Words paint pictures in the minds of the people who are listening, and in credit control, we are dealing with people who are often hypersensitive, and the less money they have the more sensitive they become. So, it is essential that we find a form of words that will get the results we want, without a negative reaction.

In my experience you are much better off by asking questions than making statements. Saying something like: “Your account is seriously overdue” While being a statement of fact, this statement might be seen by some as accusatory, and by others as an assertion that they have done something wrong. Nobody likes to be told they have done something wrong, especially when they have done something wrong. This form of words will either cause the customer to switch off or to go on the offensive – neither are good from a credit control perspective. So a statement like “John, our books show there is an amount of €X going back to March. Could this be right?” Will get them to look at the situation more objectively and be more likely to agree a solution.

“Your account is on stop” These words can also receive a negative reaction, and the level of negativity depends on the position of the person you are talking to. If you say the words to a girl or guy in the accounts department, it may prompt them into action, fearing a backlash from the person who requires the goods. If they are said to an owner, they are more likely to take it personally and launch into an attack. A better way of communicating the message would be: “We have an order here that is ready to go, can you let me know what is the situation regarding payment for the goods you received two months ago?”. Depending on the history and risk category of the customer, you can either release the goods on a promise or wait until payment arrives in the bank. You will achieve greater results with less conflict, and after, all isn’t that what everyone wants.

One word that should never be used is “but”. “I hear what you are saying, but…” means you don’t care what they said. “I hear what you are saying, and…” will get the required results. I have singled out one word as the worst word of all, which is the cause of most of our problems both inside and outside the office and you’ll have to attend one of our events to find that one out!

I will share with you what I consider to be the best words, they are “Thank you”. You can thank a person for taking your call, you can thank them for confirming the balance, you can thank them for dealing with the queries, you can thank them for making the payment (even before they actually make the payment) and you can thank them for the payment received. People like to be thanked, and they like when their efforts are appreciated, so as a high performing credit professional, you need to incorporate this into your everyday life.

Just a note for Credit Managers, remember to thank your staff individually for a job well done – when they have done a good job. As simple as it sounds it doesn’t happen often enough.

Declan Flood, Chief Executive, Irish Credit Management Training