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How to approach a difficult late paying customer


Every credit control team has encountered them at some point. It may be a new customer or a business you have been working with for ages, but now that an invoice is overdue, they’ve suddenly become difficult.

Of course, if the customer is really throwing up barriers and wasting your time, it could be time to instruct a debt collection agency to make sure you get paid quickly. But in many cases, you may want to have a last attempt at talking to your customer before you take these actions.

Here are 3 things to remember when you approach the customer, and the clear signs that it is time to end the conversation and seek professional help.

Stick to the facts

It is important not to let a conversation break down into a heated back and forth with each party insisting they’re in the right, as this will only serve to make everyone more frustrated and less likely to reach an agreement.

Gather all the information before you talk, and make sure that your customer also has a copy of any emails, contracts and other communication in front of them. Calmly go through the facts as you see them, stopping regularly to confirm that your customer agrees.

For one, this could help resolve any genuine cases of miscommunication, but it also shows your customer that you are taking the matter seriously and your calm and reasonable approach will be harder to dispute.

It’s time to bring in a collection agency when the customer refuses to acknowledge evidence in front of them and discuss their own views on the matter calmly, with no progress being made. Often, a different or more authoritative approach can make a big difference in these instances and deliver a positive resolution.

Read more about some of the other problems you could face as a credit controller and how to solve them.

State your intentions

If a customer is being evasive and dismissive, it is worth setting a clear ultimatum and sticking to it. Where credit controllers occasionally trip up is by trying to use an ultimatum as threat, which feels empty and petty.

Instead, explain to the customer what your standard practice is, for example, to hand over to a debt collection agency after an invoice becomes X days overdue, and let them know exactly when this will be happening.

If the customer says they will be able to pay by a certain date which is acceptable to you, or you have agreed to a payment plan, let them know that failure to meet the conditions you set out will still result in the next step to recovery being taken.

Demonstrating that you have a plan in place will often make them rethink delaying the payment further, and by being open about your intentions you make it seem less like a threat or a desperate last resort.

It’s time to bring in a collection agency when a customer accuses you of threatening them or begins to challenge you on your right to take further action. This could be a sign they are hoping to make you flustered, question yourself or offer an unacceptable ‘alternative’, which should not be an option.


In some cases, just listening to what your customer is saying and making it clear to them that you have understood their point can help to defuse any tension and open up the discussion.

Of course, if a customer has any genuine concerns that are stopping them from making payment, these need to be addressed promptly, but it could be that the person on the other end of the phone has issues that are unrelated to your good or services but are affecting their ability to pay.

While you don’t want to just accept any excuse they have as a reason not to pay you, showing sympathy, understanding and a willingness to listen can have a big impact on the customer and make them more willing to find a way to pay the invoice. Read more about how to respond to late payment excuses in this blog.

Alternatively, it could be that what the customer is telling you is all lies and excuses, but listening can still give you more information to base your next steps on and hand over to your debt collection agency.

It’s time to bring in a collection agency when the customer refuses to give you any further information and evades even discussing the issue with you, or offers only excuses and refuses to take the conversation forward to find a resolution.

If you are struggling with a difficult customer who will not pay, the sooner you make the decision to hand over to a collection agency the better the chance of recovering the full debt. Choosing the right debt collection agency can make all the difference to your cash flow and allow you to maintain a professional appearance.

If you’re worried about preserving your relationship with your customer, a professional, FCA-authorised debt collection agency like Hilton-Baird Collection Services will actively work to make sure you get paid without risking your reputation.

To explore how we can help you, use our live chat function to talk with one of advisors or give us a call on 0800 9774848.


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