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Customer Experience and Design

Leadership: A Vote of Confidence

Whether your professional life resides in an Accounts Receivable atmosphere or not, leadership is critical. A common misconception about collections or accounts receivable is that it’s strictly all about the numbers. While on the surface it may look like that, the reality is that leadership and communications experts are at work and the byproduct is the results.

For most people if you described a work day consisting of nothing but asking people for money and solving issues, you would probably get a lot of response to the effect of ‘no thanks’. Collections, whether in a consumer or business-to-business setting, takes a good bit of strategy, diplomacy and tenacity. Regardless of whether you are following all the rules and guidelines to collections 101, at times tensions will still rise. From a collector or accounts receivable specialist (or other applicable job title) perspective, it is imperative that you have a supervisor/manager who will have your back when those unavoidable sticky situations arise.

In the course of doing collections for more than two decades, I have run into many situations that for whatever reason became escalated. When that inevitability happens, it is nice to feel comfortable and secure in passing off an issue to a superior. If you have followed a reasonable and logical process, in a professional manner, to try to resolve an invoice or set of invoices with a customer and for whatever reason you need to get management involved, you want that confidence that you will be validated.

Most collectors systematically work their portfolios and the corresponding customers with an eye on collecting the outstanding items or moving known issues through the resolution process. Contrary to popular misconception, most collectors are not bullies. However, we are usually very good at debating and analyzing arguments. Each customer interaction is unique and many times we as collectors are walking into a situation facing the unknown. What is/are the reasons behind the customer’s delinquency? Did they simply never receive the invoice to process and pay? Are they experiencing financial difficulties? Was there a satisfaction issue with the product or service? There are 1001 examples of reasons why an invoice is unpaid. The collector cannot know 100% what he or she is walking into with an initial email or a call. For the most part, a large percentage of our interactions with our customers are pleasant and cordial; resolutions are then fairly quick and timely. But for those exceptions where the customer has an issue that has been a thorn in their side (from their perspective), an issue can escalate quickly and the need for supervisor/manager support is necessary.

Many times the supervisor/manager steps into the breach blindly without much background. Here is where that relationship between collector and management is critical. A good supervisor/manager will know how their employee conducts themselves and their track record. Unless there is some out-of-the-norm situation, that supervisor/manager can confidently say that the collector was acting in good faith and work on trying to diffuse the emotional issues from the customer side. As a collector we are simply trying to resolve a transaction. It’s not personal and we are just trying to complete the task at hand. A good supervisor/manager will understand that and leverage their elevated title to assure the customer that we are doing everything in a competent and reasonable manner.

Over the years I have had some great supervisors and managers. For me, two bosses come to mind immediately and they were both women. Both of these supervisors allowed me to work with autonomy but kept a strong open line of communication. Whether I was brain-storming on ideas or just venting on every day frustrations, they made me feel comfortable and validated my efforts. This isn’t to say I was always infallible in my efforts. Many times these two superiors would lead with positive feedback but also suggest opportunities to vary my approach and monitor the results for unique situations that may arise in the future.

Collections is not a one trick pony. Some people think you send an email or make a call and that’s all the tools you need to do the job. This could not be farther from the truth. Like all facets of life, you tend to learn something new every day, even if it may be a very small thing. Having an open mind keeps the job interesting and along with the successes makes it rewarding. Today’s world requires you to have a great deal of mental flexibility. Having a supportive and encouraging boss makes the challenging days bearable. From those struggles you forge a strong team vibe that can help you get through the harder times if and when they come along.

Hope your day is productive and your efforts are recognized. Having someone tell you ‘good job’ doesn’t show up in the paycheck but it helps fortify a person’s resolve, builds morale and costs the company nothing.

— Scott Latta —

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