Over the last few months I’ve spoken to many business owners. Time and again I’ve encountered in them a crippling dislike of calling clients and chasing for payment. They’ll email the reluctant payer until the cows come home yet do all they can to avoid picking up the phone and speaking to them! Which leads me to wonder why that it is.
‘I’ve sent the invoice and several reminders but they still haven’t paid me.’
The thought of calling and asking for money is so uncomfortable that we hide behind electronic communications. Why? Because they’re easy and impersonal.
To talk to someone risks confrontation. It risks them saying ‘no.’ We can feel like the bad guy and believe that chasing for payment will somehow damage the client relationship. A recent study by Sage shows the UK to have a real stigma about chasing for payment.
For more on this see my guest blog, written by Jess Bloomfeld, Why you don’t like asking for payment – it’s all in the mind!
Electronic communications can also be convenient. You can send them at any time, working around your busy schedule. They can contain large amounts of information difficult to convey over the phone. You can even automate them.
There is an argument that social media is sabotaging real communication. Indeed, I’ve found that, as I’ve taken on new, younger, credit control staff over the past twenty or so years, it’s become ever harder to get them to use the phone rather than do everything by email.
The smartphone is now the most popular consumer electronic device. 85% of UK adults owned one in mid-2017. They’re loaded with all kinds of applications for our convenience. Via instant messaging, we use them for much of our casual communication these days. Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp or even the seeming now outdated text message make it so simple. So have we become disengaged from using the phone for its original purpose – to make calls?
If you’ve ever done any training around communication, you may expect me to cite Mehrabian’s ‘7%-38%-55% Rule’. This rule represents the relative yet significant effect of words, tone and body language (in that order) when speaking. Although much used in corporate training the study was, in fact, based on the communication of feelings and attitudes, rather than general communications.
That said, the Mehrabian study serves to remind us that communication consists of much more than mere words. Beyond words themselves there is a non-verbal communication – called paralanguage. Paralanguage comprises body language along with pitch and tone and manner of speaking – some or all of which may jar with the words being spoken. None of this can be gleaned/discerned from an email. Only by speaking to your customer, and listening to their tone of voice, can you decide if what they’re saying is genuine or if you’re being fobbed off.
But talking to your customers about late payment is not only for lie detection purposes. Effective credit control is all about relationships. It’s difficult to build relationships if you don’t talk to someone and get to know and understand them. A well-timed phone call can achieve what weeks of emails would not.
Electronic communications, and the humble snail mail too, have their place. They’re great for managing high volume low value debts for example – where you can send a series of automated emails or letters. But even then, you need to throw in that human connection to get real results.
Electronic communications should support our more direct communications not replace it. Use it to remind your customer of what you both agreed to do in your phone conversation.
Make the call
Pick up the phone, and make the call. The results may surprise you. If you’re struggling with knowing how to handle the call then check out our blog Six Top Tips for Chasing Overdue Debt for guidance
There are other options too – get someone else to do it for you. Outsource your credit control if you can’t bear to pick up the phone, or can’t find the time. The cost is far less than the cost of leaving it in your customer’s bank account!
Whichever option you choose – be consistent and do it well. Then we won’t have to mourn the death of the credit control call.
Want to know more about outsourcing your credit control? Then get in touch and let’s have a chat.