While their inclusion in company budgets may be an infrequent occurrence in a recession, Susan Delloiacono, CCE, NACM's resident expert on customer visits, recently led an NACM-sponsored teleconference that showed attendees the value of customer visits, and how companies and credit professionals can, and should, make the most of them.
Before leaving the office for a customer's headquarters, credit professionals should ask themselves one simple, albeit important, question: "Why are you visiting?" asked Delloiacono, noting that each visit should be conducted with a concrete goal in mind, and that this goal will change depending on the customer's situation. "The ‘stay-well' visit is our sweet spot in credit," she added, referring to a customer visit conducted when the customer is having no real payment problems. "But to get our sales people and management to get in while things are going well is a challenge. For most of us it's a ‘get-well' visit or we're putting out a fire and it requires a face-to-face communication."
Conducting visits only when there's an issue, however, can make for sometimes tense confrontations between creditors and their customers. "Your tensions are getting fired up, and it's a ‘we're right they're wrong' kind of thing," said Delloiacono. "If you have that ‘stay-well' visit under your belt before the problem, you can fix it without having to visit." Thinking ahead and visiting when nothing in particular is problematic can often make future crises much more manageable.
For Delloiacono, an effective customer visit doesn't merely end when credit professionals leave the customer's campus. Even on the ride back home, care should be taken when it comes to immediately discussing what happened during the visit. "Don't talk about it in a restaurant and don't talk about it on an airplane, especially if there's something sensitive," she said. "Talking about it in the car is the best place because you know you're alone." Additionally, after returning to the office, what was agreed on during the customer visit should be placed as a top priority on the company's to-do list if possible. "The worst thing you can do is go out, visit a customer, have a to-do list and do nothing with it," said Delloiacono. "Even if you don't own the action, you are now the cheerleader to get all of those actions done."
In the end, customer visits, when conducted properly, can result in real bottom-line benefits for companies and their credit departments, as well as for the customer too.
Jacob Barron, NACM staff writer