An interview with TIMOCOM debt collection service employees
insight into debt collection processes in the logistics industry
Our goal at work is to solve conflicts and act as mediators. We are successful in 86% of cases and were able to negotiate collection of more than EUR 33 million in claims last year. Proof that our methods work for our customers.
For many years now, TIMOCOM has provided a debt collection service for their customers, acting as a reliable partner in the event of unpaid invoices. In this blog post, we ask TIMOCOM debt collection employees to talk about their day to day tasks working in the international logistics industry. One thing is clear: the work is often remarkable, sometimes frustrating but always interesting and varied. Geoffrey Bladier, Denise Becht and Julian van Achter tell us about their experiences, bust a few clichés and prove that diplomacy and understanding can pave the way for professional success.
What does a ‘standard’ debt collection case look like?
Denise: The customer requests the service online, and that automatically creates a case file that is then processed. As we process the debt collection case, the creditor sends us documents, for example an unpaid invoice. The debtor then has the opportunity to respond and submit documents of their own, for example a bank statement proving that they have paid the money. This process is completely digital – keeping it all online is smarter and simpler for us and our customers.
Julian: We almost exclusively deal with debt collection for transport invoices, such as invoices for damage caused during transport. When two contracting parties have a disagreement, it’s not uncommon for one to react by refusing to pay the other. There might be lots of different reasons for doing so. Usually, though, it is a way to express dissatisfaction, and we can clear that up by entering into a dialogue with both parties. We always do our best to act as a diplomatic mediator for customers on both sides of the equation. It really makes a difference. Because even though a creditor has submitted a case to us, that doesn’t mean there is a real problem.
Why might a person leave debts unpaid?
Julian: Well, the first thing you need to know is that we deal with a lot less conflict than most people imagine when they think about a debt collection service. It’s almost always just a communication problem between the two parties, and there is no outright animosity. One of the most common issues we see is that the invoice is incorrect and that is why the debtor has been unable to pay it. It’s not that they don’t want to pay the invoice, but, for example, they need a specific document number for their accounting system and the creditor has not included that on the invoice. So it turns out the debtor was unable to pay, even though they wanted to.
Geoffrey: There really are lots of different reasons for unpaid invoices. Sometimes there are counterclaims, for example if the deal included a pallet exchange, but there weren’t enough pallets on site. In that case, the debtor may have held back money because they have a right to the pallet exchange that did not take place.
Denise: Large companies, in particular, could just be experiencing processing difficulties. If the customer is a large company, the haulier or employees from the freight forwarding company is not necessarily able to reach the person who is supposed to make the payment. Sometimes a business really can’t clear up a case on their own, because sole traders just don’t have the time. Smaller operations may not have their own accounting department; they create their invoices themselves after work and therefore have to keep an eye on any claims on their own. In that case, it often isn’t worth it to deal with accounts receivables management on top of all the other work they have. That’s why they hire TIMOCOM’s debt collection service. Particularly since our fees are listed on our website. Anyone can see in advance how much our debt collection services are going to cost. Once they weigh up the cost of the service against the time it would take them, it’s clear that the service is the better option.
Geoffrey: And if the problem is a language barrier, you may not be able to take care of it yourself at all. That’s where TIMOCOM’s debt collection service can really make a difference, because we can speak to customers and their debtors in 27 languages.
What are the challenges you face working for the debt collection service?
Julian: If customers don’t have a common language, such as German or English, then communication between the creditor and the debtor just isn’t possible. That’s why it’s so useful to have so many different languages represented by our team.
Geoffrey: A lot of times neither transport carriers nor freight forwarders really know what their rights and obligations are. We help explain what has to be done and what is really necessary. And what the consequences are in the event of non-compliance.
Julian: We are not able to provide legal consultation, but we can explain what the law says. People simply may not realise that there are different contractual and business customs when doing business internationally. That alone can cause delays in payment. If that is the problem, we consider it our job to provide information that will prevent further debt collection cases from occurring for the same reasons in the future.
What are your limits? What aren’t you allowed to do as a debt collection service?
Julian: One example: a company is demanding additional payment. Let’s say that a haluier wants to collect on running costs that the transport customer agreed to pay during a phone call, but that were not included in the contract. Our tip: always put additional agreements in writing. That way, all contractual parties will be able to see which services and costs are included in an order. This is important, because we can only negotiate payment for costs that were agreed upon and included in the transport order, or damages that have been confirmed and were clearly caused by the other party.
What languages can you serve customers in?
Julian: Our team speaks 27 languages in total. The majority of cases we see are handled in German, but despite that our team contains native speakers of 26 other languages. For Macedonian, we offer written communication only, but we provide full services in all other languages.
How long does it take to process a case? And when is a debt collection case considered complete?
Julian: We work carefully on each and every case, so it is hard to say exactly. Of course we do our best to get things sorted as quickly as possible, but to do that we have to communicate with both parties. We need to request and examine documents, request more documents, check those. If we want to make sure we have done our due diligence, we can’t skip any steps. Sometimes we discover legitimate counterclaims. In that case, we need to verify them and then negotiate payment of the difference. We will work on a case for as long as we are able to provide the creditor with help. That may include helping the parties to agree to defer payment or to instalment payments if our customer is agreeable.
What are the customers like?
Denise: Every case and every customer is different. There are customers that are very cooperative, some get quite mad but that is really the exception. Some of them apologise immediately once we call them. They really don’t like unpaid invoices. Some of them thank us profusely for helping them to get their money.
What makes a good debt collection employee?
Julian: You have to be able to keep calm, definitely. And stay professional. Excellent communication skills and drive are also important. A lot of our work requires attention to detail, like collecting receipts and documents and processing them, and of course you have to be pretty organised.
What do you love about your job? What makes it interesting?
Geoffrey: There’s something new every day. It’s fascinating to see how different people react to the same situation – some people believe that money matters are matters of principle. You can spend more time negotiating for EUR 25 than for 25,000. They aren’t really interested in the money, they just want to be right. Being able to help in that case is very satisfying.
Denise: I really enjoy helping other people. Particularly smaller businesses are really grateful for the help we are able to provide. In some cases the outstanding amounts we collect on are so large that the company is in danger of going under.
Julian: No two days are the same. Of course there are some similarities between cases, but each case really is unique. That makes the job interesting. We are quality assurance managers, customer service providers, mediators and communication artists. That helps us provide customer satisfaction, which in turn is a very satisfying feeling.
Denise: We solve conflicts and act as mediators. It’s a method we have established over years of work, and our customers really appreciate it. Almost 20% of TIMOCOM customers have made use of our services, not surprising considering that our accounts receivables management prices are lower than those charged by other debt collection services. We are successful in 86% of cases and were able to negotiate collection of more than EUR 33 million in claims last year. Proof that our methods work for our customers.
If you need support collecting on unpaid invoices, the TIMOCOM International Debt Collection service will be happy to help.
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