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How to Deal with Late Payment Excuses – #1 Accounts are Too Busy to Talk to You!

This is the first in a series of blogs that explore the different reason or excuses you may come across for late payment. How do you know if it’s a genuine reason or an excuse? What action will you take?

Are they Really Too Busy?

It can be frustrating when you call only to be told that the person you want to talk to is too busy to talk to you. Same goes for when you always get their voicemail.

It’s quite a common response from smaller businesses when the person responsible for paying the bills wears more than one hat in the business. There isn’t an accounts team, just a person who does the accounts and they are probably focused on one of their other responsibilities at the time you call if you get this response.

Accounts Payable teams in some larger organisations don’t take calls at certain times of day because they are focused on other, time critical tasks, such as query management or the payment run.

Unfortunately though, sometimes it’s just an excuse to avoid talking to you.

Avoidance

Why might they want to avoid your call? They probably know you’re ringing to ask for payment. There are lots of possible reasons, here are just a couple to think about.

It could be that they’re covering up an oversight, something they were supposed to do but forgot. Your message will serve as a reindeer and you will probably received payment shortly after.

They could be embarrassed. Embarrassed that they don’t have the money to pay you but don’t want to have to admit that. Trying to bury their head in the sand in the hope that the situation will resolve itself soon. Worried that if they tell you you’ll stop supplying them. We’ll talk more about this scenario in another blog.

What should you do?

It’s easy to feel that you’re being fobbed off and that it’s not a legitimate reason. But there will be instances, like those mentioned above, when they really can’t talk to you at that time. You need to ask questions to get to the truth but remember never outright accuse a customer of being a liar!

It’s not up to you to make sure they’re not “too busy” to pay their bill. That’s up to your client’s management.

What you can do is check if this is a one-off situation or a regular ‘we’re not taking calls’ time and establish when would be the best time to call.

Get a specific contact name, a direct dial or mobile number and email address. Whilst we shouldn’t rely on electronic communications for collections activity it’s sometimes a useful way to get attention. Text messages are often good for those clients who are probably out and about working in the business.

Leaving A Message

When you leave a message requesting a call back put a time limit on it. If someone else is taking the message, ask them when their colleague will be able to return your call. If they can’t give you an answer, or if you’re talking to voicemail, leave a message such as “If I haven’t heard back from you by 3pm tomorrow, I’ll be back in touch”. This gives your client a deadline to focus on. It’s easy to consider tasks with no deadlines as unimportant and delay them in favour of something we feel is a higher priority. It also helps your client to appreciate you are serious about talking to them about payment.

Follow up by email to confirm you are looking forward to their call, reiterating the deadline. Diary the deadline and don’t forget to call again if the deadline passes with no contact from your client. Don’t do as you say you will, and your client will quickly learn that it’s not that important to you.

Consider the first scenario again. If the owner manager of the business is the one who makes the payments, they may well prefer email that can be dealt with outside of normal working hours.

Try calling on different days and at different times.  Keep a record of the days and times you call so you don’t waste your time repeating the same ones. A good indication your customer is either stalling or incredibly disorganised is when you get the same excuse no matter when you try to call!

Escalate!

If the accounts person is not taking your calls, don’t be afraid to escalate. Try talking to their Manager, the FD or another Exec. Ask whoever you are speaking to or use your sales teams’ relationship with the buyer to get information on the customers hierarchy. Again, get names, direct dial and mobile phone numbers and email addresses. Sometimes just asking for this information will be enough to “un-busy” the right person.

If they won’t give you the information you could try looking it up on their website. If it’s not there, call reception and leave a message for the Manager, FD or CEO. They may not be the one to call you back, but they may go and ask their accounts team why they are being hassled about an invoice!

In the end persistence is key. Regular and frequent. Just trying to call once a week will not be enough.

At Confident Cashflow we can provide training to help you get the best results from your credit control efforts, or you can ask us to do it for you. To find out more please get in touch.