Few people enjoy making collection calls, especially on the heels of the holidays. And contractors are more susceptible to late payments now because of winter weather, delayed jobs, or other seasonal demands on their cash. Now is the time to make a New Year’s resolution to change your approach to collections while strengthening your customer relationships.

Many people calling to collect are on auto-pilot and just want their questions answered. I find it’s effective to start with something like “Hi, this is Theresa with BlueTarp. I realize we don’t have a meeting scheduled today, but I’m hoping I can grab a few moments of your time.” I’m showing respect, and I’m asking them for permission to continue the conversation.

Say It with a Smile
It’s true-–they CAN hear your smile! Your tone and your mood on the phone absolutely matters. Be positive and assume the customer’s positive intention for every call. Remember, you have a shared goal: to get this balance paid.

Once you confirm you have the right person on the phone, be it the accounts payable chief or business owner, extend a warm greeting, thank them for their business or recent payments. Keep the call pleasant and inviting–perhaps saying “I’ve noticed your account is running a bit behind, is there something I can help you with?”

Then listen. What you hear will identify the payment barrier and position you to effectively problem-solve with your customer.

"The Dog Ate My Invoice"
Yes, I’ve heard this one before and it really was true! Sometimes the solution is as simple as resending a lost invoice, truing up some paperwork, or uncovering a lingering dispute that needs to be resolved.

The bottom line is that there is a barrier. Your role is to figure out what the barrier is and help remove it. When you understand the reason for non-payment, you can start to help. Whatever the situation, you have some tools that can help you help your customers keep their accounts in good standing:

Remember the Close
I always want to end my call with a “by when date”. Once you have provided the customer with the information they need, you want to agree to a “by when date”– when you expect to be paid or a commitment to the next conversation.

At the end of the call, your goal should be to set your customer up for success, not failure. Because after all, what’s the real benefit of collecting an invoice today if that customer never buys from you again?

Theresa S. Gouzie is collections manager for BlueTarp, a Portland, Maine-based manager of credit programs for building supply companies. tgouzie@bluetarp.com