Magazine article Business Credit

Developing a Customer-Focused Credit Department

Magazine article Business Credit

Developing a Customer-Focused Credit Department

Article excerpt

Companies can create incentives, loyalty programs and advertising campaigns to boost their reputation for customer attention, but in the end, superb service is delivered by people--one customer at a time.

While credit professionals have numerous contacts with their firms' customers, the department isn't always thought of as customer-focused--even by its employees. In fact, sometimes both staff and managers are guilty of focusing so much on meeting performance targets that the customer service aspects of the work get lost. But ultimately, it's the ability to find opportunities to provide excellent customer service that gives companies an edge, especially when there is intense competition for every account and every sale.

At its heart, customer service is a human capital issue. Companies can create incentives, loyalty programs and advertising campaigns to boost their reputation for customer attention, but in the end, superb service is delivered by people--one customer at a time. By supplementing regular functional training efforts with targeted developmental activities aimed at fostering a customer-service mindset among your staff, you can keep your team engaged, inspired and, most important, attuned to potential business-building opportunities. Consider these suggestions:

Step into the customer's shoes. Staff members who are trained to see things from the customer's perspective can better anticipate clients' unique priorities and needs. For instance, if a team member learns of a substantial new account a customer has landed, he or she can foresee the customers' potential higher business and service appetite and proactively evaluate their capacity for an increased credit line. Sales could notify the customer of their increased availability of credit to support a long-standing relationship. The more your staff members know about a customer's business, the more able they will be to propose suggestions and terms that can really help a firm.

View customers as partners. Credit professionals should always think of customers as partners in the company's success, which they clearly are, not as potential risks or adversaries, which can sometimes seem the case when the focus is primarily on risk management or collection efforts. Although credit department employees must observe company policies and properly assess risk in working with customers, they also need to focus on achieving a satisfying outcome for both parties. Sometimes this requires going the extra mile for a promising account.

Think long term. Employee training should include encouragement to view every customer interaction not as a transaction but as an opportunity to build a long-term relationship. Even if staff members are dealing with a customer they cannot satisfy immediately, coach them on how to turn these situations around and transform what could be a negative interaction into one that is forward-looking. If a customer needs to meet certain requirements to obtain better credit terms, for instance, employees can help them understand what has to occur and also formulate a plan for achieving the desired outcome. That could include explaining different payment and billing options available to facilitate the customer's internal reconciliation and accounts payable process. It is always a good practice for credit professionals to discuss options and recommendations with their sales colleagues prior to reaching out to customers. …

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