March 19, 2013

How to collect a debt without losing your cool

People fail to submit payments to creditors for a variety of reasons. Some reasons are legitimate (“My mother passed away two weeks ago”), and some of them are not (“I’ve been busy, give me a call in a week”). When you’re facing a wall of excuses, surmounting all that phony posturing can wear you down. Here’s what you can do:

Make sure the customer is aware of the debt. This is an easy excuse to eliminate, because once you have them on the phone, they are fully aware of the obligation. One more call a week later should eliminate that excuse completely.

Create a sense of urgency. Be polite, but forceful. If the debtor changes the subject, or offers an excuse – the same one he used last month – bring on the deadlines. Some people fully intend to pay, but are foot-draggers, while others will intentionally stall.

Ask the customer to provide a date when the bill will be paid. If payment is not received by the time they’ve committed, call back that day. Repeat the process, but shorten the time between this call and the next. Give the customer five days, then call back. If it’s the same story again, the person is obviously stalling.

Make an appeal to reason. Politely explain why remitting payment would be a good idea. Don’t use threats at this stage. Be friendly, but persistent. If the person reveals a new reason for the late payment, make note of that. If it is just a stalling tactic, your careful documentation will eventually pin the debtor down. If that doesn’t work, appeal to emotion. If the debtor has not hung up on you, that’s a good sign. Thank them for being willing to talk to you and work with you on this issue.

Be persistent. Doggedly pursuing a past-due bill is the most effective way to collect. If all the person hears from your end is silence, it’s easy to put off the day of reckoning.

Lastly, be sure to document every phone call, email, and letter. Patterns often emerge, and eventually you will know if the person is telling the truth or willfully dodging a legitimate obligation. Don’t be discouraged. Even attorneys have collection problems. If you need a little help with a persistent delinquent account, contact a collection agency.

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