especially in the world of credit collection. While you may face one you have never heard before (“Our bank account was hit by an asteroid”), customers usually offer a standard set of excuses for which you can prepare. Here is a guide to five of the most common excuses for paying late and how you can handle them, without acting like a dreaded credit collector.
The check is in the mail
While the U.S. Postal Service does not publish its statistics on lost mail, consumer reports gave USPS a score of 90 percent nationwide. In other words, although the payment could have been lost in the post, there is a good chance this may just be an excuse. When making a credit collection, ask questions first: When and where was the payment sent? Was it sent via certified or first class mail? If the customer claims the check was posted more than a few days ago, it was either lost or never sent. Ask the customer to cancel the check and send another one via certified mail with a tracking number. At the end of your call, make sure to clarify that a follow-up call will ensue within the next two days. If you don’t want to run into this credit collection issue again, try to set up a direct debit agreement, in which the customer simply posts the payment right into a bank account. Otherwise, you can provide your customers with self-addressed envelopes. You may also want to consider accepting credit card payments, which carries a fee but provides important customer convenience.
We don’t pay on your collection schedule
You require collection in 30 days, but your customers tell you they pay on a 60-day schedule. Your credit collection call may require you to explain that the terms of payment are based on the seller’s conditions. To put it bluntly, you get to choose when you are paid, and they agreed to that choice when they made their purchase. To prepare for this credit collection call, pull out any relevant invoices, which should have the conditions of sale printed directly on them. Reiterate the date on the invoice, the stated payment schedule, the outstanding balance and how many days the customer is overdue. You might need to have the salesperson on hand to confirm that the conditions of the sale were clear. To prevent this misunderstanding during a credit collection call in the future, bill your customer right away and follow-up as soon as possible–even before the bill is due. Try offering incentives for paying early, to avoid conflict when the bill is not on time.
Our accountants have the books
Even if the accountants or auditors have the books, they are likely not holding the money. Engage the customer in a conversation during this credit collection call by finding out how they operate daily without the books. Chances are this line of inquiry will poke holes into the excuse. Be sure not to harass or hound the customer with suspicion, as that will aggravate the customer, not to mention violate the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. Stay polite and inquisitive as you ask the customer for the accountant’s contact information, as a step moving forward in the credit collection process. Finally, do not end the collection call without another confirmation of payment.
The company is liquidating
This is a particularly worrisome credit collection excuse, and you must go to every length to confirm the story. If possible, speak with the owner or manager and try to find out how far along the liquidation has progressed. Express sympathy while attempting to secure your payment. Find out the identity and contact information of the liquidator, and make an effort both with the customer and liquidator to ensure your claim is fulfilled. This credit collection call may have set off an entire process, and your job is to collect the payment as soon as possible, while you still can. You can find more information on collecting debt during liquidation on the financial information website Bankrate.com, which explains that credit collection varies according to the type of liquidation.
We are waiting for our customers to pay us
Small businesses frequently run into cash flow troubles, but the point is that you and the customer are in the same boat. Explain that you understand the absolute necessity of customer payment, which is why you are calling right now. In the course of the credit collection, reiterate that you cannot function as bankers, and unless the payment is received, you may need to suspend services or deliveries to this company. Go over your credit terms again, articulate the amount and length of time overdue, then expressly state that you are seeking full payment.