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Thwarting threats on collection calls



Dear Thea,

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How do you respond to a customer who threatens to “tell on you” to their salesperson? I have a customer who, anytime I call for past due payment information, responds with threats of telling on me or asking if I know who they are. Of course I know who they are; I have to call them for every dollar. No matter what I say, they just rant. Then my sales rep calls to let me know I upset the customer. Seriously?

— Are you kidding me in Kansas

Dear Kidding,

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The secret to change is to focus all your energy, not in fighting the old, but on building the new. Yes, Grasshopper, that is your Zen thought of the day. But there is advice in that trite Pinterest quote. If you know how this particular customer responds every time you call them, build a better mousetrap.

Start by enlisting the aid of said sales rep. Explain that you both have a challenge in this customer and an opportunity to make it a more pleasant experience for everyone if we can find an approach that doesn’t set them off like homegrown fireworks at Fourth of July—all noise and commotion without the pretty sparkly lights.

Find out what the issue is. Are the terms for this customer set for success? Is there a better time of day to call? Would they prefer an email or text to a phone call? What are the objections to your call? Is it you?

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Yep, I went there. As a person who has spent her life collecting money, I understand. We had a deal. I delivered product on the day and time you requested. I expect you to pay your bill in kind. I was not one day, one week, or five weeks late with the delivery, nor was I asking you to understand that “it is what it is” or “you have to work with me.” I lived up to my end of the deal. So, Sporty, why do I have to chase you?

Even though my goal is to be paid that way, it is not, however, my reality. When do you start calling for that payment? I have a seven-day rule. I don’t reach out until we are at least seven days past due. That gives time for the clinging-to-life-support check float. With payment portals and credit cards, the float is for all intents and purposes well past the extinction point, but it hangs on like the relative at a family potluck.

How about meeting the customer face to face if possible? Most people are pretty brave on calls, emails, texts, and social media, but when confronted with a living, breathing human, they remember they are one as well. Sit down with the customer and ask what you can do to help make this portion of the relationship a win/win. Maybe another on your team can be tagged in to see if they can connect with this one.

There is always the possibility that this customer is just one of those that is beyond help. It happens. If you try everything and still get nowhere, you may have to accept this is how this person operates. Work what magic you can, do you job, and bless their heart when you hang up. They obviously need it.

Taking the focus off the dread of calling this customer and looking for ways to build a new approach changes the game. The goal is to get your money collected while keeping the customer. Change your thinking; at least your mental state will improve.


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