There are ten main points to remember when speaking to a debtor on the phone to help you to really listen to what they have to say. It’s often the things that are not said that can give you a clue to the real reason why they are not paying your account. “I haven’t got a copy of the bill“, could really mean, “I’m waiting for my tax return to come in before I can pay“.
The real reasons, then, are often disguised in other words or silences. There is no clear-cut way of finding out the truth, you have to apply intuition and everyday people skills when discussing an account with someone but there are a few guidelines to apply that will give you better odds at finding out what is really being said.
1. Take notes.
2. Do not keep talking.
3. ASK – ask – ask.
4. Use Silence.
5. Forget your own problems.
6. I see … Yes … Umm.
7. Never use emotion.
8. Do not respond to baiting.
9. Have an open mind.
10. Listen for reactions.
As you are discussing things with the debtor take notes, albeit brief (you don’t want your note-taking to become a distraction in itself!)
Don’t Keep Talking
You want to hear them, what they have to say and you will never be able to do so if you are monopolising the conversation. So don’t talk, let them fill the silence.
Ask – Ask – Ask
Keep asking questions. If you aren’t satisfied with any points they are making, keep asking questions until you are clear.
One day, I was told that the debtor had only just come back from her holiday and that was the reason that her account hadn’t been paid. “I’m sorry, I don’t understand”, I replied. Her account, it turned out, was over three years old. One could hardly say that our client had been dogged in their pursuit of this debt. And because we’d kept probing, we found out that her excuse, which sounded quite reasonable on first hearing, wasn’t that good either!
This is a killer technique. Whoever talks first, loses. It is one of the most useful telephone techniques around. People generally hate silences and feel that they have to fill the void.
Forget Your Own Problems
How can you give 100% attention to someone else when you are thinking about your own problems? Of course, the answer is – you can’t. So, if something is that important that you can’t forget it – don’t phone. Get someone else to. Get your own problem sorted out as soon as you can or just give it away for the day and come back to it later.
I see … Yes … Umm
These simple interjections into a conversation will make the speaker extend what’s being said. I suppose it’s similar to using silence without being so uncomfortable. By agreeing with the speaker, or at least appearing to do so by saying such short phrases, he is more likely to “open up” to you and give you the truth – or let it slip out!
Never Use Emotion
The best way not to get to the truth, to the reason why your account hasn’t been paid, is to
► raise your voice,
► use sarcasm,
► laugh at a ridiculous excuse you’re given, or
► abuse the client.
Yet how often is this done when the creditor is chasing payment on the phone? Rules 1 – 10 in collection are all the same -Never use emotion.
Don’t Respond to Baiting
If the debtor is rude to you and tries to bait and goad you into an argument, back down. Tell him you will call back later. Try to get back to an adult to adult conversation, but whatever you do, do not be rude back. If you do, you will give the debtor a reason for not paying – he could truly say (in self-justification) that you were rude to him. And that’s now why he isn’t paying the account.
Have an Open Mind
You will sometimes hear someone tell you what you believe is a ridiculous excuse for not paying your account. Keep an open mind. What seems ridiculous to you may be a quite genuine reason to the client. Hear them out, ask questions and keep probing until you can understand their excuse and then try to help them get over it so you can be paid.
Listen for Reactions
Any of these sound familiar?
Debtors Phone answers
In the background you hear “Fred. It’s calling about your account. What do you want me to say?”.
A different voice, “Say I’m not in”.
“I’m sorry. Fred is in a meeting. Can I take a message for you?”
“Oh, I’m so sorry. I totally forgot to pay. I’ll fix it up today.”
“Can I say who’s calling?”
Long pause. Muffled background noises.
“I’m sorry. I thought Fred was in. Apparently he’s just stepped out. Can I get him to call you back?”
There‘s a James Bond movie called “You Only Live Twice”. But to the best of my knowledge you can only die once. The very best reaction I have ever had from a phone call was from a woman who had told me that she couldn’t pay her account because her father had just died. I sympathised “Don’t worry about it right now. I’ll call you back in a few weeks. We can discuss it then.” I read back through my file notes and as the clips in my file clipped shut I saw that her father had died once before!! At least he had according to the excuse she had given to another guy for not paying her account over 12 months ago. Twice? Me thinks not. I called her back straight away, confronted her and her silence and subsequent arrangement to pay the next day was reward enough.