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Voice Mail Jail

I believe any collection call that does not result in a payment commitment being made by the debtor must be considered a failure, and a collection call resulting in a payment commitment of less money than the creditor expected must be characterized as only marginally productive.  Many times, collectors never speak to anyone in accounts payable.  Instead, they leave voice mail messages and end up in voice mail jail.

In my experience, as often as not creditors voice mail messages are ignored.  Why?  As a former accounts payable manager, my experience was that the volume of incoming collection calls far exceeded the time that the members of the accounts payable team could spend updating creditors on the status of payment.  The question that we must all consider is this:  Is there a way to make collection calls more productive?

I have found that one approach works particularly well.   It involves simply refusing to leave a voice mail message. Here are several work-arounds to voice mail jail:

  • Call the company operator and ask to speak to the A/P Manager.  If they are not available, ask for the Controller or CFO and conduct your collection call as normal
  • Call the operator and ask that your A/P contact be paged
  • Call the operator and ask to speak to anyone in Accounts Payable
  • Tell the operator that you are prepared to remain on hold until someone in A/P will take your call
  • If you cannot reach the A/P department and know the name of the buyer, contact the buyer and ask if she or he can transfer you to “anyone” in accounting that can help you

One final comment:  If you do not have a tracking mechanism or event alert tool that automates the process of identifying and ideally prioritizing collection calls based on the dollar amount past due or the age of the past due balance, then you are at a competitive disadvantage relative to creditor companies that have automated this process.

Michael Dennis, MBA, CBF, LCM

That’s my opinion.  What’s yours?

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.

6 Responses to “Voice Mail Jail – Michael Dennis, CBF”

  1. Karen Buckinghan says:

    I have also asked to speak to the DEBTOR’S credit manager and then asked her or him to transfer me to a real live person in the debtor’s accounts payable department.

  2. Christine Alfonso says:

    At one time, I used to be concerned about offending customers by being too direct or too pushy in my collection calls. I have come to realize that the only reason I am calling a debtor is they have not lived up to their commitments. With that mindset, it is easy for me to accept the idea that we should not hang up until we have a payment commitment.

  3. F. Scott Wilson says:

    One of my tactics when I can’t reach someone, especially when their voicemail system appears impenetrable, is to start dialing random extensions, tracking them of course so I don’t duplicate my calls. Most of the time, perhaps 80%, I will get a live human being. I then apologize and tell them I’m actually looking for A/P, and would they be so kind as to give me their name and extension? Almost every time they will also transfer me, and then I get the right person, and put them on the spot for the money.

  4. Michael Dennis says:

    Brilliant Scott, and especially in combination with Christina’s comments about not being the least bit embarrassed about finding creative ways to break out of the debtor’s carefully designed Voice Mail Jail

  5. Margaret Spencer says:

    To add to what Scott said, I was usually pleasantly surprised by how often internal transfers were picked up by accounts payable when I ‘accidentally’ dialed the wrong extension and then asked to be transferred to the correct one – especially after I had tried numerous times to get A/P to pick up my call and failed.

  6. Michael Dennis says:

    One think I forgot to mention in the Blog was the idea of blockers. You may reach someone in A/P only to learn that the individual has NO authority to make commitments or negotiate better payment commitments. A blocker’s role is to provide you with the debtor company line. Example: Your check for the past due balance should be issued sometime next week. This is NOT a commitment, it is a weather forecast and equally important waiting an additional week or more for payment may not be an acceptable resolution to the account delinquency problem.

    I prefer to ask a series of questions to find out if I am dealing with a decision maker or a blocker including these: Are you authorized to negotiate as to when the payment will be sent? Can you approve overnight delivery of that payment? If we agree on a repayment schedule, do you have authority to sign an agreement relating to that payment plan? If we reach an agreement, is there anyone in your organization with the authority to ignore your commitment and delay payment even longer?

    Answers to the questions help determine of you are dealing with a decision maker or a note taker. If you are talking to a note taker, indicate your concern about this arrangement and ask to speak directly to the final decision maker relating to which creditors get paid how much and when.

    Michael C. Dennis

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