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Blog: Enforcing debt while protecting your brand

04 November 2019

Debt Recovery is necessary for almost every business in the world. Businesses have a difficult balance to achieve between recovering debt and customer care.

In researching for this blog (something I do to ensure the subject is worth writing about) I found others on this subject and couldn’t believe what I was reading. The general advice was:

Don’t overthink it
Ask yourself if a customer, really is a customer if they have stopped paying you, and
Pass the buck to your recovery agent if they complain
I’m hoping that most of the people reading this blog are a little more thoughtful of their brand and agree with me that this advice is nonsense. Protecting your brand while enforcing debts must start with the creditor.

How do you use enforcement whilst protecting brands?
Define your purpose for the actions you take
Understanding the reasons for doing what you do is key. Following this simple framework will enable you to define a statement that will guide you, your staff and any supplier do what you do.

If you can work with your team when doing this rather than alone then that’s preferable.

A simple framework for developing your purpose is:

What do you do?
Why do you do it?
Who do we do it for?
What value do we bring?
An example of the output from this sort of session might look like this:

We use enforcement
If we did not make people pay, compliance would reduce
We do it for the customers that do pay
We make it fair
Put into a statement it would read:

We use enforcement as a process to ensure that those that pay are not having to pay for those that won’t. We want it to be fair.

Align purpose to culture
It’s now time to align your purpose to your culture. You should do this by creating purposeful habits for everyone in the supply chain. This will enable them to live out the purpose in the work that they do. Keep the list short, easy to remember and implement. An example of what this might look like using the purpose statement from above is:

1. Communicate why. Not just what we do

Having this one purposeful habit that’s easy to remember and implement reminds everyone of why you do what you do. Think how powerful this is for customers when communicating with you. 

Lead by example
A purposeful culture is built by a leader who demonstrates the importance of culture by leading with culture in mind. A good example of this, using the purposeful habit that we created above is that a leader should communicate with their team by explaining why and not just what they want doing.

Imagine a leader that created the purposeful habit turning up for work the next day and saying to their team ‘I want to hit the phones today and reduce the size of bad debt’ and then walking away. Now imagine the same situation but the leader delivers the same message like this ‘can you hit the phones today and reduce this bad debt to enable us to show another month of progress convincing those that are refusing to pay that we won’t accept them increasing the cost for those that pay voluntarily’. Who would you rather follow?

Swap out those that won't make it work
You can’t, so don’t expect everyone to immediately make this work. Some will need to be taken on a journey and this should be expected.

Some in the supply chain, however, will not be the right people to deliver what you want. These people must be removed from the process early before their culture spreads into yours. It’s a difficult task to complete but allowing staff or suppliers to operate in your environment that don’t share your purpose will end in tears.

A process for doing this is:

a) Start with external suppliers

Complete a simple due diligence process on your supplier network. Start by reviewing their website to see what they say about their purpose. Are they aligned to yours? Don’t forget what we discovered earlier that a purposeful brand is more than just words though. There are many examples of businesses that say they love customers, but their actions don’t support this. You can check this by asking three different people that deal with them to score out of 10 how they believe the organisation lives up to its brand. An example would be to ask a member of your team, a member of their team (the one you have a good relationship with and will tell you the truth) and by asking yourself. If the consensus is that they don’t. Swap them out.

Suppliers are generally easier to remove from your process than staff and removing them shows the staff your commitment to delivering your service with a purpose.

b) Now you have the attention of your staff, they are next

If you have a bad egg in the camp it’s probably because someone got the recruitment wrong, so go easy when swapping staff out. Start with finding those that do align to your purpose and making them feel great. Having those that align, walking around with their heads held high is a sure way to get others to follow. For those that don’t align and need taking on a journey, start with the following framework:

Create purpose workshops and invite ten staff at a time to attend. These can be ten-minute sessions once a week reminding people of why you are building a purpose-driven department (see what you are doing here? You’re living by your purposeful habit and communication why you are doing something)
Buddy people up to staff that align to the purpose. This is powerful and can achieve great results. Let the staff establish their framework for this as that will deliver better outcomes. Do give them the time to make this work, however. It’s suggested that a 15min coffee once a week is sufficient
Invest by giving them the time to complete an online course. There are hundreds of free ones to choose from so you may want to invest some of your own time first to find the right one
Manage and monitor their progress and have this as an agenda item for their 121s.
Should they fail to develop overtime then manage their process of re-assignment to a different department that does not require the same level of commitment to the purpose as yours, for example, a less customer-facing role.

Now change some processes
Now you have your internal team aligned on what and why you use enforcement and have selected the right suppliers that compliment your brand, it’s time to communicate externally.

Start with this simple change - send recovery notices explaining the next stage is enforcement and also your purpose statement? The power of this is astonishing. The results you can expect are:

Customers believe you will follow through with enforcement if you have taken the time to communicate why you do it, and
Customers feel a sense of guilt that because they have not paid, and others might be paying more because of this
This one single change to an existing process will add significant value to your brand. Other actions you should consider also are:

Ask staff to communicate your purpose when on the phone, twitter, messenger and emails when dealing with customers
Ask suppliers to communicate your purpose when dealing with your customers too. There is no reason the company you employ should not communicate in a bespoke fashion on your behalf

Summary
Defining your purpose statement is the most important thing you can do to protect your brand. You then need to ensure that everyone in the supply chain is aligned to your purpose and if they are not, then swap them out.

Debt recovery is a difficult but necessary task to complete. If we do it with a positive purpose more customers will support what we do. Remember to get them to support what we do; we must first tell them why we do it.


Read about the Just brand and our purpose Our brand and purpose

Most businesses start with a name and then design a logo, mission and vision statement. We believe it’s better to start with your mission and vision and then design the logo to help communicate that. That’s what we did.

  1. Our mission is - we believe that everyone has the right to be paid what they are owed, and we aim to create a marketplace to enable a step-change in the number of people using High Court Enforcement as an accessible and safe method of justice.
  2. Our vision is - to deliver a service that is more in line with what the Ministry of Justice intended with the introduction of the 2014 Regulations rather than what we can get away with. 

Name

The definition of the word Just is - behaving in according to what is morally right and fair. In our opinion, there is not a better explanation of what we have set out to do. Read more About Just.

Logo

This is the face of our company and our simplistic design is meant to be powerful and easy to remember and aims to make an impression on a person at first glance. 

Colour

Our colour is bold which is aligned with our mission.


About the Author: Jamie Waller

Jamie Waller is an entrepreneur, investor, author, and philanthropist. In 2018 he was awarded the prestigious Cranfield Business School, Entrepreneur of the Year and has been responsible for the formation, development, and sale of two previous businesses in the financial services industry.

Jamie is the Chairman of the Arum Group of companies.