Think of the last letter or email you received. Did you notice the content’s tone or the way it made you feel about the correspondence? The word “tone” describes how authors feel about their subject matter or recipients.1 Tone can have a major effect on readers and how likely they are to respond — and, more important, if they will comply with the request.
You’ve likely had a positive or negative reaction to the tone of a communication. Collection letters are no exception; the tone you use in your letters matters to your readers and can ultimately affect how successful you are in collecting on overdue accounts or connecting with your customers.
Here at Mountain States Commercial Credit Management, we’ve seen firsthand how the tone of a collection letter can affect the process. We strongly believe if a collector raises his or her voice — even in writing — we’ve already lost our image and the ability to communicate effectively. Remaining professional and courteous through the process can result in much higher collection rates and, ultimately, a better reputation.
- The friendly reminder — The first letter you send should be a friendly payment reminder, taking a cordial tone in requesting payment. Don’t assume late payers are malicious. Their lack of response could have been a simple mistake. Friendly letters often entail language like “Did you forget something? We’re just reminding you to remit payment for ______.” These letters should include a gentle reminder of the consequences if debtors don’t make their payments. Sending the first letter to each with a kind tone demonstrates you’re reasonable and willing to work with your customers. A friendly reminder is often all you need to encourage clients to pay their bills.
- The final appeal — If those first friendly letters don’t have the desired effects, you will need to follow up with final appeal collection letters. These letters take a much more serious tone and note that customers are well overdue. Language should be much firmer and very clearly outline the consequences of failed payments in a strong tone. If you report your accounts receivable data to the credit bureaus, state it in this letter. Remind your customers that their slow paying habits are affecting their business credit and their ability to obtain important lines of credit.
- The last resort — A final last resort collection letter will be necessary if customers have not remitted payments by this point. Consider having someone in upper management write the letters. To further incite action, let debtors know you will turn them over to a collection agency and state the agency name. If it is a local agency, there is a good chance they are already working a claim from your competitor. Remain professional and to the point, but use this letter as one final reminder of the consequences of a failed payment.
The tone you take in each of these letters matters. Consumer protections are in place to prevent collectors from harassing debtors, including the times of day you may attempt contact, the language you use and consequences you notify them of, and the information you share with debtors and about them.2 It’s crucial to have a process and standard procedures in place to ensure each customer is treated equally, including sending the same personalized letter to each. This helps protect you from breaking consumer protection rules and gives you documentation of your business collection attempts.
1 Driscoll, Dana Lynn. Purdue OWL. “Tone in Business Letters.” Source.
2 Federal Trade Commission. Consumer Information: “Debt Collection”. Source.