image from The Gods must be CrazyRecently, I was asked to contribute an article to a conference about technology and Accounts Receivable. I beleive the most used and abused technology to help debt management is email.

In the popular 1980 film, “The Gods Must be Crazy”, a bushman embarks on an adventure to throw an empty coca-cola bottle off the end of the earth. The tribe had decided the gods must have been crazy to have sent them ‘only one’ of something so useful.

It is the same feeling I have about email on occasion. It can and should be such a wonderful tool, yet I get the feeling that the technical gods must have been crazy to have sent us something with so much potential, but without specific instructions.

The following would have saved a lot of careers, reduced stress, improved communications and collected much more money.

The Rules:

  1. Your mamma was right!I have delivered collection seminars in 23 different countries and so far (knock on wood) everyone has agreed that mothers always said” “When you leave the house, always wear…clean underwear”. You never know what could happen, have an accident and end up in the hospital and you don’t want to embarrass yourself and you sure don’t want to embarras your momma.

    You never know where you email is going to end up. There is no such thing as confidential email. By now, you would think everyone would know this but there are reports daily of individuals and firms getting themselves into serious trouble, costing millions of dollars per word.

    Don’t even joke around with co-workers about one of your customers – because something will get forwarded on at some point.

  2. It ain’t:Email falls between a letter and a telephone conversation. It does not need to be as formal as a letter but neither should it be as informal as a discussion on the telephone.

    It is a unique communication tool and it ain’t a letter and it ain’t a telephone call.

  3. Don’t be a scaredy cat!Too many people hide behind email, thinking it is productive when it is not. Sure, it’s a lot easier to send an email than to have a potentially heated discussion with a debtor on the telephone. If collecting by email worked all the time, I wouldn’t do anything else.

    However, if you have sent one or at the most two – don’t send another. It’s time to pick up the telephone or perhaps make a visit.

  4. Stop the insanity!Too many emails and too much ‘copy all’. Enough said.
  5. Let’s focus peeple – keep on the message!You made the translation yourself and understood that ‘peeple’ was people, yet you still had to pause and make the change. Spelling and grammar still count and though nobody will notice when your spelling is right, they sure notice a mistake. (Just like taking a shower and using deodorant.)
  6. Each word like you had to pay for it.It used to be with telegrams that you paid for every word above a set maximum. Oh for the gold old days!

    If the instructions were just to keep your message shorter, nobody pays attention. Here are the guidelines:

    – 22 words maximum per sentence
    – 2 sentences maximum in a paragraph
    – no word of more than 3 syllables, unless technical and needed.

  7. Open says me!The phrases ‘open sesame’ was a magical phrase from Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves. While the subject line is important in a letter, it is critical in email.

    It may determine if your client opens the email and if so how quickly. If not, the words in the subject line may be the only ones they read.

    Studies have shown that fewer words are more effective and herThe most used and abused technology to help debt management is email.

I was going to list ten guidelines, but figure I’ve said enough and should follow my own advice. A knife may serve us or cut us depending on whether we pick it up by the handle or the blade. You can cut your losses and reduce bad debt – if you pick up and use email by its proper handle.

Pithy Quote:

For email, the old postcard rule applies. Nobody is supposed to read your postcards, but you’d be a fool if you wrote anything private on one.
…Judith Martin