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Increasing the Value of Customer Visits
By Michael C. Dennis MBA, CBF, LCM

Customer visits are time consuming and expensive, but these visits can provide the credit manager valuable insights about the customer that may not be available through any other source. To make customer visits more productive, know what you want to accomplish. Consider these ideas:

  • Always make an appointment. Don't show up unexpectedly and uninvited. Confirm the appointment in writing. Reconfirm your appointment again the day before the meeting by telephone.

  • Always ask for a tour of the facility.

  • Let the salesperson know that you plan to visit 'their' customer - and ask if there are any issues that sales would or would not like you to discuss.

  • Pre-plan the visit, just as you pre-plan a collection call. Before walking through the front door you should know the account history, their volume of purchases, payment history, company history, and the names of the decision makers you want to meet with.

  • Send the customer a list of issues you want to cover, and invite the customer to send you a list of issues they would like to discuss.

  • If there are disputes that need to be cleared, send all relevant supporting documentation well in advance of your visit. There are several reasons to do so. First, by sending the documents in advance the meeting should be more productive. Second, sometimes by the time you arrive the customer has reviewed the documents relating to the dispute and has issued payment to clear the balance owed.

  • Make sure you know you negotiating authority limits before visiting the customer. Don't feel pressured to accept any payment proposal / payment plan offered [unless the plan involves them handing you a check to clear the entire past due balance].

  • Be on your best behavior. Don't get into arguments, and leave immediately if you are asked to do so.

  • If the person you are scheduled to meet with is unavailable, try to reschedule a meeting with the decision maker rather than meeting with a subordinate who may not have the authority to commit the debtor company to a particular action.

  • If you need updated financial statements, ask for them. It is much harder to say no face to face than it is over the telephone.

  • Don't threaten the customer with adverse action that you don't intend to take. By the same token, don't make commitments that you can't keep.

  • Know your company's products, and speak positively about them.

  • Try to coordinate your approach with sales so that you are not working at cross-purposes. For example, if the salesperson is asking for a larger share of the customer's business in one room and you are next door expressing concern about the customer's financial stability and asking for collateral or some form of additional security.

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