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That's Not Funny

As a consultant, I have occasionally seen dunning notices and other correspondence being sent by my clients to delinquent customers with stickers, stamps or other messages considered to be or intended to be humorous reminders to pay the past due balance.  In my opinion, when you use humor in collection correspondence you are trivializing the problem.

As a former Accounts Payable Manager, I believe that humorous collection messages undermine creditors’ efforts to collect past due balances quickly.  Proponents of the use of humor believe that a humorous request for payment is more likely to be noticed by the A/P department, and I agree.  When my A/P department received a humorous message, they shared it with their co-workers.  However, the question is not whether the message is noticed; the question is whether the message is taken seriously and acted upon quickly.

I admit that I have never used humor in collections, but I have used irony.  As a collector, I sent birthday cards to debtor companies’ CFOs when an invoice aged out to one year.  The message I wrote in the card read:  “Happy Birthday to invoice #123456 for $xxxx which is now a year old.  Please take immediate action to prevent this invoice from getting any older.”

Michael Dennis, MBA, CBF, LCM

Delinquent debtors often (usually?) ignore written collection correspondence.  They are even more likely to do so when humor is used.  Collecting past due invoices is serious business, and the use of humor sends the wrong message.  Trivializing the fact that an account is past due makes immediate payment far less likely.

Michael Dennis’ Covering Credit Commentary. Michael’s website is  www.coveringcredit.com

The opinions presented are those of the author.  The opinions and recommendations do not necessarily reflect the views of CMA, or their Officers and Directors.  Readers are encouraged to evaluate any suggestions or recommendations made, and accept and adopt only those concepts that make sense to them.

10 Responses to “That’s Not Funny – Michael Dennis, CBF”

  1. laurel Matthews says:

    I have the opposite effect that you refer to about debtors ignoring written correspondence.I actually get better responses to a written notice than I do to phone calls. Ive also found that written material like faxes and emails are wonderful pieces of documentation when you have to back up whether or not you contacted a customer. Especially with faxes where you have confirmation of sending. Emails -same thing if you have a return receipt function showing sent mail as read. I think a bit of humor might be ok if its used on customers who pay on time regularly and just may have overlooked an invoice. I certainly wouldnt want any funny stuff sent to chronically delinquint accounts.Personally, I try to keep my collections on a “light professional” level,by developing good relationships with customers accounts payable people.Being friendly but businesslike and inquiring about any personal goings on that they might mention like weddings, vacations etc. Seems to work well for me.

  2. DMarc says:

    I believe it substantially depends on the people involved and how far past due an invoice is. If it’s a reminder that something is a little over due/may have been overlooked/or the invoice wasn’t received in the appropriate dept it sometimes triggers the customer to remit payment without any further action by my staff. This is the catching flies with honey customer service mode, rather than the hey deadbeat mode. We don’t use it frequently but we have used it effectively.

  3. F. Scott Wilson says:

    I have sometimes used, when talking with customers, the statement that they are “violating the first rule of holes, which is when you’re in one, stop digging”. Several of my customers respond well to this, but the VP of Sales was concerned that some of them might consider it making light of our customers’ financial situation. Using that statement or not doesn’t seem to make a difference, so I’ve pretty much stopped using it for the time being.

    Incidentally, one “humorous” approach I’ve heard of is, when sending an invoice for the third or fourth time, printing it out on pink 11×17 paper, and writing in big letters, “Try to lose *this* one!” I see the point, but I wouldn’t do that with any of my customers.

  4. SteveA says:

    I agree that humor is not great tack to take when asking a customer to respond with payment. I find that being cordial but fully informative as to how much is past due, how far past due and what the consequences are of the past-due (we are unable to release your new rush order, etc) is the best tack to take.

    On the other hand, I do use humor with sales reps if I’m asking them to review a list of past-due accounts. These are people that I have an ongoing relationship with and I find that a bit of humor can get them to pay attention more to what otherwise is just one more dry boring report.

  5. Shy Jones says:

    I tend to use humor a lot but have never used it in a collection process. I agree with your blog, collections is not a venue for humor. Most would find the notice amusing, share it with their staff, and have a quick laugh. However, the notice would end up in the same pile as the other notices. Although you can use humor to lighten the mood with collection calls, I’ve found that most customers would rather cut to the chase and deal with the issue and those customers dealing with cash flow issues can find it annoying.

    Great blog…
    Shy

  6. Mayra G says:

    I like the birthday card story Michael. I think is funny but I wouldn’t use it. I would have to agree with Laurel & Steve. Most of my calls do not get the same response as I get from faxes or e-mails. In my opinion, humor is good if you have a friendly relationship with your customers. I am careful, respectful & professional about it since it can get them on your side or not. Friendly reminder works for me.

  7. Guy says:

    In either written or verbal communication, the use of humor or newsy chit chat can be an effective ice-breaker or a calming mechanism after the hard news. But collection work and socializing talk are two different topics. Both can be discussed in the same communication; just not mingled. You can get down to business first and then speak about the kids or the weather or vice versa. One topic is serious and one is not. I do not find it effective to intersperse the two topics. You send mixed messages to the account and lessen the urgency of your goal. The socializing is seen as insincere and the collection effort is lost in the conversation.

    • SteveA says:

      In my experience, written and verbal communication are quite different. I find that verbal communication has a lot more options for effective communication in different style. I’ve had a couple of older women that have worked for me at different times that had a phone technique that I described as – “Could I borrow a cup of sugar – and $5,000”

      They seemed to be mainly socializing but they were quite effective collectors on the phone – they just managed to make the collecting part of the conversation seem like it was “oh, by the way.”.

      Personally, I’m much more to the point with hardly any schmoozing with most people I deal with.

  8. Margaret Spencer says:

    Michael

    Great feedback on this blog from all the respondents.

    Some might think of you as humorless based on this blog but I know better. I remember, among other things, the sign on your desk that read: “Be Brief, and Be Gone” and when anyone got long winded, you would point to that sign. So, you are not opposed to humor in the workplace….and I know that you don’t discourage collectors from bantering and joking with their A/P contacts.

    So, your concern is about the use of humor in written collection notices. It is an interesting topic and based on the comments already posted, the responses are mixed.

    I think it is important to tell readers that you managed both A/P and A/R+Credit at the same company at the same time. It will help everyone to understand that your point of view on A/P and A/R is somewhat unique.

    Happy New Year my Friend.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Does humor have a place in collections? | Express Recovery Services - October 9, 2013

    […] for an example? Dennis sends birthday cards to delinquent account holders. Here’s an example from a recent blog post: “Happy Birthday to invoice #123456 for $xxxx which is now a year old. […]

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