How to Collect Debts Over the Phone

Michael L Todd
August 6, 2012 — 1,349 views  
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Probably the best way to get immediate feedback from a debtor is to call them on the phone. And one of the most important skills needed when doing this is to listen. If you apply these ten listening skills - and keep accurate notes of your calls - you'll be able to hear the little intakes of breath, the slightly longer than normal silences as the debtor struggles to give you a reasonable reply to a point raised. It is often such little clues as those that are the best lie detectors of all that will help to get your accounts paid on time.

There are ten main things to remember when calling on the phone that will help you to really listen to what they have to say. It's often the things that are NOT said that can give you a clue to the real reason why they are not paying your account. "I haven't got a copy of the bill", could really mean, "I'm waiting for my tax return to come in before I can pay".

The real reasons, then, are often disguised in other words or silences. There is no clear-cut way of finding out the truth, you have to apply intuition and everyday people skills when discussing an account with someone but there are a few guidelines to apply that will give you better odds at finding out what is really being said. 

  • Take notes.
  • Do not keep talking.
  • ASK - ask - ask.
  • Use Silence.
  • Forget your own problems.
  • I see... Yes... Umm.
  • Never use emotion.
  • Do not respond to baiting.
  • Have an open mind.
  • Listen for reactions.

Take Notes

As you are discussing things with the debtor take notes, albeit brief (you don't want your note-taking to become a distraction in itself!)

Don't Keep Talking

You want to hear them, what they have to say and you will never be able to do so if you are monopolizing the conversation. So don't talk, let them fill the silence.

Ask - Ask - Ask

Keep asking questions. If you aren't satisfied with any points they are making, keep asking questions until you are clear.

One day, I was told that the debtor had only just come back from her holiday and that was the reason that her account hadn't been paid. "I'm sorry, I don't understand", I replied. Her account, it turned out, was over three years old. One could hardly say that our client had been dogged in their pursuit of this debt. And because we'd kept probing, we found out that her excuse, which sounded quite reasonable on first hearing, wasn't that good either!

Use Silence

This is a killer technique. Whoever talks first, loses. It is one of the most useful telephone techniques around. People generally hate silences and feel that they have to fill the void.

Forget Your Own Problems

How can you give 100% attention to someone else when you are thinking about your own problems? Of course, the answer is - you can't. So, if something is that important that you can't forget it - don't phone. Get someone else to. Get your own problem sorted out as soon as you can or just give it away for the day and come back to it later.

I see... Yes... Umm

These simple interjections into a conversation will make the speaker extend what's being said. I suppose it's similar to using silence without being so uncomfortable. By agreeing with the speaker, or at least appearing to do so by saying such short phrases, he is more likely to "open up" to you and give you the truth - or let it slip out!

Never Use Emotion

The best way not to get to the truth, to the reason why your account hasn't been paid, is to 

  • raise your voice,
  • use sarcasm,
  • laugh at a ridiculous excuse you're given, or
  • abuse the client.

Yet how often is this done when the creditor is chasing payment on the phone? Rules 1 - 10 in collection are all the same - Never use emotion.

Don't Respond to Baiting

If the debtor is rude to you and tries to bait and goad you into an argument, back down. Tell him you will call back later. Try to get back to an adult to adult conversation, but whatever you do, do not be rude back. If you do, you will give the debtor a reason for not paying - he could truly say (in self-justification) that you were rude to him. And that's now why he isn't paying the account.

Have an Open Mind

You will sometimes hear someone tell you what you believe is a ridiculous excuse for not paying your account. Keep an open mind. What seems ridiculous to you may be a quite genuine reason to the client. Hear them out, ask questions and keep probing until you can understand their excuse and then try to help them get over it so you can be paid.

Listen for Reactions

Any of these sound familiar?

Debtors Phone answers

Someone says --- "Hold just a second please".

In the background you hear "Fred. It's calling about your account. What do you want me to say?".

A pause.

A different voice, "Say I'm not in".

"I'm sorry. is in a meeting. Can I take a message for you?"

Debtor

"Oh, I'm so sorry. I totally forgot to pay. I'll fix it up today."

Debtor

"Oh XXXX"

Debtor

"Can I say who's calling?"

Long pause. Muffled background noises.

"I'm sorry. I thought that he was in. Apparently he's just stepped out. Can I get him to call you back?"

Listen. It's amazing what you'll pick up by what you aren't told!! Click here to read more about Successful Telephone Collection Skills Technique.

Note from the author.

Have you ever wondered why a client does business with you and then ignores your invoice like they had no intention of paying it in the first place or they treat you like their own personal line of credit, leaving YOU dangling, waiting months for their payment? Unfortunately this situation is all too common and can even be puzzling for the most experienced business owner. If you've ever had to handle outstanding accounts or you are just so over non-payers, then our blog, "Chasing Slow Payers" - http://chasing-slow-payers.blogspot.com - is for you.

Real-world skills, solutions, tips & strategies to get more accounts paid on time, and, most importantly, how to maintain customer goodwill while keeping YOUR cash flow in the positive.

I've been involved in the management of accounts for over 30 years, heard every excuse in the book, can spot a non-payer at 20 paces. Finance Companies in the 70's (systematic, tough) professional firms in the 80's (no systems, too gentle) and, since then, just about every other sort of business you can think of. I've written books on the topic, spoken all over the place about it and this blog is my way of "giving back". I hope you find it helpful.

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Michael L Todd