Best Practice #2: Always Improve

If there’s one thing that’s true about the efficiency of business no matter what aspect of it you are discussing, it’s the fact that more efficiency in the workplace makes the entire system operate more smoothly, and usually at less cost too. The same can be said of the collection process, which is why you should be constantly seeking to improve both the system and the efficacy of your employees in achieving their objectives.

There are several ways to go about this, but knowing which improvements need to be made requires thorough analysis of the collection process. Maybe the team needs to be more efficient, or maybe the policy itself needs to be altered. Perhaps it would be best to let the entire process be handled by a collection agency? It all depends on what shortcomings you discover during the analysis of your company’s collection process.

Because the collection process is exhaustive in both time and resources, it’s important to estimate which option will actually be less costly for your company in the long run: hiring the services of a specialized collection agency or formulating your own internal collections division. Neither option is necessarily superior to the other, as they both have advantages and disadvantages. For instance, outsourcing the collection process to a collection agency means you don’t have to train your own employees to perform the same task, which consumes time and resources. On the other hand, collection agencies don’t care for the customer relationship, instead doing what they have to do to guarantee that the debt is collected. This can make it very hard to retain clients in these situations.

On the other hand, making your own internal collections unit also has pros and cons. Employees for your own company will be far more invested in ensuring a client stays with the company even after a collection, but on the other hand the internal unit will likely be more expensive, if only because of the cost of the specialized training they’ll need as well as the cost of supervision and management of a new branch within the company.

If you settle on an internal collections unit, there are many ways to improve their performance, chief among them choosing the optimal employees to fill particular roles in the process. You should also consider employee incentives, something that will motivate the unit as a whole to work towards more desirable results in the collection process. Everyone likes to be rewarded for a job well done, so imposing a reward for that work is fairly good practice.

In the end, different options work best for different companies. Some may find that enlisting the services of a specialized agency is the most practical choice, while other companies may find that organizing an internal collections unit serves their purpose best. Determining which one will serve your company most efficiently is simply a matter of careful analysis of your preexisting collections process or lack thereof, which makes the final decision obvious.

Best Practice #3: Quality Information

When it comes to a process as delicate as collecting money, nothing is going to make that process more frustrating than having inaccurate information in regards to it. Everyone would like the collection process to do its job as quickly and efficiently as possible, and that means not wasting any time on situations that weren’t necessary because someone passed along incorrect information. Precise and organized knowledge is the key to making the entire process as quick and simple as it can possibly be.

In order to achieve this organized information, you’ll need to have a specific system to both facilitate and organize it efficiently. Unorganized knowledge does nothing to lessen the complexity of the process. This system of organization will often have information divided into three sections of reports: management, monitoring, and risk management.

Management reports will deal with lists primarily, detailing past due clients that still need to be visited or contacted by a collections agent, or organizing past due clients by the length of their delinquency or the scale of their debt. These reports are critical for keeping track of clients in a way that determines which ones need to be dealt with first and foremost. For that reason management reports will usually be generated daily to keep the staff updated on what still needs to be done and how urgently those actions are required.

Monitoring reports deal more with portfolio than anything else. These reports will often determine delinquent portfolio based on many different factors, including ratios of efficiency on the collection process, delinquent portfolio by product, and summaries of portfolio by ageing and zone. Generated weekly or maybe even monthly, these reports will generally be used by upper management to address issues with delinquent portfolio performance.

Risk management reports exist to better predict the outcome of different factors in the process, and to allow oversight for the performance of the whole process. Information regarding the impact of collections over portfolio performance through tracking indicators, recovered balances, billing cycles and individual roll down ratios are all included in risk management reports.

Outside of these reports, you will also want to ensure that your basic client information is always accurate. When the time comes to act on a collection, you’ll need to be able to locate and contact the client as quickly and easily as possible, and that means staying up to date with all of their contact information on a fairly regular basis. The ease with which you can physically locate them and contact them is important.

Finally, you’ll want to invest in numerous internal committees and units to gather such information and act on it as necessary. All information needs management, and that can be most easily achieved through the formulation of internal methodological control units and internal past due committees. The greater level of management you have within the collection process, the more accurate and organized the information you need to use will be, and the more efficient and simple the whole process can become.

Best Practice #4: Well-Defined Collection Strategies

For a system that you will have to fall back on several times over the course of your business career, your need to have tried and true but more importantly clear cut and solid strategies and policies in place for everyone to follow. Policies and strategies such as this exist for the sole purpose of directing your employees’ actions under certain circumstances and guiding them on how to respond when things change. Having a good plan is critical to the overall success of the unit, even if that plan has to sometimes be altered on the fly or not used at all.

The first and most important policy to formulate for your collections team is how they are to initially contact past due clients. There are so many ways to go about it, there needs to be a guide that determines which tactic is most effective and when. Should the team contact them through phone, email, or a written letter, and how many days past due should first contact be? Moreover, you’ll need to lay out the rest of the procedure as well, such as how and when second and final contacts should be carried out. This is one of the most important strategies to formulate and clearly define for your team.

