If you work in an Accounts Receivable department odds are you’ve heard just about every line in the book from your past-due customers. In this blog, we are going to explore some ways that probing questions our account agents use can help get overdue accounts paid. The goal being that we empower you with the same knowledge as one of our agents so you can collect just like a collection agency! Without further ado let’s learn some probing questions!
The classic stall tactic response we all hear is “The cheque is in the mail”. Often times it is a response designed to “kick the can down the road” and most certainly is a delaying tactic. How can you determine whether the cheque is in the mail or not? Easy, ask some simple questions! Some of the questions you may want to ask would include: “When was the cheque sent?”, “What address was the payment sent to?”, “What is the cheque number?”. These probing questions all center on the cheque itself and if the cheque really is in the mail you’ll know for sure. If it has been over a week you should ask your customer to cancel the cheque and explore other payment options such as bank transfers, a credit card, or e-mail money transfers. If they insist on paying by cheque ask them to e-mail you a photo of the cheque as most people have a smartphone these days. Unfortunately, this is not the only response you’ll get when trying to recoup an overdue account, and the next response can be a particular challenge.
When you call a customer regarding an overdue account and you hear, “I want to pay, but there is an illness in the family”, your first instinct might be to briefly explain why you are calling and arrange another time to call. While this is a good approach it doesn’t address the overdue account. You can use soft probing questions in this situation to better understand your customers’ plight and potentially work together on a resolution. Questions you could ask would be: “Who is ill – the customer, their spouse, child, etc.?”, “Is there medical benefits that might help cover the overdue account?”, “How long has the illness gone on?”. Questions like these can give you that better understanding of your customer’s situation and may lead to a resolution of the overdue account.
There is another response that you should tread carefully which is “I am out of work”. The probing questions should focus on a few things. Firstly, you may want to ask about the nature of their unemployment as it will help you decide whether or not you should continue with more probing questions. If you determine that yes you want to ask more probing questions try questions like “How long have you been off work for?”, “Do you receive employment insurance benefits?”, “Are you currently seeking employment”, and “Who is supporting you at this time?”. Asking these questions will again help you understand your customer’s situation and hopefully lead to a resolution of the overdue account.
The following responses are some that you’ll hear at different times throughout the year. We like to call these seasonal responses. Popular examples of these kinds of responses are, “I’ll pay when I get my income tax back”, “Christmas is coming and I can’t pay right now”, and “Christmas is over and I have a lot of bills to pay now.” They aren’t particularly tricky questions, but a blanket response that can in some cases cover an entire three-month quarter! Really the best way you can mitigate these responses is by trying to set up scheduled payments. Ask your customer if they are set up for online banking and if they are, arrange the payment dates. If you do choose this though make sure you advise your customer upfront that if they break the scheduled payment you will escalate collection efforts. It may not be the instant resolution that you wanted, but it does get an all-important payment arrangement. Further, you should stress the importance of your invoices because as the saying goes, “The squeaky wheel gets the grease.”