Coping with Angry or Hostile Debtors When Collecting on a Delinquent Account
Written by Lee VandenHeuvel
Note: this is the fourth blog in a series that provides insider tips on commercial and b2b debt collection. Read part 1, How to Collect Debt from a Delinquent Commercial Account, here; read part 2, Making the Call, here; read part 3, The Broken Promise: The Next Step in Collecting on a Delinquent Account, here.
You've taken a firm stance with your debtor about your expectations for payment. What do you do if, instead of cooperating, the debtor takes an aggressive posture, justified or not? As a commercial collection agency in Michigan that has been in business for more than 40 years, we've seen people's emotions run the gamut. The anger could be the by-product of some other recent event and may or may not be a legitimate problem. Railing accusations about poor service, unresponsive sales reps, slow delivery, credits due or harassing collection activity are some of the arguments you may encounter.
Hostile expressions can tempt a caller to respond in kind. At no time should you reciprocate. Always maintain a calm demeanor. Ask specific questions regarding the complaint and assure the customer you will follow up. Be sure to seek a commitment for paying before concluding the call. Remember, the customer could have communicated the alleged problem before your call. Unjustified, angry and hostile complaining may be a ruse to solicit a negative response providing a rationale to further delay payment. Defuse this defense. Maintain a courteous, friendly tone and show concern.
You will, many times, receive rude treatment by the debtor due to pressures and circumstances that certainly are beyond your control. Among them may be marital problems, death in the family, and most obviously, money problems. While an expression of sympathy may be in order, do not be distracted from your purpose. Maintain a serious demeanor and seek recovery. You may have to work out an agreed arrangement; however, by maintaining a serious tone you will deflate any notion that you can be easily manipulated. Neither you nor your customer should perceive or treat this type of defense as routine and acceptable.
Most people do intend to pay their bills, and if he’s struggling to pay you, you certainly can and will be a convenient target. Again, you are not a whipping boy for any debtor, but a little empathy can sometimes go a long, long way.
Lee VandenHeuvel is President/CEO of Ross, Stuart & Dawson, Inc., a commercial collection agency certified by the Commercial League of America. Lee has been helping creditors for 30 years to review and improve their credit/collection processes and is a frequent speaker at industry conferences.