You don’t actually need the Big Guns when you make collection calls. What you need are good boundaries.
The first step to making a collection call is to get clear on what your role is, and what it isn’t.
Here are some of those things that collection calls are not about, but that people often think, or at least act like, they are:
It isn’t about making the person who hasn’t paid you feel bad about not having paid you. They probably have done that all on their own. Your pushing and poking around that will only make the situation worse. They are likely to get defensive and/or angry. And neither of those will help. And the person is really more likely to avoid you, to avoid your calls and ultimately, to avoid paying you.
It isn’t about you trying to help them figure out how to pay you. That is a definite Money Trap. First, no matter what idea you have, it’s likely that they will find a way that it won’t work. All of a sudden you are in the awkward conversation that is frustrating and unproductive, and oh, by the way, completely off topic. The true topic is they need to pay you, not how they are going to do it. And that leads to the second problem with trying to help. When you try to help, you take them away from making the commitment to pay. It becomes your idea, not theirs. They aren’t invested in it, and aren’t likely to actually follow through with it.
So what is the call about? It’s about, to borrow a philosophy from the Dog Whisperer, Cesar Millan, being “calm and assertive”. What helps you get there? Long ago, in the 80’s, I had a friend and colleague that used to wear her real pearl necklace on the days she had to do collections. (To those of you who don’t remember the days when pearl necklaces where both cool and status, think of it as wearing the designer shoes of today!) The pearls helped her feel calm and assertive. They helped her set the tone.
With all that prep, let me give you the ‘skinny’. There is only ONE thing you need to say when making a collection call: “When can I expect payment?” That’s it, just that. If they start doing into the big long story of why they can’t pay, how the dog ate the bill, their mother-in-law stole their money, or they were recently run over by a truck you say: “Wow, that’s really too bad. When can I expect payment?”
You don’t engage in the figuring, you don’t offer solutions, you just stay calm and assertive, and you are consistent about it. And then you wait for them to make a commitment.
If they say “I don’t know when I can pay you” you calmly say, “I need a commitment that you will keep”. If they propose a payment plan, you can accept, reject or revise it. Just don’t you propose it. Maintain your boundaries.
So keep it calm, assertive and simple: “When can I expect payment”. Write it on your desktop, or your hand. Use it. It’s all you need.