How to politely chase late paying customers
One of the most challenging and potentially awkward jobs for any small business is chasing customers for payment when their invoices have gone beyond agreed terms.
Asking for money isn’t always easy, whether you’re the business owner or a credit controller. This is especially true if a big customer hasn’t paid on time and you’re worried about damaging your relationship or losing their custom – particularly when you’ve worked hard to secure it in the first place.
Never forget, though, that you are entitled to get paid for the work you provided, and any delays in contacting your customer will only lengthen the time it takes them to pay.
To help you get over any apprehension you may be feeling, here are 10 of our top tips to help you politely chase late paying customers and maintain your relationships.
1. Remember, you’re not being rude
If you feel hesitant to chase a customer, remind yourself that you’re not doing anything wrong. Your business provided the product or service, the customer agreed to pay and now you’re owed that money in full. By failing to pay on time your customer has put their own needs ahead of yours, which is far more rude than requesting something that you are entitled to.
2. Pick up the phone
Whilst chasing payment over the phone may seem like a stronger tactic, calling your customer is much more likely to get results than emailing or sending letters. Sometimes the tone of an email can be misinterpreted, so a phone call actually allows you to get your message across how you want it to. It also provides an opportunity to further build your relationship with your customer, which can make it less likely they’ll avoid making payments in the future. And because it’s a real-time conversation, any issues you weren’t aware of or reasons for non-payment can be addressed there and then, meaning a faster resolution.
3. Have a script to hand
When chasing overdue invoices, it can be hard to find a way to request payment that is firm but not aggressive. Having prepared scripts and templates for phone conversations and emails can ensure you don’t come across as too demanding, whilst still allowing you to recover what you are owed. Try to think of a range of scenarios so that you don’t get caught out – recalling difficult conversations you’ve had with customers in the past can be really useful in this respect!
4. Stick to a schedule
By following a clear and well thought-out credit control strategy, your accounts receivables team can adopt a co-ordinated and professional approach throughout the credit period. By knowing when the best times are to chase payment and escalate either internally or externally, you can avoid going in too strong too soon, which can damage relationships beyond repair, or not firm enough at crucial times. It’s unlikely that a customer who usually pays well will take kindly to being threatened with legal action as soon as they miss a payment, for example, so ensure the right message is sent at the right time.
5. Ensure you’re dealing with the right person
It’s really hard to chase missed payments when you’re not talking to the right person or department, or you haven’t followed the customer’s payment process. If you don’t know, ask them directly who you need to speak to and obtain their contact details. In the future, request this information at the start of your business relationship through an account opening form. Don’t be afraid to make good use of other relationships you may have in the business, however. If you’re not getting anywhere with your accounts contact, mentioning the overdue payment to someone you know, for instance the person who placed the order, can lead to things getting escalated quickly within their organisation.
6. Know how to respond to common late payment excuses
Some customers will respond to your requests for payment with excuses for the delay, which can be frustrating and tricky to navigate. Whilst sometimes these can be genuine, more often than not they are merely stalling tactics. By having default responses to the most common excuses, however, you can diplomatically find out whether they are telling the truth and quickly resolve any genuine issues to speed up the payment process.
7. Remind customers of your late payment procedure
Make sure that your customers are aware of what happens in the event of late payment from the outset. This can include charging late payment interest, outsourcing the debt to a collection agency or taking legal action. Knowing this upfront will give your customers further incentive to pay on time and, in the event that they don’t, you can follow your procedure without feeling like you’re taking unnecessary measures.
8. Set terms and expectations early on
Similarly, by informing customers of your terms and conditions at the outset, you can establish expectations for both parties and avoid any potential awkwardness in the future. Plus, in the event something does go wrong, by being able to demonstrate your customer was aware of your terms in the first place, you’ll have solid evidence that you can refer to – and rely on should a debt collection agency be instructed or legal action commenced.
9. Engage a specialist debt collection agency
There may come a time when you have done all you can internally to chase an overdue invoice without success. If your customer continues to refuse to pay or even to engage with you, a specialist debt collection agency can add a bit more weight to the conversation whilst giving you back the time to focus on newer invoices. By choosing a professional and reputable company to instruct, you can be sure that the agency will be mindful of your customer relationships whilst communicating with them.
10. Know when to seek additional help
Similarly, if you’re struggling with how hard to chase customers through fear of upsetting them, you could benefit from outsourcing all or part of your credit control function to a specialist company. Credit control agencies act as an extension of your own team, building rapports with customers to ensure timely payment and giving you back the time to focus on other aspects of your business.
If you have any overdue invoices you’re finding difficult to collect and would like to discuss the options available, please contact our expert team of collections consultants. An award-winning and FCA-authorised debt collection and credit control agency, we have over 20 years’ experience of collecting invoices on behalf of our clients whilst preserving their all-important customer relationships. Call 0800 9774848 or schedule a call back at a convenient time, or alternatively get a debt recovery quote.