Credit guru Thea Dudley has spent more than 30 years in LBM credit management. Now she's here to answer your credit and collection questions. Got a question for her mailbag? Contact Thea at

Dear Thea:
My question is a little different. I am from one of those companies that has gotten a call for payment from a credit manager. I don't get someone who is trying to work with me, Instead, I get the Wicked Witch of the West, chewing me out and making me feel worse than I already do for being unable to pay. I am not the owner; I'm an employee doing the best I can. I don't appreciate getting verbally abused. And when I do try to make a payment, I have to hear more abuse about the form of payment, like when I want to use a credit card. That makes me never care if you get paid. How is being snotty to me, the office person, helping the situation?
Sour in South Carolina

Dear Sour:
I would like to say I don't understand the point of that abuse either. But I can't. It can be extremely frustrating to call a customer repeatedly, only to be told "the owner handles that, but I will give them the message" again and again. Or that the payables person works every other Tuesday, but only on a full moon and in months without an R.

The mythical owner rarely if ever returns calls. When they do, they blame the poor person who answers the phone, claiming they either never got the messages or they don't understand why a payment hadn't been made, because by golly, they told their person to pay it. They then start mumbling about how good help is hard to find and a check is as good as out the door. Then surprise, the check never comes and the whole charade begins again.

I know a lot of credit managers and we all feel it. It is easy to become completely jaded and disenchanted with your fellow human beings. It's so easy, and tempting, to let loose on the first available target (that is you, dear Sour in South Carolina, as you are all I have communication-wise at this point). And if we are being completely honest, not every credit person is created equal.

The job of a credit manager is part sales. You have to be enough of a chameleon to figure out what the trigger point is to get what you what you want. Some of the best advice I ever got was to always be nice to "the gate keeper," whoever that may be in your world--the receptionist, the A/P clerk, the bookkeeper, etc. Ripping the stuffing out of the person who can be your ally is probably not your best bet.

So back to to the question: How is being snotty helping? Clearly, it is not. My question back to you is: Why are you putting up with it? You are not the company whipping post. Turn the tables; Ask them what's up with the 'tude. If you calmly and politely ask them why the credit manager is being so aggressive, it is disarming for the person hearing it and can act as an attitude check.

Remind them that you take their calls and are trying to work with them. You need to take charge, giving more information besides "I will give them the message," or "The owner is traveling, in meetings, sick kids, short staffed." Then ask them what information they are looking for, offer to see what you can find out, and call them back. We are really looking for information. You may not be able to solve my problem, but if we work together, my attitude always improves.

Now if you use this approach but still hear the credit department acting like the Wicked Witch of the West and saying things like, "I will get you, my pretty," you'll need to take another approach. Talk to your sales rep at the company where the credit collector works. Let that rep know your situation.

Remember that some people are just nasty. I have called people for money and used every once of charm and wit I possessed and could not turn that frown upside down. I just figure it has to really suck to be them and move on with my day (OK, usually with hand gestures and a litany of suggestions for them once I hang up).

As far as a creditor kicking up a fuss about the form of payment--that is their issue. My view is if you take credit cards, that comes with the territory. If I am dogging you for payment and that is what you are offering, I'm taking it. I get why there's resistance; after carrying an account balance, now I get to pay the credit card fee, but that is the cost of doing business. I have had this argument with every CFO I have ever worked with--"Thea, we take credit card on cash sales only." (I hate to tell you, big boy, but that is not what your sign by the credit card emblem on the door says, nor does it say it on the credit application.) So suck it up, buttercup.

The bottom line is it doesn't matter what side of this call you are on, it is still somewhat awkward and difficult. Either of us copping an attitude just makes it worse. Keep your cool and tell the Wicked Witch to back that action up. Just keep some Moose Munch in your desk drawer in case everything backfires and the flying monkeys get released.