5 ways to encourage timely customer payments

By on February 21st, 2020 in Industry Insights

Expanding a small business requires a consistent and a steady, growing cash flow. Especially in the early stages of growth, a single, large payment or several smaller payments being delayed could mean the difference between keeping your doors open and closing up shop. 

Your consumers may delay or cancel their payment for any number of reasons: a more urgent financial need arose, they had a disagreement with you about your product or service, they simply forgot to pay, or they adamantly refused to pay for no reason at all. Navigating these situations with your customers can be a challenge and can take time and valuable resources. You have to consider:

  1. How much effort you’re willing or able to put into pursuing payment
  2. How much time you will spend on individual accounts
  3. Whether or not you’re willing to damage a customer relationship (or even lose them as a customer) to secure payment

Unfortunately, there is no right answer to these questions, and your business’ response will vary from case to case. 

Not everyone will pay what they owe

As delayed payments begin to pile up, many small businesses will begin to try to collect on these payments themselves, and the outside options are often limited due to traditional agencies having account volume or account value minimums. Traditional agencies are also seen as greedy, uncompromising, and even sometimes threatening according to a study published in the Journal of Business Ethics. You may only see 50% of whatever they are able to collect, and then also lose out on your customer relationships.

Some customers won’t pay. Period. Newer digital debt collection strategies can help to collect on these accounts and even build up your business’ reputation with consumers, but before you commit to using a 3rd-party collection service, there are some steps you can take to get closer to 100% payment rates! 

1. Have a clear plan for offering credit 

Negotiate payment terms in advance, write them down, and limit how much risk you take on each transaction. It can also help to adopt pre-paid models whenever possible and require a payment instrument before you let customers use your product. 

Your risk team should also be wary of newer customers without an established credit history. If you see a customer start using your product or service and they run up a significant balance in their first few days or weeks, monitor their account carefully. If you run an eCommerce business or a marketplace, frequent and aggressive purchasing sprees from new customers are a major red flag and should be examined before they become larger issues.

2. Charge and invoice promptly

By issuing your invoice or charging a payment instrument immediately following the completion of a job, you can secure payment without leaving room for evading payment.

Beyond that, you can build a (preferably automated) process for following up on chargebacks, outstanding balances, or invoices early and often. There is a careful balance between “often” and “too much” though, so be careful as you set up your contact cadence. Even if you don’t get paid on time, keeping yourself at the top of customers’ minds increases awareness and prepares them to negotiate payment terms when they’re able.

3. Make payment frictionless

Keep a payment instrument on file for your customers and verify it with a $0 authorization. You can also expand your available options and make it easy to set up multiple forms of payment; the more backup payment options you have on hand, the better your chances of completing payment. 

4. Talk to your customers like people

A few stray consumers may actively or angrily refuse to make a payment, but most of your customers want to stay out of debt. If you approach every delayed payment in this way, you can approach payment (and collections) with human in mind, and you can end up retaining a valuable, long term customer.

Customers that you work with may be able to provide invaluable feedback to your team’s processes. Make sure to follow up and talk to them!

Your small business’ goal with receivable management isn’t only to prevent late paying customers, it’s also to retain positive relationships with the most valuable ones. Don’t let a temporary situation ruin a beneficial long term relationship.

5. Prepare an escalation structure

Investing in preventing late paying customers can pay dividends to your bottom line, but retaining some expert help in the event you can’t collect on a delinquent account can be an effective strategy as well. Your risk team may be experts themselves, but accounts recovery is a complex industry to navigate, and if you don’t plan on building a full, first-party collections team in-house, you can form connections with other agencies. 

Having a small business collections partner as a last resort also increases your chances of recovery by informing customers that a delayed payment will likely move to collections. Consumers often recognize that having an account in collections can damage their credit scores and will do their best to pay if they are able.  

It’s not easy to prevent customers from missing the occasional payment, but by following a thorough process you can resolve delayed payments before they can damage your business. 

If delays begin to grow out of hand, you can always reach out to a digital debt collection agency like TrueAccord! Let our team know if you have questions.

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