How to Handle Delinquent Customers & their Sob Stories

Author: Meredith Wood | July 22, 2014

Some clients – no matter how well you deliver your product or service and no matter how carefully you remind them about paying – will always find a reason not to pay you. We’ve discussed ways to gracefully make a serious collection call, but what should you do when a customer feeds you excuse after excuse? Here are meaningless excuses you might hear and some tips dealing with them while remaining professional and maintaining a positive client relationship where possible.

I Can’t Pay Right Now
The most common and diverse of excuses, “I can’t afford to pay” is a classic. The first way to deal with this type of excuse is to find out why.

“Can you explain why you’re having trouble coming up with the payment this month?”

The answer will usually be expressing some form of a cash flow problem. “We had more expenses than we had anticipated this month,” or “I’m still waiting for payments from my customers.” Sometimes your client will go into great detail about the problem, hoping you’ll take pity and stop asking for payment at this time.

It’s important to remember that you can’t act as a bank for your customers. You have already delivered the goods or services that were agreed to, so it’s the customer’s responsibility to pay you. Period. Explain this in gentle but firm terms.

“I’m sorry you’re having cash flow problems right now. I understand how important it is to have customers pay on time, which is why I’m calling you today. Your account is three weeks past due, and we agreed in our contract that you would pay within a week of receiving the invoice.”

Be specific and firm that you need to receive a payment. An effective tactic can be offering for them to pay in several installments over the next few weeks or months. This starts getting some of the money in your door while they get their accounts in order.

It’s Not Up to Me
The other category of delinquent customers & their payment excuses falls under the idea of “It’s not up to me.” Some clients will say it’s someone else’s responsibility to pay, and others will insist that they need more notice before cutting a check.

If you’ve already written a contract about who will pay you and how, you’ve nipped this excuse in the bud. After all, the contract explicitly states who will send you the payment and how much time they need. In that case, the client simply needs a firm reminder of this.

“According to our original contract, you were to be the main contact for payment. You indicated that you needed 10 business days’ notice, and I sent the invoice to you at the beginning of this month, over 2 weeks ago.”

You held up your end of the contract, now your client needs to hold up his.

In the event that you haven’t outlined payment timing in the contract, you have less recourse for this excuse. Follow up on the specifics of the excuse.

For example, if the client says the accountant has to cut a check, then reach out to the accountant immediately and let him know that the account is past due. If he refers you back to your original contact for payment, then you are armed with that much more information for the next conversation.

Time to Let Go
Sometimes people have legitimate, temporary reasons they can’t pay you, and in those cases you should be flexible to accommodate them.

But when they seem to have an excuse every single time you ask for a payment, it may be time to walk away from that client. In any case, maintain your professionalism, fall back on the contract, and be polite but firm.

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