Since the 2008 credit crunch, it’s been generally accepted that financial services have a duty to educate their customers. Recently, however, I’ve been wondering why more companies and councils aren’t acting to inform their clients and stakeholders of the wider consequences of debt and late or withheld payments – and whether they have policies in place to encourage positive payment attitudes.
In some organisations, regardless of their industry, there seems to be an underlying assumption that service providers are automatically at odds with their debtors. This doesn’t have to be the case.
PR and communications have become more powerful and easier to use than ever before. It’s entirely possible to reach out to stakeholders and help them understand the impact of withholding or refusing to settle sums. Doing so will not only build understanding, but also demonstrate that the company is open to dialogue – and perhaps even prompt constructive feedback. In the age of big data, these kinds of personal conversations are a valuable resource.
Among the many useful tools available to candidly address your audience is the corporate blog. Publishing press releases or commentaries that outline how contractors or customers who don’t pay up affect your business can show a human side to your business and explain your concerns to partners and clients.
Platforms like LinkedIn also allow you to separate these structural concerns from general marketing or lighter content marketing, if you feel it’s necessary to do so. Likewise, your more active voice on social media such as Twitter or Facebook can share or comment on debt-related issues shared by other individuals and businesses. This way you raise the issue without publishing your own stance.
Candid, direct contact can work just as well. If late payments are squeezing your margins and you’re having to increase prices or employ enforcement agents, why not explain the situation to valued clients? Just as companies like TalkTalk emailed their users to warn them of a data breach, so you can show respect and announce solutions being taken to problems.
A key part in making these connections sincere, clear and helpful is to match them with your own organisational ideals and actions. Publishing a mission statement that promises value and encourages service and good communication can generate the same in response. Showing those values is even better.
Part of this is common sense – making services infallible and valuable to minimise the risk of customers withholding payment. It’s also, however, about acting in the way you expect them to. That means being timely with payments to staff, contractors and other agents. It means a helpful complaints department and quick refund processing. These issues really matter and can make an important difference to your stakeholder behaviours.