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According to The National Federation of Business Information, Debt collection and Civil Investigation*,  in France, 9 out of 10 corporate debtors and 8 out of 10 private debtors are actually solvent. However, it is very often up to the companies to contact their customers in order to collect what is owed. This is a major challenge, since a company is six times more likely to go bankrupt when its customers leave bills overdue for longer than 30 days.

Often considered as a tough and technical job, debt collection is, in fact, effective and crucial for the survival of many businesses. 

In times like today, when we’re going through such a sudden and unforgiving crisis, the challenge is even tougher as some businesses have seen their activity grind to a halt. In this context, the objective is to collect the sums owed while showing intelligence and subtlety in the customer relationship. The challenge: maintaining a productive debt collection activity while keeping a strong brand image and the most effective business relationship possible. 

But how can we do this? 

Here are 5 useful tips to support your debt collection strategies.

 

1 – Keep scheduling reminder calls, but adapt the message

Since the start of the Covid-19 Crisis, with the decrease in customer reachability, and the economic uncertainty, chasing up customers in debt may feel more awkward. Some people have a genuine concern for their future, while others are playing on this fear.

This is precisely in this context that it is important to maintain contact in order to ensure the collection momentum for both businesses and private individuals. 

However, maintaining the same tone and frequency of contacts as usual isn’t appropriate. We need to adapt to whom we’re speaking to, offer them solutions, such as scheduling payment instalments or giving them access to copies of the invoices.

We also need to adapt the scenarios and methods of our reminders. Of course, it is essential to adopt the appropriate multichannel strategy, as we wouldn’t address an individual owing €20 to their telephone provider, in the same way as we would a company with a €50 000 debt.

 

2 – Strengthen our relationship with each customer

Keeping a constructive relationship with customers in debt is critical, in order to maintain a strong debt collection performance while preserving the brand’s image.

We especially need to impress upon the customer how important it is to respect the arranged instalment schedule. To do so, we need to tailor our approach, ensure our tone is right, and that the actions are personalised. We must protect the image of the brand while maintaining a debt collection position, be open to conversation but remain firm and directive.

 

3 – Be agile and flexible in our approach

As the crisis we’re in is constantly changing, it is necessary to evolve and adapt with it. To do so, we must have at our disposal real-time data monitoring and reporting. This allows us to make rapid strategic decisions and to constantly evolve our multichannel contact strategies and scripts. We cannot ignore the global economic and emotional context, and the personal financial situation of the customers. It is therefore important that we practice our listening and empathy skills, and that we adapt our speech and wording according to each situation.

 

4 – Focus on a stronger personalisation

In these uncertain times, the situations vary greatly from one sector to another. Outreach and case management processes need to be fully customised. Therefore, for Business to Business focused companies, we recommend to carry out solvency investigations. These consist of a detailed analysis of the financial health of a company through interviews with third parties (banks, customers, suppliers). This analysis helps improve the decision making process, in an effort to combine risk management with contact strategies. Partnering with a debt collection specialist to conduct these solvency investigations will help decide on the best approach and solutions for each customer situation: How to best contact them, schedule instalments, listen and adjust timelines, etc. Personalising actions is critical to leverage performance.

 

5 – Offering a financial experience with a difference

Maintaining a strong link between customer care and debt collection performance will be key when entering into the post-crisis period.

Even though we are currently at a low ebb, we must start preparing for the future. When the economy starts recovering, everyone will remember what happened, whether positive or negative. This is why it is important that we don’t delay in strengthening our relationship with customers and adapting our approach to the current context. Beyond the results, every crisis is an opportunity to think and operate differently. 

The crisis created by the Covid-19 outbreak highlights how important it is for companies to optimise their cash flow management. Referrals to the financial ombudsman are on the rise, particularly in the case of late payments. These were already aggravating factors to the risks of bankruptcy, they are even more today.

In this difficult context, it is crucial to preserve cash flows, while protecting the brand image. 

*The National Federation of Business Information, Debt collection and Civil Investigation is the French trade association that brings together companies – start-ups, SMEs, ETIs, subsidiaries of banks, international groups – active in customer risk management, serving the French economy.

About the authors

Jérôme Allix is the General Manager of Comdata Cash Management France, the division of Comdata Group dedicated to debt collection, customer receivables and DSO optimisation. For over 45 years, in France and abroad, Comdata Cash Management has been supporting its clients in 4 areas: 

  • audit and consulting
  • reminders and debt collection
  • innovation and tools
  • tailor-made solvency inquiries

For more information, please email Comdata Cash Management: contact-cash-management@comdatagroup.fr

 

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