One thing I hate to see on my daily route sheet is a large collections bill that isn’t accompanied by a service receipt. What this full page bill complete with red and/or yellow colors tells me is that somewhere along my day– I’m going to come face to face with a delinquent account.
It’s one thing to service an account who is a payment or two behind. That’s usually no big deal for me plus no big obnoxious bill for them. That client is normally still on pretty good terms and most likely they’ll have some sort of payment at the end of my visit. Sometimes 1/2, sometimes full and even quite a few who are on a limited payment plan. Now maybe that’s only $10 or 20 extra bucks a trip but hey! They’re still happy to see us, they still want our service and most importantly–they still want to pay! (we have quite a few arrangements like this–we’re easy to work with;)
But if all I see is one over sized past due notice I always cringe. This means that my office has tried EVERYTHING to try and collect on what’s owed us and now as a last resort…. I’m suddenly thrown in as the grim reaper and nobody likes that! Including me.! It’s a long process to get to this point and having ME run collections usually means we’ve taken off the kid gloves….this is the usual process.
Here’s How It Goes
(Just for quick background we offer many different types of payment. Cash, check, advanced pay, credit card, paypal and even the afore mentioned payment plans. Each of these are reiterated with almost every contact. Also, my ‘collections specialist’ spent her entire career in collections for the phone company in Vermont. She’s heard it all and seen it all. She is very VERY good at what she does:)
Jane Doe has us out for a ‘one shot’ or perhaps another regular visit in which she’s been receiving all along. (For one shot’s the process below starts now–for clients that just up and stop paying–we ‘might’ be doing another one or two services before the description below is implemented) Suffice to say, for whatever reason she does not pay. No worries, we’re a trusting lot and she get’s a full 30 days to make good. She does not. From there Jane get’s a friendly reminder in the mail. No response. Learning from past (and painful) experience my secretary follows up with a call. (day 31) In this first (technically 2nd) attempt she does her best to get a firm commitment for payment. At this point the client is almost always apologetic, gives a plausible reason or excuse and agrees to “get it out in the mail.” At this point we’re all still pretty happy with each other.
So maybe day 34 or 35 when we still have not received payment another bill goes out and this one has a late fee attached. ($5.00 whoopee) Allowing for delivery Jane gets another friendly call around day 36 or 37. This is a courteous call but a little stronger in tone. At this point we offer to remove the late fee if immediate payment is made. Not a lot of incentive nor does it equal the extra efforts we go to granted, but hey I just want to get paid. So day 37 turns into day 40, 45, 50, etc. until day 60. That’s our max limit. Now, by this time we’ve sent out at least one or two more bills each a little more clearer than the rest & a phone call to go with it. Late fees are about 20 to 25 dollars by now and only added as each promise of payment deadline passes by without satisfaction. Sometimes at this point our calls go unanswered and we suspect we’re now being avoided- caller ID makes that pretty easy. Undaunted we block the call and Jane picks up. Whether she’s caught off guard and starts throwing out excuses or simply hangs up abruptly (usually claiming another call on the line)–by now, we know we’re in an uphill climb. This Is Where I Come In.
Sometimes On The Phone
I don’t know what it is really. People think I’m some big dawg collections agent or just the fear of having “The Owner” call them is sometimes very effective. (sometimes I’m lied to as well) But if Jane is still semi talking to us, my gals hand me the phone, dial the number and say “here, you try”– they do this quick so I don’t back out. They then shove the print out of the history in my hand so I don’t sound like an idiot. Gee, Thanks. I don’t know if it’s 7 out of 10 but somewhere close that this miraculously works. Whether we get a credit card right then and there or a check in the next day or two, this method works half way decently… I still hate it….
Sometimes The Phone & Our Efforts Are All But Dead
However, when Jane stops answering the phone or is becoming increasingly bold in telling us “to go–uh, shall we say,? Fly a kite!!” Then that’s when I get the dreaded collections bill that has to be hand delivered. There is no avoiding this unpleasant reality of my business. Thankfully it only happens 4 or 5 times per year.
On those days I dread ringing that bell, confronting that customer. I almost always have a pretty lousy day with the expectation of the dreaded encounter but if I don’t do it, well, bye bye to a lot more money than just the service fee listed on that paper. ie; tech got paid, insurance fee, gas,chemicals, office time before during and after–(it’s more than you’d think)
Now just the other day I had to do this and before I even made it to the door, “Jane” was rushing out to meet me with check book in hand. At this point I didn’t even fight with her about the late fees as she handed me the check. I should’ve I guess but I didn’t. This is quite often how my face to face collections goes. At least I get paid.
Other times I’m met with a fight. Allegations get thrown out about my service or office, hard feelings are displayed and lines in the sand are drawn. Through it all I try and maintain a cool and calm knowing none of it (or very little) is actually true. I try extremely hard to keep the goal in mind of ~~just get paid~~
It’s with this scenario that my collection ratio goes way down. 50/50 might be being generous and no matter what, I can never depend on that client ever referring me to someone else for sure.
SIDE NOTE: That said, I’d say 30% of these people end up calling a year or two later looking for service–always full of apologies & some even offering to pay past dues!!! go figure…happened just this past month 😉
It is at this stage that I am FAR PAST my apprehensions and dread about the encounter. At times I even raise my voice or say something I probably shouldn’t. In reality it’s usually only about $100 bucks or less that we’re talking about and in the grand scheme of things that aint much. But I HATE being lied to, I HATE being led on wild goose chases, I HATE spending my hard earned money all so I don’t get paid. If you aren’t gonna pay you usually know that a lot earlier than this…be a man../ woman and just tell me. Because worse than all this….. I hate collections.