Insurance · 28 November 2016

How to get comfortable having awkward conversations

awkward conversations
Awkward conversations can arise from late payments, and are a daunting prospect to overcome

If you’re challenging an employee over a fraudulent expenses claim or a client over a late payment, it can feel awkward. But if you want your business to succeed, you’re going to have to get comfortable having awkward conversations.

People feel awkward when their conversations are likely to result in a conflict, and they are not comfortable dealing with it. This is understandable because dealing with conflict is not a natural skill and is not a skill that’s often taught.

Most people improve with practice, but it’s a long drawn out process of trial and error. However, it doesn’t need to be this way. With a little bit of training, it’s surprisingly easy to become confident tackling any difficult situation, making awkward conversations a thing of the past.

Take calling a client to discuss an overdue invoice as an example. Being able to pick up the phone to ask for payment is one of the most effective methods of getting paid.

The trouble is, many people won’t do this because they don’t know what to say when faced with excuses, and want to avoid awkward conversations. People may also be afraid of losing future business if they don’t handle the situation properly.

Making effective collection calls is actually really simple when you know how. So, when I train someone to do this I take them through my three stage process, which I would like to share with you now.

Stage one: Prepare for the call

To be fully prepared for the call and ensure you get the most out of it, you need to answer three questions:

  1. What do you want to achieve from the call?
  2. Who are you going to call?
  3. What information do you need to hand, to answer any likely questions from your client?

What you want to achieve from the call will vary depending on which stage of your credit control process you’re at. For example, the objective of a first call may be to find out why you haven’t been paid, but when you are making a final demand for payment your objective will be to leave your client in no doubt that the next step is legal action.

Knowing what you want to achieve from the call will help you determine what you are going to say and how you are going to say it, steering you away from awkward conversations

Talking to the right person is essential if you want to be paid quickly. Make sure you talk to someone who can answer any questions you have, and who has authority to make the payment. If you don’t, and they have to speak to someone else, the message will be lost and payment will be delayed.

Your client will no doubt have questions for you too. Anticipate what they are likely to be and be prepared to answer them straight away. Often, questions will be around dates such as when delivery took place, when you submitted your invoice and when payment was due.

If you have to get back to your client with answers, you will lose control of the situation and it will increase the time it takes for you to get paid.

Stage two: Making the call

There are three distinct stages to the call – the introduction, the main purpose of the call and the closing.

The introduction sets the tone for the call and has a huge influence over its success. By all means break the ice and build some rapport, but remember why you are calling and don’t let the small talk go on for too long.

Never ask your client if it’s a convenient time to be calling or if they “have a moment”. This is a convenient time for you and if it really isn’t convenient for your client they will soon tell you. If you ask if it’s convenient it’s far too easy for your client to say “no”, and this is the most likely response if they know you’re going to be asking for money.

When you have made your introductions address the main purpose of the call and have a ready response for any excuses your client might have for not paying.

When it’s time to end the call, confirm any agreement you have reached or course of action either of you has agreed to take. This is important because any misunderstandings will slow payments down.

Stage three: The follow-up

After making a collection call, do three things:

  1. Make a note of what was discussed so you can refer back to it if needed
  2. Confirm to your client, in writing, what was agreed. An exchange of emails is usually sufficient and this is important as it will create a paper trial of evidence should you ever need to go to court
  3. Diarise any agreed dates so you can follow up if necessary

When we’re busy, it’s easy for agreed dates to slip past without taking action, but this is what slows payments down.

Do not let this happen.

Always follow up if your client doesn’t do something when they agreed to do it. When you follow up, you don’t want to be chasing, chasing and chasing and getting nowhere.

Each call must move you closer to getting paid. So, for each follow-up call you make, go back to stage one, because your answers to the three questions will be different as you increase the pressure on your client to pay.

If you want to feel more comfortable making collection calls, follow this outline and you will soon find your confidence and results improving.

As a final note, I don’t believe in using scripts when making calls because you need to have a certain degree of flexibility to react to situations as they arise.

However, starting off with a template can give people the confidence they need to start making more collection calls and the more calls they make, the better the results they will achieve.

If you would like a template or more information about how to make effective collection calls, please feel free to get in contact via editors@businessadvice.co.uk and I will be happy to help.

Catch up on the rest of David Walker’s dispute resolution series:

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ABOUT THE EXPERT

David Walker is the founder of Grid Law, a firm which first targeted the motorsport industry – advising on sponsorship deals, new contracts and building of personal brands. He has now expanded his remit to include entrepreneurs, aiding with contract law, dispute resolution and protecting and defending intellectual property rights.

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