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Hate Making Collection Calls? How to Do Them Right

Since calling late-payers can be painful, make your effort to collect what you're owed as efficient and effective as possible. Here's how.

Let's face it: No one likes making collection calls. So it makes sense to try to get the most out of each call.

Making collection calls is a skill you can develop. You have to be able to anticipate what the customer is going to say and be ready for anything, and you must remain in control of the call. For your collection call to be a success, it must always result in agreement as to what is to be done.

From a business owner's standpoint, a collection call is "just one more thing" they have to do on a long list of things to do. Here are a few tips that will help you get your collection calls done quickly and efficiently.

  • Schedule a regular time or day each week to make collection calls.
  • Have all account information on hand.
  • Leave messages, but do not reveal that the call is about an unpaid bill.
  • Get the debtor to acknowledge the debt by asking if there was a question about the charge.
  • Offer to take a credit card over the phone for payment.
  • Ask when they will pay -- and wait for an answer.
  • Let them know you are documenting whatever commitment they make about a payment on their account.

Related: How to Check a Customer's Credit Worthiness

You must ask questions that require specific answers when you are making collection calls. Speak with precision and make the transition from questions to a payment arrangement. Each question should be clear and to the point, with silence after each. An example:

Debtor: I can't pay; I don't have any money.
Collector: Are you working?
Debtor: Yes, but I just started a job and don't get paid for two weeks.
Collector: What day will you get paid?
Debtor: Friday.
Collector: On Saturday, you can mail me a money order for $25.

This scenario can go in several directions, depending on how the debtor responds. You have to be positive, confident and compel the debtor to agree to make a payment. Once you have come to an agreement, send a confirmation letter with a payment envelope. Then call on Friday to remind them to mail the payment the next day.

Keep in mind that the people from whom you are trying to get money will use a lot of excuses to avoid paying. I have had debtors tell me they did not receive the confirmation letter with the payment envelope and don't have any envelopes themselves, so they can't make the payment. You have to be ready for anything; you will never stop hearing new and different excuses. I told this particular customer that I could send her another payment envelope but I needed a new address so I could make sure she would receive it, and she could make two payments when she received it. The other option was taking a payment over the phone or Western Union that day.

Related: A New Way to Tap Funds You're Owed for Cash

It is essential to convey confidence when speaking to customers about a past-due bill or discrepancy. Does your body or phone language say you're trustworthy, confident, and competent -- or just the opposite? Here are four tips for a confident phone voice that will help you to collect more money:

  1. Your Greeting: People often make a judgment about you in the first two seconds of an interaction. It's not what you say in that short time that matters most, but often how you present yourself. A dull, monotone will leave your listener with little confidence in you or your message. Smile when you speak on the phone; it will be noticeable in your voice.
  2. Your Voice: Sit up straight in your chair and picture the customer across the desk from you. Pay attention to how different your body language is. Do not slump in your chair, and notice how people react to you differently.
  3. Eye Contact: Since there is no eye contact when you're on the phone, try to remain focused on the call and not on anything else going on around you. Think about how it feels when you are talking to someone who keeps looking around behind you to see what else is going on. Focus on your caller and be aware and alert.
  4. Confidence: Former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is an example of someone who has an air of confidence about him. You won't see him wringing his hands, or rubbing them repeatedly through his hair, shuffling from foot to foot or jiggling the change in his pocket. He comes across as someone who won't cower or retreat, just as a bill collector should act.

Be ready for some emotional reactions when you make calls to past-due customers. They might be angry, embarrassed, sad, or frustrated. They might cry, swear, and yell. But keep in mind that the purpose of your call is to get the bill paid. You can listen, let them know that you understand, and -- based on their situation -- offer a solution such as a payment plan or another option that will benefit both of you.

Related: How to Get Paid -- and Keep Your Customers

This article is an edited excerpt from The Guide to Getting Paid: Weed Out Bad Paying Customers, Collect on Past Due Balances, and Avoid Bad Debt (John Wiley & Sons Inc., 2011) by Michelle Dunn.

Michelle Dunn is an award winning author and columnist and has been called the nation's authority on collecting money. She is the founder and CEO of Michelle Dunn's Credit & Collections Association, one of the top 5 women in collections, and one of the top 50 most influential collection professionals in the industry.

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