Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Shoptalk

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Shoptalk

Article excerpt

TWO SURE THINGS IN LIFE: DEBT AND TAXES

Collection and customer-service departments should be two sides of the same coin

For newspaper collection-department supervisors Teresa Wollan and Dale Gefner, the two sure things in life are debt and taxes. When both combine at tax time (the period leading up to April 15), collecting money owed can become particularly challenging.

Experiences of Wollan, with The Chronicle in Centralia, Wash., and Gefner, with Hudson Valley Newspapers in Highland, N.Y., are microcosmic. Debt collectors at thousands of U.S. news-

papers, already holding unpopular jobs, are further confounded by seasonal snafus, book- keeping errors, overzealous sales staffs, and, of course, late-paying customers.

In this dark morass actually lies a wonderful opportunity to turn debt collection into a customer-relationship-building program. That's because this is one of the few business relationship areas where customers don't expect niceties. In turn, this opens up the potential to generate some unexpected goodwill.

Think about it: When customers go to customer service with a complaint, they anticipate and demand deferential treatment. Anything less is viewed as a failure and a black mark against the business.

When customers interact with collection departments, they expect stern demeanor. Anything better is a friendly surprise, often leading to kudos for the business.

The moral of this story: there's a big payoff, literally and figuratively, for debt collectors who view themselves as customer- service representatives. Here are ways to improve the performance of newspaper collection departments:

View all sales staffers as allies, because in reality they are part of your customer-service base. Without sales, there is no income. Despite this obvious fact, relationships between the sales and collection departments often are testy at best. Consistent communication about each other's challenges can help bridge gaps and lead to a much smoother working relationship. One primary challenge is collecting on "incorrect" bills, where sales reps have quoted one rate, and the collector is dealing with a different figure. By spending some time together and establishing upfront guidelines, much of this confusion -- and later customer consternation -- can be eliminated. …

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