Receivable/Accounts - Information for Credit and Collection Issues

Monday, March 25, 2013

What I've Learned From Commercial Collections

Since I started at Kingston Data and Credit almost a year ago (has it been that long already?), I have been assigned some commercial clients to represent.  I’ve found that handling collections files for companies needs a different touch then the ones we normally use for consumer file. The way a collector talks to someone about budgeting their finances to pay back their old loan is not the same approach needed when handling the outstanding invoices owed by companies, to companies.

The biggest difference I’ve seen between commercial and consumer collections is the level of information you communicate. When calling a consumer, even implying you are calling about a debt to a spouse is against the Collection Agencies Act. With commercial collections, the fact that there is a debt owed isn’t a secret and all the doors are open. With small businesses, this can work well as a means of getting the message to the owners quickly. If they happen to not be the ones answering the phone when you call, you'll likely get someone who will relay the information to management directly, and get you in touch with the right people. In larger corporations, an outstanding collection account requiring multiple messages with employees can result in a "water-cooler effect", and the principals in authority can reach right back out.  The trick is motivating the company as a whole to respond, and in a positive manner.

Knowing who to ask for when calling a company factors in to successful commercial collections.  With a ‘Ma & Pa’ business, asking for the owners is typical and not unusual.  With large businesses, however, receptionists are taught to flag and weed out telemarketing calls from the legitimate ones, and some approaches can seem phony and sales-y. Using a serious tone and not sounding too pleased to be calling can keep you from being pegged as a sales call. Be firm but understanding, and try to relay the seriousness of the debt without scaring or bullying anyone into forwarding the message. If asked, explain everything to the receptionist -- the more they know, the more they can relay, and the higher likelihood that the seriousness of the call will come across in their message.

The most important thing to remember is that reception is just a messenger, and we all know that firing at them doesn't get the message sent any quicker. Using an aggressive or assertive tone with the first person who answers the main phone at a company usually takes you several steps backwards. Once you've explained why you're calling, they'll understand this has nothing to do with them personally, and they're likely to just brush off the message you're trying to leave. If the person taking the message feels you left them with a sour taste, the real tone of the message won't come across, if it's delivered at all. A negative, consequence-driven approach will flop your efforts completely. Remember that employees are just as much at the mercy of the CEO returning the call as you are. Reception doesn't want to keep taking messages as much as you don't want to keep leaving them, so be patient and your efforts will pay off.

What I've learned from handling commercial collections in the last while has been valuable in helping me bump up my consumer collection skills, as well as hone my new-found commercial knowledge. Being personal helps immensely; when people feel like they're talking to someone who is taking the time to actually listen and is personally involved, they respond in a more positive way. This could make all the difference in the call ending with payment terms. With small business owners, understand that the economy isn't apt for helping them thrive, and they likely have a lot of expenses CEOs of large corporations don't even notice. When dealing with large companies, remember that the receptionist is just as much an employee as you; their position doesn't mean they get to be the target of every angry collection call.

This is what I’ve learned so far – what do you have to share?  Feel free to post a comment below, or contact me directly at 226-782-9961.

Renée Wilson
Kingston Data and Credit
Cambridge, Ontario

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