I’m the credit and collection manager at my company and I have a customer who ended up owing us several tens of thousands of dollars. Since this customer had been with us for a couple of decades, our president agreed to let him pay off the receivable over a long term payment schedule, which will take about five years until finished (I know — it’s very generous but better than nothing). Over the past two years, there have been occasions when our customer has fallen behind but for the most part he’s managing to maintain the installment plan.
During this repayment period I’ve received holiday greeting cards which have even included Valentine’s day e-cards. I would describe the messages as friendly and I don’t feel they’ve crossed any line. I’ve also returned the greetings and have found that these exchanges of good will seem to be keeping our payment relationship on a positive note. At the same time, to tell you the truth, one side of me feels a little guilty to be so cordial. Do you think this kind of greeting exchange is appropriate? Could it backfire on me?
Signed: Not sure if I should be my debtor’s Valentine
Dear Valentine in Progress,
Let me start out by saying that you’re not the only collector who has forged a wonderful relationship with someone who technically has fallen from our good professional graces. In a relationship that involves the payment of money, knowing the lines not to cross is as complex as there are human beings. I’ve heard from other collectors over the years who have sent their long term paying debtors holiday cards, birthday cards, and even end of year rebates in order to keep the payment enthusiasm going. It’s not my approach per se but at the end of the day, I can appreciate what works, even if it’s perceived as unconventional.
We have to ultimately operate at a level of comfortability and professionalism. If we are at any time questioning what we’re doing, then it’s probably best to refrain from doing it. In your case, if feeling too cordial is making you feel guilty then I would say it’s time to refrain from sending these holiday greeting exchanges. In doing so, i feel you can still be cordial on the phone and through emails without losing the relationship and payment motivation.
Dear Crabby is a credit and collection advice column by Nancy Seiverd, President, CMI Credit Mediators Inc. Your thoughts (firstname.lastname@example.org) on what to advise are most welcome, and with your permission, we’ll reprint your comments in the next issue of our newsletter.