Collect an Overdue Account – Keep a Customer!

Customer Satisfaction Blue Grey Squares“Customer satisfaction” is probably most often associated with a sales process or a product or service purchased by a consumer. Unfortunately, it is also something creditors can be afraid of losing when it comes to collecting on overdue accounts. Small business owners are likely to feel the most fear of losing a customer when it comes to actively collecting overdue accounts via a collection agency or litigation. And yet, they can’t stay in business unless they get paid!

My Personal Experience

Before becoming the Editor for The National List, I worked for a computer software company that specialized in contacting solutions for the debt collection industry. Part of my job involved planning conferences for our users. A popular agenda item was always a discussion of strategies for successfully collecting debt without losing clients, either for one’s collection business or for the business who had assigned accounts for collection. Through those conferences and by attending conferences sponsored by the debt collection industry, I learned that the most successful collection departments, agencies and attorneys are usually the ones who consider themselves to be helping debtors find ways to pay their overdue accounts, and thus remain loyal customers.

I had a similar feelings when in 2013 The National List published white papers on each state’s debt collection laws. As each paper was added to our website, we published a blog on the attorney who wrote it that appeared on InsideARM.com. During the process, I had the pleasure of interviewing a collection attorney from every state. One of my standard questions was, “What do you like most about your job?” In many cases, the answers were inspiring! In fact, when my son, Spencer Lythgoe, graduate of William and Mary Law School (proud mother), was trying to decide whether to accept a position with a debt collection law firm, I compiled a list of these NL Member quotes for him that I still have on file.

I remember that one of Spencer’s initial concerns was that he would have to be “mean” to be successful. Just yesterday, I asked if I could quote him in this blog stating how he feels now as an attorney working for Cannon Law Associates, a National List Member. Here’s what he said: “I have found that my interactions with consumers go much more smoothly and I get better results when I treat the consumers with kindness and respect. Plus, some of my clients want to retain the consumer as a customer after the debt is collected, so for that reason, it is also important to treat interactions with consumers as if I am providing customer service in an ongoing relationship.” 

Here are some of my favorite quotes from my interviews with other NL Member attorneys:

  • Morgan Doughty, U of AK: “Interestingly enough, debt collection has taught me to be more compassionate towards people, and that there truly are people out there that have experienced unforeseen, devastating events that resulted in them being in overwhelming debt. I’ve learned to treat every interaction with a debtor or his or her counsel with no preconceived notions. Every case is unique and as such, must be handled in a unique way.”
  • Chris Couch, LSU: “Many people want to satisfy their obligations with my clients. Working with my clients to make that happen is extremely rewarding. I love getting a thank you note from the opposing party stating how glad they are to have satisfied their obligation with my client and thanking me or a member of my firm for treating them with respect.”
  • Mark Moore, GA State Law School: “Over the years, I have found that, for the most part, debtors truly want to pay the money they owe. I enjoy finding unique ways to locate and collect money for my clients from debtors who refuse to work with the creditors amicably.”
  • Marvin Dang, GWU Law School: “Occasionally, I have gone to local stores where the cashiers, after learning my name, have told me that they had owed money on an account that my law firm was handling, and that they were satisfied with how the situation was resolved. I tell this story to my law firm team to emphasize that we must always treat the debtors in a civil and professional manner, and we must ensure that any resolution of their accounts is done on a ‘win-win’ basis.”

 At The National List, we have the ability to refer you to an attorney who will meet your needs, including your client’s desire to keep a loyal customer who may have fallen on hard times and can’t pay a debt—a professional who is much more likely to engage the debtor in a way that will leave the door open to the possibility of working together in the future, as well as making sure the debtor is treated with dignity.

Other Tips for Collecting without Losing a Customer

An excellent article titled, “How to Collect What You Are Owed without Sacrificing Customers” appeared here: https://www.dandb.com/smallbusiness/5-practical-tips-for-collecting-on-overdue-accounts/. The author’s main point is that how you attempt to collect a debt can have a big impact on whether or not you retain that customer. I encourage you to read the entire article, including the explanation that goes along with his “five practical tips that may be able to help you collect what your business is owed.” These tips are applicable to first-party creditors, third-party collection agencies and law firms:

  1. Understand and Accept that Bill Collection Is a Process
  2. Practice Patience
  3. Be Confident, but Not Arrogant
  4. Listen to the Customer
  5. Keep Your Eye on the Prize—Focus on a Win-Win Situation

All of the attorneys quoted above surely have mastered numbers 4 and 5. They listen to the debtors and find out the reasons why they are behind on their accounts, such as illness, unemployment, some kind of crisis or simply the inability to wisely manage their finances.

A win-win solution may take the form of education, financial counselling and, or where appropriate, working out a mutually acceptable payment plan to clear the debt. Every situation is different. A long-time client who suddenly becomes delinquent may have a problem that can be worked out without upsetting your relationship. A new client who does not pay may require action that will keep a relationship from developing at all.

An experienced collection agency or law firm may be able to collect difficult accounts more quickly than the creditor and still keep a relationship intact. While you don’t want to destroy any potential or established business relationships, you still have to be in control of your accounts receivable and your cash flow.

In Summary

A quote from one of our member attorney’s seems to sum up this topic nicely:

Lee C. Rogers, NC C. U. Law School: “I don’t think anyone sets out to be a debt collector or a collection attorney….But I have found that every day brings something new and interesting and real opportunities for learning and development. It is an area of law where you are providing a tangible, measurable service to your client, helping them to achieve the goal of increasing their collections and assuring that consumers are treated fairly and with dignity.”

 by Marti Lythgoe, Editor

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Categories: business debt, Business Relationships, Customer Service, Debt Collection, NL Insider

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