The collection call to an overdue customer may not be the favourite part of a credit controller’s job, but…it’s inevitable. Although it may be seemingly simple to pick up the phone and request payment, credit control phone calls require a great deal of strategy, tact, and empathy.
Think of a time when you asked your employer for a pay rise. Did you walk into your manager’s office and demand the money? Probably not. Because that’s a surefire way to sound unreasonable and to generate a defensive response.
Instead, you arrive prepared with facts, can pull out details and examples of how you’ve delivered, and you calmly communicate your expectations and intentions. You pick your timing. You have an honest conversation based on the positive relationship you’ve built over time.
Similarly, your collection call draws on many of these skills. As superstar communicators, credit controllers are at the front line of building relationships with customers, communicating honestly, presenting the facts, listening, and negotiating for a positive outcome for everyone.
Do collection calls even work?
At ezyCollect, we can confirm that the collection call works! In fact, our users who add a phone call to their communication plan to overdue customers have great success in collecting payment immediately following a telephone call.
Why? Because picking up the phone means avoiding the noise of your customer’s overloaded inbox. A phone call allows you to build a connection and most importantly, trust. That can be really tricky to do with text.
Done right, credit control phone calls can result in a prompt payment. Better still, the collection call is a prime opportunity to save a declining relationship with your buyer.
We’ve heard the feedback from ezyCollect users, and we’ve listened to it all. So, we have developed a guide to nailing the collection call, and some examples of what to say when making a collection call. This way, you can get straight into the most effective way to get the payments you deserve with your first-class telephone collection call skills!
Ensure that you speak to the right person in the business
First things first: In order to collect payment as efficiently as possible, ensure that you do your research and ask to speak with the right person in the business. That is the person who can take action to pay your invoices. This may be the business owner, the financial controller, or the external bookkeeper. Once on the line, introduce yourself by name and the company you are calling from. If you are leaving a message with someone in the business who has no function in accounts, don’t disclose that the call is about unpaid invoices. Simply request a call back by the end of the day.
It’s important to connect with your overdue customer by sharing your understanding. Connection helps to build trust between you and your customer. It opens up an honest dialogue. Practising empathy also allows you to regulate your own emotions so you don’t unwittingly unravel a payments conversation by reacting in haste or anger. Below is an example telephone collection call script that demonstrates how to express empathy when a customer is having trouble meeting their payment terms.
An example telephone collection call script:
Scenario: The customer doesn’t have the cash on hand to pay the bill in full.
Solution: Accept part payments over time.
Customer: I don’t have the money this week. I’ll pay soon.
You: I’m sorry to hear that. How’s business going?
Customer: (Explains reasons for cashflow shortage.)
You: Thank you for sharing that with me, I appreciate your honesty. It sounds like cashflow is tight. That’s tough to manage, we’re always trying to manage our cashflow, too. I’d love to keep you on as a customer; we’ve worked well together in the past. I think a payment arrangement would help us both. What do you think?
Customer: What does that mean?
You: It means we agree on part payments until the invoice is paid in full. That way we can both manage our cashflow better.
Customer: OK, let’s do that.
You: (Suggest your payment plan.) Thank you for committing to make those payments. I’m glad we could sort that out together. I’ll keep an eye for your first payment due tomorrow.
(Note: In ezyCollect’s online customer payment portal, your customers with a good track record of paying on time will have the option to responsibly finance their debt with a third party finance provider.)
Be a problem solver
Problem-solving is a large part, if not the main job, in a collection call. What this means is you’ll need to understand your business’ problem, and also your customer’s. Uncover problems by asking questions. Note that this is quite different to demanding answers!
Once you’ve understood your customer’s problem with paying, your next job is to eliminate the problem. While not every problem is within your control, you’ll be surprised how many are. That’s why ezyCollect, for example, is designed to eliminate the common obstacles buyers experience when paying their suppliers.
Many times, your own collections process is the problem. If you’re expecting a cheque, it’s too hard to pay you. If you don’t accept credit card payments, it’s too hard to pay you. If your customer must ring up your office to process a credit card payment, it’s too hard to pay you. Don’t panic, it’s not all bad. In fact, if your collections process is the problem, that’s good news because it means the solution is in your control.
Below is an example telephone collection call script that demonstrates how to offer a solution when your buyer is having trouble transferring money to you.
A sample telephone collection call script:
Scenario: The customer is not in the office to complete payment.
Solution: Add a Pay Now button to invoices so customers can complete payments online, from anywhere.
Customer: I’m travelling and not at my desk. I’ll pay when I’m back in the office.
You: You sound busy. Did you notice the Pay Now* button on our invoice? If you click that you can pay online with a credit card at any time.
You: With that in mind, can you please let me know when you can complete the payment? I’ll keep an eye out for it.
Customer: I’ll pay today.
You: Thank you, I really appreciate that. I’ll make a note in our system that we spoke. And please send in your feedback about our online payments system. We implemented it to make payments easier for customers like you who don’t get a lot of desk time. I’d love to know how it works for you. Thanks and have a great day.
(*With ezyCollect’s online payments, you can add Pay Now buttons on your invoices and reminders so customers can self-serve to click and pay online, 24/7.)
A collections call may be a dreaded task in credit management but it shouldn’t be. In fact, when done with care and consideration, your collection call is a fantastic opportunity to build a better relationship with your customer, or to save a deteriorating relationship.
- Your skills in listening, empathy and negotiation are crucial to executing a successful collection call.
- Learn to be comfortable with silence, and listen deeply in order to pay attention to what is said and what is not said. Be mindful of your customer’s tone and language and listen with the intention to understand and solve the problem.
- Negotiate for a win-win outcome. A good negotiator can express their position and reasoning clearly, seek a variety of solutions to the problem, collaborate not dominate, persuade not manipulate, act decisively, and reliably follow-through.