The weather is starting to warm up, and sounds of kids running around outside at eleven o'clock in the morning can be heard in the distance. Graduation parties and celebrations are all around. It must mean one thing: it's finally summer! And while most of us are excited for extra time with friends and family or the beloved summer BBQs, this isn't everyone's favorite time. If you are responsible for managing cash, you probably have already forecasted a decrease in receipts. If you are a collections leader, you just know every year at this time there is a dip in collections.
You are probably thinking to yourself, I can't do anything to make these customers pay on time in the summer. While you can't physically go and cut the checks for them, you can try to be in front of it as much as possible.
In my prior life, I always had my finger on the pulse. I was always planning and preparing the organization -- most importantly, the credit/collections teams. You learn very quickly how cyclical the business can become. I'm going to share my favorite tips and tricks to avoid or significantly decrease that summer cash dip.
The Ideal Solution
Do you know what customer you won't see a summer dip occur with? An automatic paying customer. Regardless of company shutdowns, planned/unplanned vacations, or summer holidays, these customers are always maximizing their discounts and showing current. (By the way, did you know an automatic customer shows signs of financial distress before a customer who pays by check? Come to our next strategy workshop to learn how and why this is.) Nonetheless, I know we aren't all fortunate enough to have customers on automatic payment, and not everyone has the technology to process automatic payments. So, I am sharing my recommendations for when the customer isn't on automatic payment.
1. Be ahead of the game. Start coaching your collectors in late April to early May to add to the conversation. It can be as simple as saying, "Don't you just love summer?" Regardless of the customer's response, the next statement should be, "As you know, we have Memorial Day weekend coming up. Will payments still be made on Friday or because it's a holiday weekend will they typically send it out the following Friday?"... "Well, Mr./Mrs. Customer, I don't want to see you experience any late fees, so what we can do is the week before the holiday, we will go ahead and double up. This way your payment is posted, thus ensuring your account remains in good standing through the holiday. Do you have any other vacations or time off as a company planned this summer? We can be sure to do the same thing for those weeks as well."
2. Follow up. While it's great to be able to ask the questions and notate the account, it's even better when you capitalize on why you did that in the first place — no better way than to follow through by taking action on your next conversation. "I see during our last call that we were planning to double up this week on payment. Can we go ahead and process both payments over the phone/online today?" Maintain the urgency by letting the customer know you want to help ensure they don't experience any loss of discounts or late fees. They will appreciate your thinking ahead. It's the same process if it was a planned vacation for your customer. Have your collectors make clear notes, set up calendar reminders, and most importantly, get the payment before the business closes, or the check-cutter/-signer is on vacation!
This was the same process I had my collectors take with customers when the collector was going to be out. They asked for the next invoice coming due to be included with the payment. If the customer declined the opportunity, they put an email reminder out for someone else on the team to call. You would be amazed how many customers added the extra payment by request. All it takes is asking for it!
3. July 4th. This year, July 4th is on a Thursday. You will have several customers that choose to shut down for the holiday week. You should be asking today, right now, will they be open the week of the 4th? Go ahead and request to process this week and next week's payment today over the phone or online to continue maximizing their discounts. You don't want to come in on July 8th and see a dip in cash because the holiday fell on a Thursday. By the way, most businesses cut their payments on Thursdays and Fridays. If you aren't asking for that payment, they will fall past due. If your collector is calling on a customer that you could have "pre-collected," could they be missing out on a more significant customer who is beginning to experience financial distress? Being in front of this ensures your collector's list doesn't look like a roller coaster of ups and downs.
4. After the fireworks are over. Don't let your collector let their foot off the gas pedal just yet. Keep talking to the customer about the upcoming weeks left of summer. "Can we expect payment as usual or do you know of a week that payment will not be sent due to a company shut down or employee-planned vacations?" Keep having the collectors reiterate you want to help the customer ensure they continue maximizing their available discounts.
How great would it be to look back at the cash projections and see continued stability throughout the summer months? These above tips, if executed ahead of time, really can curb or eliminate future summer dips. The buses are back on the road, the weather is cooling off, and you see all the first day of school pictures! You can breathe a sigh of relief that summer is over! But wait, start planning now for the final quarter of 2019!
In closing, don't be afraid to train your collectors to ask for the next payment. It's fine to ask a customer what their plans are and how it might impact payment. If you plan and execute starting in late April and early May, you won't have a hole to climb out of going into the final three months of the year. The collector being out of the office can affect a customer's payment just as much as the customer being out of the office. Lastly, take these steps and be proactive versus reactive; everyone will be high-fiving.
I hope you see purposeful decision-making throughout the steps mentioned above. If not, feel free to reach out to me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I would love to hear your thoughts. Even better, #ChimeIn on my personal LinkedIn page where this article will be shared and published for open comments.
I look forward to seeing you at our upcoming strategy workshop this December in Scottsdale, Arizona, and helping your organization maximize revenue without increasing your bad debt!