Hi Everyone,

One of the things that I’ve been hearing about recently is the difficulty in trying to communicate effectively with a debtor who is experiencing a dire family or employee issue. Specifically, it’s not your usual “so when will payment be forthcoming and how much” collection situation when the other party is telling you about a serious hospitalization or the passing of a loved one or employee. Here are a couple of thoughts on how to communicate with a debtor who is sincerely having a difficult issue that is impacting their ability to pay.

Immediately change the tone – If someone has told you that their loved one or employee (especially the person in charge of making payment) is in the hospital or worse, stop the clock and be genuinely empathetic. “I’m very sorry to hear this.” and other expressions of sympathy are what’s needed at the moment. Subsequently pausing until the other party replies will let your words be felt and appreciated. It will also be the first step in establishing and keeping the line of communication open, especially if it’s someone you’re speaking with for the first time. Sometimes the new person you’re talking to is the next one in charge of paying the account and certainly you’ll never go wrong in showing a respectful and sympathetic manner.

Recognize that every situation is different – There’s no rule as to how to proceed after extending your sympathies. Sometimes the person you’re speaking with will be responsive to your gentleness and ask you to explain what you need or are looking for. By all means, despite the circumstances, please thank them for this opportunity and softly let them know why you’ve called. You may be surprised by their willingness to look into the matter. Or better yet, they know about it and will try to send the check out shortly. Or, they may not have any authority to do anything but will ask you to call back in a week or so. At least with the line of communication open you have a chance to continue making efforts.

Continue to tread slowly but carefully – Some difficulties, especially in small businesses where there is little staff back up, can send the company into a tailspin with very little hope of recovery. But others finally do get back up on their feet and after a certain point in time (case by case), there’s nothing wrong in asking for clarification concerning the past due account. If you continue to bear in mind that your expression of sympathy will continue to support your collection efforts, hopefully this will eventually lead to receiving payment in full.


Hector the Collector is a credit and collection advice column by Nancy Seiverd President CMI Credit Mediators Inc. Your thoughts and comments (nseiverd@cmiweb.com) are most welcome!

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