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Overdue! How to Collect From Tardy Customers Patience, confidence and a solid plan are keys to collecting what you're owed.

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Collecting money is a job most people shy away from. No one likes a confrontation or asking to be paid. For some people, being asked to pay a bill is insulting and can result in defensive behaviors. How can you collect money from these customers without blowing up at them and losing your cool?

Having a plan prior to making a collection call is crucial. Remember that the person is probably embarrassed, stressed and will likely become defensive when you ask him or her to pay. Being prepared for this will put you ahead of the game. A little patience and understanding go a very long way. When customers are explaining to you why they have not paid or cannot pay, keep quiet and listen. No matter how much you want to interrupt, give them a chance to explain. Sometimes they will calm down just because you listened to them and they were able to vent. When they are done, address the problem and offer a solution--or a couple, if you can.

Doing these things lets customers know you care enough to listen to them and that you are giving them a couple of options to solve the problem. When customers get to choose a way that works best for them--even if it is to repay a debt--the chances of them sticking with it are much higher than if you call and demand payment in full right now without taking their situation into consideration. Offering a solution or offering a couple of options and remaining calm will give you the best chance of collecting from a past-due customer who might be yelling and swearing at you.

Anyone trying to collect money--even if the amount was agreed upon at the time of the sale--may be required to negotiate. During this economy, many people may have had every intention of paying their bill in full or on time, but circumstances beyond their control have gotten in their way. Most bill collectors and business owners are not as effective at negotiating as they could be.

Here are some things to remember when calling past-due customers:

Understand the negotiation process. Highly effective bill collectors recognize that negotiations are a process. It requires an understanding of the billing, credit approval and payment processes.

Focus on a win-win solution. Win-win means both parties feel like they benefited during the collection process. Successful collectors look for opportunities to help customers solve problems. They also know when to be firm and limit what they do in order to reach an agreement that is acceptable for both parties.

Be patient. Too many collectors try to go for the quick fix so they can get paid and move on to the next account. Successful collectors know that patience is a virtue and that rushing the collection process often leads to not getting paid. Take the time to gather information before contacting customers, and think carefully about possible solutions. This could be the critical step that helps you avoid the major mistakes you make when you rush, some of which can involve breaking the law.

Be confident. Confidence is key to successful collecting, but don't make the mistake of being arrogant, rude or cocky. The truest confidence is demonstrated by your belief in your ability to reach a win-win agreement with the customer. This confidence is gained through experience, and the more debt collections you do, the better you become at it.

Develop your listening skills. People will tell you just about everything you need to know if you ask the right questions or keep quiet long enough. The two biggest mistakes a collector can make are not listening or interrupting a customer. Sometimes all it takes is listening a little longer to get key information that will assist in your collection efforts.

Being a successful bill collector is a skill that takes time, effort and energy. To collect more money, you need to work at it, invest the time learning the dynamics and science of negotiating, and be firm. Every business will have to make a collection call or send a collection letter at some point; these tips can help make that a painless experience for you, your staff and your customers.

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