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How to effectively collect fees owed (7th June 2013)

Over the years we have seen many different collection techniques used at different law firms.  In our opinion by far the best and most effective way of collecting debs is by the telephone.  Letters can be binned and not be received, (deliberately or otherwise).  It is the slowness of the process as well as the lack of feedback that poses the biggest problems.

Sending reminder statements with a colourful sticky image broadcasting “urgent” is, in our view, not worth the cost of the stamp.

The problem here is that no matter how many letters are sent and urgent payment requested stamps are affixed, you don’t know the reason why there is a failure to pay this account.  However, if you talk to the debtor personally you are able to interact and establish the reason. It could be as simple as; I didn’t get the invoice, or we have been away, or that’s the wrong address etc.

It is unworkable to have people come to your office for a discussion. Emails can be ignored.  However, a competent credit controller can make numerous calls in just one hour.  The telephone is really the best and most immediate method.

Now let’s consider the call itself.  Our preference at SLM is to have a designated person, properly trained from your accounts team to do this. It is often not a good move to have the solicitors do this job (for many reasons).  We have seen people properly trained actually make these calls and they can get payments in, without raising their voice- ever. There is a technique though and some people are more suited than others.

The objective is to get paid, in full, but if that is not possible then the credit controller needs to know what he or she can negotiate.  Some riding instructions need to be given in advance.  A most common problem is that the client maintains they don’t have the money now but will shortly.  The credit controller asks the right questions, to test why, and if satisfied, makes another time to call when the client says they will have the money.  In our experience the follow up is then of paramount importance.

Here is a quick checklist for you:

It is fundamentally important to follow-up when the account is due for payment – on the day you said you would.