In the East end of the city of Toronto on Danforth Avenue is an interesting store, The Hollywood Canteen. It is a great source for posters, books and much more related to the movie business. Fortunately for me, it is a short walk from my office and during one of my visits, I came across a poster for, ‘The Seven Faces of Dr. Lao’. It us a film that was made in 1964 and stars Tony Randall.

It reminded me of the many faces that may be necessary for successful collections and the lessons we can learn from them.

The Gang Face:

Eldon turned to me and said, “Put on your gang face.” This was a couple of years ago when my firm was consulting with a company in Detroit. I was tagging along with Eldon who was scheduled to collect or to disconnect a service.

Lesson 1: You don’t want trouble and you do not call on a customer in person or on the telephone ‘expecting’ a confrontation…but you should always be prepared. All firms need a clear policy of how they deal with the security and safety of their people. This includes many, not just one…technique to use when dealing with an upset, irate…or worse customer.

Saving Face:

‘It is important for all of our customers to save face’, says Steve Coyle. Originally from Seattle, Steve is an expert in Asian collection techniques and has been working and living in Malaysia for a good number of years. We were in Kuala Lumpur and Steve took the time to tell me that while my assertive collection skills would save time, and maybe even collect money – they would have a negative impact on customer retention.

Lesson 2: We ALL need to save face (‘Give the Dog a Good Name’ was a chapter in Dale Carnegie’s book), but with some individuals or cultures we need to go further and apply the platinum rule rather than the golden rule.

Face the music:

Often in my consulting role, I will find all too often, by letter or telephone call, people send the same message. It is a bit like the unarmed British police officer who says, “Halt, or I’ll yell halt again!

Lesson #3:  It is time to face the music. Many of us might agree that a good definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results. One of the biggest mistakes made in the receivables business is when people do not (or too slowly) increase their efforts and assertive action.

About face:

While it is almost always a bit mistake to not up the volume on collection efforts, I have some success using a much softer approach. Mind you, the general increase in being assertive has taken place and just before a write-off or an assignment, it is an opportunity to try a last, ‘soft’ approach, “Perhaps, Mr. Customer…you just forgot…”

Lesson #4:

It is softer, but still DIFFERENT. The gradual increase in volume hadn’t been successful and while a softer one shouldn’t work – it often does.

North Face:

Some of you may be aware that “North Face” is a brand of clothing, mostly outer wear that was established in California in the late sixties. The name came about because in the northern hemisphere, the North Face of a mountain is more likely to be the steepest, coldest, and most difficult face to climb.

Lesson #5: Anyone can collect from a customer who has the money to pay you and who is also being co-operative. But, there isn’t much glory there. Perhaps someone in your department, maybe you, dealt with the customer from hell this month and deserves some recognition. It is time to get a North Face jacket or a trophy and recognize the achievement.

Most of all, you have to write the letter, pick up the telephone or get in the car or airplane and go visit your customer. You’ve got to ‘do it’ and I believe it is summed up best in a quote from the actress, athlete and model Sasah Azevedo who said: ”I do believe that when we face challenges in life that are far beyond our own power, it’s an opportunity to build on our faith, inner strength and courage. I’ve learned that how we face challenges plays a big role in the outcome.”