Is your credit controller losing you business?

Dirty Harry

Collecting money from customers must be one of the toughest and most awful jobs that you have to do in business.

I remember when I was in the drinks industry years ago we had a full time credit controller and I really believe that the nature of her role made her age really quickly. She was the one who had to stop deliveries to slow paying accounts (often this meant a battle with the sales reps and the sales manager) and she had to deal with irate customers.

The poor woman was sick quite a lot and I really put this down to the stressful role she had.

In particular in a small business it can be even more difficult when often the person who does the selling is the same person that does the collecting.

We received an email last week from a supplier who was looking for payment. Payment ran a few days over the standard terms because I was on leave and hadn’t left enough signed cheques. This was no bother and we sorted a cheque out immediately, a few days later than usual.

What really bothered me was the nature of the email, the tone, the lack of manners and a total lack of respect for us – after all we are a customer and to be honest a good one who gives them plenty of business and we do adhere to the payment terms.

My gut reaction was to change suppliers, which I did not do. However, a phone call from a similar supplier pitching their wares at the right moment and I would be listening actively.

I Love Credit ControlThis email was a real pity because the supplier is generally great to deal with. My crew are forever praising them and I know would kill me if I dropped them to use someone else.

I sent the credit controller an email and politely took issue with her manner and explained how it does jeopardise the business that they are doing with us and probably other customers of theirs.

I was speaking to another business owner who explained to me that they have an automated “email writing” system to deal with their credit control. He says often people get irate about the emails they receive because the language used is very blunt and to the point.

I received an automated letter from my bank recently more or less telling me to get my accounts in order as a dormant current account had run €2.50 overdrawn as a result of bank charges ..lovely!

How you collect money is an essential  part of your business reputation and while you have to get paid for the work you do it is important that you do this with courtesy and manners, never undermining your good reputation and all of your hard work.

You don’t need to give any customer an excuse to consider moving to a competitor.

Greg Canty is a partner of Fuzion

Fuzion are a Marketing, PR and Design firm in Ireland with offices in Cork and Dublin

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16 Responses to “Is your credit controller losing you business?”

  1. noel maguire Says:

    yeah i agree Greg i have been on both sides ,there is a fine line when asking people for payment … you need to be firm but not agressive , written requests will always read as agressive because they are to the point asking for payment immediately …on the other hand a phone call with a polite or jovial tone (pref Both) suggesting that somebody else had forgotten to write the ould cheque normally works wonders

  2. Owen Chubb Says:

    A slow (well beyond agreed terms) paying customer is unlikely to be of any long term benefit to the business, and may lead eventually to poor cash flow management etc.

  3. Patricia Whiteside Says:

    Very Timely & Informative. I Deal With This issue Daily. As of late the “Wealthier The Clients” – The More Entitled They Feel Dictating The Payment Terms. Try Negotiating A. $200. Grocery Cart For $75.00. ;))

    • Greg Canty Says:

      I hear you Patricia – I hate when your customer dictates their payment terms to you. When you are the small guy you just gotta suck it up …. don’t you?

  4. Trish Hyland Says:

    Totally agree Greg. I know it is frustrating trying to get money in but better a few days late and keep your customer than to upset the customer. It is a juggling act trying to pay suppliers when customers haven’t paid on time but as the saying goes ‘if you can’t stand the heat get out of the kitchen’. Maybe companies should look at the people in their credit control departments and give them a break from contacting customers if they are getting burnt out. Also get rid of automated emails / letters (unless you are a huge company). If you do need to send automated emails / letters could you not do up a more personal message in a nicer tone. Mail merge is so easy.

  5. Derek Chestnutt Says:

    Customer relations begin within your organisation. How your sales and finance departments intrtact will ultimately determine the relationship between your credit department and your customer. If there are open and honest communications within your organisation and a spriit of collaboration and cooperation between functions, it is unlikely that you will have any serious issues between your credit department and your customers. This culture is fostered by senior managers in your organisation and the way manner in which they try to achieve their own objectives, while being mindful of overall organisational goals, is the key.

  6. Tom McCarthy (@PressTMC) Says:

    Can relate to this Greg. The tone of certain companies we deal with the rare time payment is delayed for media services/photography etc. varies widely. The reasoning could be a processing error as much as frustration that we usually have a number of weeks to pay out by law, something that cannot be circumvented. Some – and these are largely the people who call to chat and politely suss out what happened – are a delight to deal with and the relationship remains on track (and ironically more goodwill from us generated). Others – generally the type who send blunt emails immediately – are very much less so. It is very easy as you say to reconsider the relationship and at a minimum you begin to reflect on contacting the competition!

  7. Kate Gaynor Says:

    Great article Greg!

  8. JW McCabe Says:

    You know who handles this beauitfully Velioa water in the UK! After your water bill is over due 10 working days; they send you an upbeat reminder.

    It starts like this: This is Velioa water just checking to make sure you know your water bill is due.

    We know life gets busy,with holidays,work committments and travel.

    We just want you too know we understand! Here is a copy of the water bill, payment details and if have any questions call us on our toll free #.
    Remember though, if we do not hear from you in 7 working days. We will begin collections procedures.

    See that is awesome!

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