(Editor’s note: In this guest post, Meredith Wood, Chief Community Officer at Funding Gates, offers tips to make more effective collection phone calls for your business. This is our first guest post, and we’re thrilled to kick things off in style!)
If you hate making collection phone calls, then this is an essential one to learn to make. Instead of waiting weeks to make the first phone call, get in the habit of calling a client the day after the payment was due. Handling collection calls right away will increase the chances that you have fewer calls to make in the future.
This phone call has a few simple rules that will make it less painful than later phone calls might be, and it has a good chance for success; most people don’t like paying their bills late. Give them the opportunity to right that wrong immediately.
A Few Guidelines
Having a routine for these day-after calls will make them easier on you.
1. Schedule the call. If your payments are generally due on the first of the month, schedule a small block of time every month on the second so you can’t procrastinate these calls.
2. Set a deadline. When can you PayPal me that payment? Don’t get off the phone until you and the client have come to an agreement on a set deadline for the payment. Make a note, and let them know that you are planning to follow up the day before that deadline.
3. Have solutions prepared. Try to anticipate reasons the client might give you for not paying. If they don’t have the money right now, find out when they get paid next and can send you a partial payment. In case they never got the invoice, have the details on hand and be able to email them a copy while you’re still on the phone. If they don’t have an envelope to send the payment, mail them one — whatever it takes.
4. Maintain control. You want to stay in control of the conversation. Planning ahead will help this, but so does eliminating distractions, standing or sitting up straight to project confidence, and smiling while you talk.
Sample Phone Script
Here’s an example of a sample collection call script that incorporates all of the above ideas.
You: I wanted to make sure you received my invoice last month. The payment was due yesterday.
Client: I didn’t get it. When did you send it?
You: I mailed it on the 4th so you should have gotten it that week. It’s invoice #347 for $4,000. I’ll email it to you right now. Does the firstname.lastname@example.org email address work best for you?
Client: That’s fine.
You: Great! When will you be able to mail me a check for this invoice?
Client: I actually don’t have the cash flow to pay it right now.
You: I see. When will you be getting your next payment?
Client: Not until the 10th.
You: That’s a Wednesday. Can you send me a check on Thursday the 11th?
Client: I won’t be able to pay the whole thing then.
You: What if you send me half the balance then and the other half at the end of the month?
Client: That might work.
You: Sounds good. I’ll mark down that you’re mailing me $2,000 on Thursday the 11th, and I’ll follow up with you that day, too.
Client: Okay, thanks.
Note how you were prepared for any questions the client had, with all the details of the invoice right in front of you. Despite several rounds of excuses, you were still able to reach an agreement.
Remain calm and professional throughout the call. Even if your customer gets upset or defensive, you need to maintain higher ground. Document the agreement you come to, and then schedule the follow-up call the same way you scheduled these initial past-due calls. Planning ahead will make these calls less painful.
This article was originally written on June 17, 2014 and updated on October 31, 2016.