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 [email protected]

Dear Thea,
I am a payables manager for a contracting company located in one of the areas hit hard by the recent hurricanes. We are all working remotely, trying to put the office back together and get back to normal. I had a call from a supplier asking when we would be paying our bill. I told her our situation and that our focus is on getting our people back to work and catching up on jobs. We are dependent on our customers paying us and the city is still getting roads cleared for gas, food, and other basics. I said we would need some time to get things sorted out. My response was not met with compassion and I was pressed for details of when we could pay and how much we could send. I explained again and was flabbergasted when she repeated her questions. I told her I would try my best and get back to her as soon as I could. She said she would call back later in the week to check up. What is wrong with her? Does she not realize the devastation we are facing? Does she think I am lying? I know this is a business, but where is the compassion?
Signed, Hurting and Humiliated in Houston

Dear Humiliated,First, on behalf of quality credit managers everywhere, let me apologize for the experience you had with that particular credit person. Just like every other profession, there are good credit managers and not so good credit managers. I am going to take a leap and say that person has never experienced what you are going through.

There is really no excuse for it. I am sorry that happened to you. You sound like you handled it with much more grace and class than I ever could have. I suspect I would have unleashed a torrid of sarcasm and profanity that would have left her hiding under her desk.

Second, do not mistake this as a defense for her on any level. The sad fact of our jobs is people lie -- often and convincingly. They will use any excuse. Some companies that are not even close to tragic events use them to their benefit. Although not defending, some people get hardened to anything other then the response they are looking for: when is my money getting here?

What I can offer is some advice to both sides of this equation. A little reminder to both sides how to come out with sanity, your credit standing, and customer relationship in tact.

Customers:
As a supplier, I know that I am probably low on the list of things to take care of. I am aware that you are trying to figure out the mess that is your office, your city, what customer jobs still exist, the timeline, and how to proceed.

  1. Be honest with me. We both know why I am calling. Your company has an outstanding balance and I am still a creditor with a bill I need paid. Give me something useful. Telling me you don't know and asking me to “hang tight” is not helping either of us.
  2. Be as specific as you can. “It will take me at least two solid weeks to get my feet under me, can you call back on XXX date and I can get you specifics on payment expectations.”
  3. Tell me what you need from me. If you have jobs that need to be shipped immediately, tell me. Do you need copies of invoices or statements? Tell me what you need from me so I can make my company one less thing you need to worry about.
  4. Communicate with me. If you can get information to me sooner, excellent and appreciated. If you need longer to get stuff figured out, let me know that too.

Suppliers/distributors:

  1. Show some compassion. Everyone is not a lying deadbeat opportunist.
  2. Care about your customer. Start your call with asking how they are doing, how much damage they had, what their biggest challenges are, and how you can help.
  3. Ask questions. Offer to call back in a week or two to get an update, ask what you can do to help.
  4. Address concerns. The customer might not have thought about yet. Help them get through this by asking about finance charges, discounts, extending terms. In other words, walk the talk.
  5. Know your company’s directive. During this time. If you don't know, address it with your CFO, president, or marketing director and what you are doing to support your customers.
  6. Communicate. If you don’t like what the customer is saying or don't approve the time frame they are presenting, deal with it. Picking a fight with them over payment, or lack of information thereof, is not going to make this better. This period of time will not go on forever. Follow up when they ask or make a suggestion for follow up (not the next day).

Distributors, manufacturers, dealers, suppliers, contractors, and sub-contractors were all present in the areas of the country that got hit. All were affected. Everyone is putting some part of their company back together. There is human element here.

Will some people take advantage of the situation? Absolutely. Those companies would have burned you anyway. Don’t color everyone with that Crayola.