You will also need to set up policies for the handling of risk based collections. A lot of things can happen during the process that affect how it needs to be handled. Sometimes the client has suffered personal tragedy, and in that case your agents may need to approach them differently. You may also encounter issues with client excuses, clients unable to be contacted, and other problems and obstacles that you can’t expect to be part of the normal process for a collections officer. You need to lay out strategies and policies for your employees to use when these obstacles arise, in order to handle the situation as efficiently as possible.

You’ll probably also want to use a strategy that divides your clients into segments. Knowing your customer segments is a critical aspect of running any business, and it is exactly so for collections as well. Having different types of clients divided into groups that match the criteria you have set will make it easier to predict how they will be dealt with whenever particular situations arise. What criteria you use is completely up to you, but the most common criteria are location, solvency, ability to pay and attitude.

In the end, these defined strategies and policies will never be one hundred percent full proof. They will often need to be altered on the fly as situations change, but that doesn’t negate the useful nature of having a plan in the first place. Whether or not a plan is used it is always prudent to have one in place as the default method of reaction to obstacles and issues. How you go about establishing those strategies and policies is key to their success.

Best Practice #1: Proactive Strategies

The collection process is infamous in both business and everyday life as one of the most frustrating hassles one can be involved with. Whether you’re trying to collect or someone is trying to collect from you, it’s always a tough process that spurs irritability and frustration. But as far as collecting goes, there are ways to improve the process and make it easier for your company, either by reducing the effort it takes to collect, or cutting down on the time it takes to collect money you are owed. With the right strategies you can often do both, and the top strategy for achieving that is proactivity.

What is Proactive Recovery?

Proactive strategy is the art of solving problems before they are even actual problems. Not only does the art of prevention make short work of issues that many businesses suffer from when they try to collect invoices and debts, but they are often less costly than rectification practices as well. Thankfully there are many proactive strategies to use in the collection process to optimise it.

Educating First

The whole point or proactive strategies is to manage clients carefully before they are ever late on a debt. If you are careful about increasing the likelihood of a client paying, you’ll be more likely to avoid debts and late invoices at all.

One of the best ways to make sure that happens is to educate the client prior to disbursement. The more a client knows about the situation they’re getting into, the better. Having your clients be informed beforehand has a significant impact on reducing default rates, if only because the people who know what they are getting into and still do are more likely to follow through with their obligations.

Informing, informing, informing

This means informing the client of everything they need to know, such as the implications of getting a loan, how the product they are purchasing works, what the benefits for them would be if they pay on time, and what the payment schedule is like.

Another valuable proactive strategy is to address customer complaints as quickly as possible. Disgruntled customers are far more likely to default on payments, all the same as satisfied customers are more likely to pay on time. This is especially true if the customer is offering a valid complaint that has something to do with your product or your process, in which case you are practically obligated to rectify the issue. The less people complain about your company and the more they like about it, the more likely it is that they’ll put in the effort to pay their debts on time.

And of course, positive reinforcement is always an effective strategy. People like rewards, and rewards can often be more motivating than consequences. If there’s a good reason to pay on time aside from avoiding late fees, such as immediate renewal, clients will be even more likely to pay their debts on time, making positive reinforcement a truly effective proactive technique for your company’s collection process.

How much cost your collection strategies?

Even processes that are designed to gain money still cost money. It’s an unfortunate fact of life and business that we all have to work around, making every process a matter of optimizing your income to outmatch the expense. The same can be said of the collections process, which revolves entirely around gathering money. There are several factors that are a part of the expenses involved in the collection process, and knowing what they are can help you optimize them for minimal expense and optimal income.

Even processes that are designed to gain money still cost money

Thankfully, the majority of expenses involved with the collection process has to do with the employees that deal with the process in the first place. The largest expense of the process is the salary and incentives you set aside for your employees. Obviously the more people you have involved with the collection process the more people you are paying, and the more expensive the entire process is as a whole.

Of course, it may seem difficult to mitigate this expense, but the solution is quite simple. The more efficient your team is in dealing with the collection process, the less of them you will need. Small, efficient teams are just as good as and more cost effective than large, average teams, allowing you to optimize the amount of money that is spent on salaries and forms of incentive.

Following this expense, you must deal with operating expenses, which are usually consistent and moreover, out of your control. Operating expenses includes factors such as transportation and rent, which are usually costs determined by individuals or factors you can’t do anything about. That said, you can always cut back on certain avenues of execution within operating expenses, but you’ll have much greater optimization if you worry about the other factors, which includes fees to collection agencies.

If you’re involved in the collection process, then you already know that collection agencies are the final fallback plan for collecting invoices and debts that the client will likely never pay. Of course, they don’t work for free, and those fees can rack up over time, often forming twenty to forty percent of your collection process expenses. Of course, the best way to cut down on this expense is to not make use of collection agencies at all.

Not that you shouldn’t fall back on them at all when the situation grows desperate, but if your team is efficient and proactive, you will have a higher chance of avoiding the need for a collection agency. There are many strategies that can be used to improve the effectiveness of your collection team, and through those strategies you can reduce the need for collection agencies and therefore mitigate your expenses even further through a reduction in service fees.

In the end, the collection process will drain your fiscal resources, like any process in business does. But like any process, the magnitude of that fiscal drain can be greatly mitigated through smart strategies and careful planning.