An apology for NOT dunning?
“What can I do”, Bonnie asked, “with customers who don’t pay until 60 days plus, their terms are 30 days, but we haven’t been following up for payment until after the 60 day mark?”
This question was asked yesterday at a collection program in Toronto and I have heard it or variations of the question before.
It is not much different than having a curfew for one of your children, say 9 pm, but they show up at 11 pm, night after night. Teenagers may be the group that pushes the envelope the most, but debtors will be a close second.
So, what can you do?
- Change your terms:
Perhaps you are out of step with all of your competition. If everyone else charges 60 days, but you are at 30, perhaps you need to change your terms.Careful with the customer though, who then starts paying even later.
- Remain calm – carry on:
You may be dealing with one or more 500 lb gorillas. Remember the answer to the question of ‘where does a 500 lb gorilla sleep? Anywhere it wants!A large customer may say, “perhaps your terms are 30 but we pay in 60, take it or leave it”. If you are not going to convince them otherwise and do not have other options – be glad you have them if they are that important and move on.
- Don’t change them – change you!
Yes Brutus, the fault may not be in the stars.If we had an agreement and it was not followed up by us, no reminders and no consequences, then let’s not blame anyone else. It is time to change our actions but the success, according to Mark Twain, in changing any habit it not to toss it out the window, but drag it down the stairs one at a time before you fling it out the door.
It may be considered unreasonable by some if you call them for payment a month earlier than we have over the last ten years. Fair and legal – but unreasonable. Set a timetable, maybe start with different balances, calling at 50 days, then moving to 40 days. If a customer objects or balks at your new procedure (not a policy change), you might say:
“I am sure you appreciate the extra time your firm may have had over the last number of years, but your agreement with us was and has always been 30 days. We are not asking you to do anything different than your earlier commitment.”
Practice this line, say the words out loud, change them around until you are comfortable, maybe do a bit of role playing.
You may even find it worthwhile to put your customers on ‘official’ notice with an apology from you – via email or letter, along the following lines:
October 8, 2013
Accounts Payable Manager
124 Drayton Blvd
Subject: Please accept our apology
Your firm had agreed to credit terms of 30 days in the original agreement, but over the last few years the average payment has been 64 days.
Although we mentioned the 30 day terms in all invoices sent, we may not have followed up as closely as we could have for the agreed payment. We accept some of the responsibility for the delay and promise to do better.
In these busy times many of us as individuals, firms or associations need occasional reminders and we promise to do much better with initial and follow up contact.
If there is any situation we are not aware of that may prevent or hinder your firm meeting its original commitment of 30 days, I would appreciate if you would call me when you finish reading this letter.
My number is (416) 691-2648.
Your understanding will be appreciated and please rest assured that you may count on our diligent and professional follow up in the future.
You deserve to be paid on time for your products and services but we will not change the mindset of debtors – they often need to be reminded and if they push the envelope we have to be ready to push back. There are and should be consequences for not paying your invoice on time.
Warning! You must be ready for appropriate and assertive follow up. You do not want to be like the British policy officer who yells, “Stop, or I’ll yell stop again!” As my old mentor T. Frank Hardesty was known to say, “If you can’t cut the mustard, don’t pick up the knife!”