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Steps You Can Take to Ensure You Get the Best Results from Your Collection Agency
It's the nature of the beast, the law of averages. Whatever you choose to call it – some of your accounts are going to end up past due. You're going to have to call on a professional to help you collect.
So you hand the account off. It's up to the agency now. You've done all you can. Right? Maybe.
According to the ABC-Amega third-party collection experts we talked to, there's plenty you can do to stack the deck in favor of getting the money you're owed.
Here are nine suggestions from the pros.
#1 Submit Claims Early
The number one factor affecting collectability of delinquent receivables placed with a collection agency is the age of the account when placed. And, interestingly enough, the number one mistake creditors make on past due accounts is waiting too long before placing them.
When an account has hit 90 days past due, sometimes even sooner, the creditor has lost leverage. It's time for third party intervention. The longer you wait, the more likely the debtor will go out of business, file bankruptcy, or simply disappear. At that point, your options become extremely limited.
As soon as a customer stops paying on time, suspend further shipments and begin your own collection efforts. If the customer hasn’t paid or set-up a payment plan by 60-90 days past due, place the account with a collection agency. If your customer promises payment and doesn't follow through, submit the claim immediately to a third-party debt collection firm.
#2 Submit Collection Accounts to the Claim Submission Desk
Once you've decided to submit an account to a third party, you want them to get going as soon as possible. (Remember, Step 1. Time is a critical factor.) The quickest way to get your claim entered into the agency's collection system is to submit it to the right place – the claim submission desk. Not to the collector, not to customer service. Why is this so important?
Every collection agency has administrative staff standing by to see that new claims get into their system quickly. This is the person you want your claim to go to first. Sending it to someone else absolutely guarantees it will be delayed, or worse case scenario, lost.
To kick-start the handling of your account, it's absolutely essential to follow your agency's instructions about how to submit new claims.
If you submit your claim to the wrong person a number of things could happen – most of them not helpful to getting payment on your past due account. If the person you sent it to is out of the office, your claim could sit in an e-mail inbox for days before it's forwarded it to the claim submission desk. A faxed claim could end up in a pile of faxes related to current collection accounts, and discovered a day (or more) later, when the collector finally gets through his correspondence.
#3 Provide Complete Documentation and Information at Placement
Here again, time is critical. While ABC-Amega can start working a claim with just the debtor contact information and amount owed, collectors usually need documentation to enforce or validate their demands on the debtor. Collection efforts are much more effective, and efficient, if we have a full understanding of the details of the claim up-front.
Send everything you have that helps to substantiate the debt, that provides insight into your relationship with the debtor, and that can improve the collectability of the account.
Here's a listing of information that, if submitted up-front, can reduce collection time by weeks, and greatly improve your chances of getting paid:
- Clear and concise Statement of Account
- Summary of in-house collection efforts; status of account when placed
- Accurate and complete debtor information including the legal name of the debtor, not a dba
- Copies of invoices, purchase orders, credit application, contract
- Copy of signed personal guarantee
- Any correspondence (letters, faxes, emails) related to the past due account, especially anything from the debtor admitting to the debt
- Bills of lading, bills of exchange Proof of delivery
To be sure you always have complete documentation available, be proactive and protect your interests. Handle every sale as if it might turn into a collection account by fully documenting each step in the transaction, and saving all relevant correspondence between you and your buyer.
#4 Do Not Talk to the Debtor Once You’ve Placed the Account
It's possible that, as soon as the debtor receives our collection demand letter, he'll contact you to try to convince you to give him more time or accept a compromise. Don’t go there. If you’ve resorted to placing the account with a third party, you've already given the debtor more than enough time to pay. Speaking with him again just gives him an opportunity to play you off against your own representative. The outcome usually is that you end up with less money.
Follow the advice of the Credit Research Foundation (CRF):
"Unless there is a good reason for you to become involved (i.e. a return of merchandise or a valid claim that reduces the amount owing and you issue a credit memo), do not interfere with the process between your customer and the agency. You hired the agency, so let them do their job.”
The CRF also recommends that you send any check payment received from the debtor after the free demand period to the collection agency, rather than cashing it. “Let the agency determine if any restricted endorsements make the check useless.
#5 Keep the Collector Up to Date on Any New Information
If you receive a payment, let the collector know. If the collector calls the debtor with inaccurate information, it will only increase the debtor's frustration level, making him more reluctant to cooperate.
If you find out the debtor has moved, filed bankruptcy, sold off to another company, etc. it's essential that the collection agency gets this information as soon as possible. Time is the enemy in debt collection. The sooner the collector has the information, the sooner it can be acted upon, increasing the likelihood of success.
Give your agency time to do its job and get back to you. If they suggest advancing your file 15, 30 or 45 days, there is a reason. The more time the collector has to spend answering unnecessary requests for information, the less time there is to actually work on collecting your account.
It will also be helpful if you don't require "routine" reports on files. Allow the collector to do his primary job – collecting – and expect reports only when there's a new development or something significant.
This doesn't mean you shouldn't try to stay on top of the agency's efforts. They work for you, not the other way around. However, most national agencies now provide clients access to account status via the Internet, giving you the ability to check on the status of a file on demand. Take advantage of this option to make your job easier, as well as the collector's.
#7 Respond ASAP to Agency Requests for Information or Authorization
Again, time is not on your side. At ABC-Amega, we've seen many instances where delayed responses from creditors have closed a window of opportunity to collect. Many files actually end up being written off as uncollectable simply because we haven't received the information we needed from the client.
#8 If You Decide to Sue, Keep Up Your End of the Bargain
Lawsuits take time, in some countries, a very long time. According to the Credit Research Foundation:
"If you decide to proceed with a suit, be prepared to pay additional costs, and to wait a long time for a resolution. Some civil courts have cases backed up months, and sometimes years. You can expect your customer’s attorney to use delaying tactics, and put as many legal roadblocks in your way as possible."
In our experience, lawsuits in any jurisdiction are slow going. If you decide to sue, expect there to be a long period of time during which the collector won’t have anything to report.
Then, if your case ends up going to trial (most are settled out of court), hold up your end by sending the required witness(es) to the hearing. If you don’t, the judge can take punitive action against the collection attorney. In fact, one of ABC-Amega’s attorneys was fined because our client failed to show for three consecutive hearings in a lawsuit the client had authorized. And, if you don't send the witnesses, you will not win your case.
#9 Trust Your Agency
The most important bit of advice we have is to trust your debt collection agency. If you've chosen a highly recommended, reputable company, with years of experience, you can count on the fact that they will represent you honestly and professionally. Once you’ve placed your receivable in their hands, support their efforts. Remember you are partners, working toward the same goal. It's as important to the agency to collect your account as it is to you to receive payment.