Alice’s tips to deal with late payments in times of crisis.
I’m very pleased to talk about an issue which concerns many companies and consultants nowadays: late payments.
Chasing unpaid invoices, especially by phone, feels “rude” to most of the people I meet in my classes. For some reason we feel uncomfortable when we have to ask for payment although really that is how the wheels of commerce work: providing a certain service or goods in return for a stipulated payment.
However we find it embarrassing: “if I ask for payment my client will think I need the money!!!”. We start the phone call in a whisper, trying to talk about other things; then, when we can’t resist any longer, we get to the point as if it wasn’t our real intention: “by the way …. I was just wondering if you’ve had the chance to pay that overdue invoice”. We avoid any direct question and tend to answer for ourselves minimizing: “you must have forgotten the deadline, anywat it’s not a problem …”. Finally we end our call very quickly without making any arrangements: “ok, well…just pay it as soon as you can”.
How difficult and stressful! What a disaster!
Here are 6 points which summarize the most important aspects you should consider when dealing with late payments by phone:
1. Specify exact TIMINGS , monitor all agreements and commitments: the longer you wait before you start chasing unpaid invoices , the more justified your clients will feel about their late payments. Remember that if your client had intended to pay you immediately, he/she would have done so within the deadline. What he/she is trying to do now is to postpone payment as long as possible.
2. PHONE CALLS are effective only if they are prepared accurately. Be precise and use clear sentences, for example “this invoice is overdue” instead of “ehr … actually there is an invoice … ehr … you should pay”; leave room for dialogue and action; avoid any expressions which could upset your interlocutor. “Hello, this is Alice Alessandri, if you have time I need to talk to you about a very important issue. I’m calling because I still haven’t received your payment for my last invoice” is different from “ehr hello… sorry to bother you, I’ll just be 2 minutes … actually, it’s nothing serious, it’s only an overdue invoice”.
3. Balance KINDNESS and DECISIVENESS: the aim of your phone call is to make precise arrangements in a friendly way. Decisiveness comes from the awareness that yours is a legitimate request, you are legally right. Kindness comes from the fact that you want to maintain and preserve your relationship with your client, who represents the reason for your job. Therefore the most ethical approach is to go straight to the point and find the best solution together with your interlocutor.
4. Less talking and more LISTENING: allow your clients to explain their reasons in order to collect important information, observe their frame of mind, judge the sincerity of their voices. You’ll be amazed by the power of silence “I’m calling because I still haven’t received your payment for my last invoice … <silence>”: if you hold on for a few seconds your client will start talking and you will gather all the information you need.
5. Remember to be ELEGANT, WISE and ATTENTIVE during your conversations and always respect the privacy laws which regulate these kinds of interaction: on the other end of the line there’s a human being with his/her problems, self-respect and self-esteem. Avoid talking if you think your interlocutor is with other people, maybe on speakerphone in his car. Arrange another telephone appointment, specifying a precise date and time when you can call.
6. If the invoice chasing procedure is carried out by different people within your company (for example administrative department, personal assistant, owner, …) make sure you SHARE and benefit from all the information you acquire during the phone calls. Clients, especially those who feel the need to explain themselves all the time, tend to talk too much: it is your task to notice all the details you need to be successful.
Enjoy your invoice chasing everybody!
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