Speech Technology Magazine

 

Speech Helps Weed Out Overdue Accounts

A landscaping company uses an outbound solution to reach delinquent customers.
By Kathleen Savino - Posted Jan 5, 2011
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Sometimes customers need a gentle reminder that they forgot to pay their bills. For many small businesses, that typically involves making phone calls, a manual process that is both tedious and costly.

But that’s no longer a problem for Weed Man Wisconsin, a network of franchised lawn care professionals based in Madison, Wis. About a year ago, the company began using Ifbyphone’s Voice Broadcasting solution to send outbound calls to remind delinquent customers that their bills are overdue. The company also uses the service for automated appointment reminders and to remind some customers to unlock their gates or keep their pets inside during the service visit. Ifbyphone quickly makes the calls and gives the company a record of the contact, saving many valuable administration hours every day.

"I would recommend Ifbyphone to anyone who is looking to increase the efficiency of the accounts-receivable calling process," says Brian Klenke, director of sales at Weed Man Wisconsin, in a statement. "In fact, we are pushing it to other Weed Man franchisees."

One example: Weed Man Winnipeg in Manitoba, Canada, has been using Ifbyphone's Voice Broadcasting solution for several years to remind clients about upcoming lawn treatment appointments and to deliver other reminders.

"Weed Man Wisconsin and Weed Man Winnipeg are two prime examples of how Ifbyphone's technology helps small businesses improve efficiency and customer service," said Ifbyphone CEO Irv Shapiro in a statement. "Those benefits are always valuable, but they're absolutely critical now during the toughest economy in 70 years."

Cutting Costs

Before implementing Ifbyphone's solution, Weed Man Wisconsin had hired someone to make the manual calls. The new solution has saved $700 to $800 a month, and while it used to take 20 hours a week to make calls, it now only takes two.

Using the solution also has helped Weed Man Wisconsin keep the accounts of nearly 6,000 customers current by sending outbound calls to customers who are more than 35 days late paying a bill. "Not everyone's a true deadbeat," says Andy Kurth, an owner and general manager. "But there are some who lose their bills."

At the end of the recording that notifies them of unpaid bills, customers are given the option to press 1 to speak to someone at the office. Having that option leaves them no excuses, Kurth asserts. "It has been a somewhat successful bridge between all sorts of manpower calling for accounts receivable," he says, but it still gives "a customer service touch. It allows them to talk to someone right away if they want to, rather than just a straight message and that's it."

Not all customers hear the message, though, because some hang up on the calls. Most people know they owe money, Kurth says. "After [we've called] 10 or 15 times, they ignore us. But maybe if we got them on the phone with a live person, it might be possible to figure out a solution versus having them hang up on us every time. It's an ongoing concern."

The company especially needs to reach customers who are very late with bills because it cannot provide service until all previous bills have been taken care of.

"We really want them to pay before we get [the next service] done," Kurth says. For those calls, the company makes sure to have a live person on the phone.

To help further, Weed Man Wisconsin uses CallFire's Cloud Call Center dialer.  After uploading the customerss' contact information, CallFire's Power Dialer takes over. It can call up to four phone lines per agent and leave answering machine messages so agents don't have to. CallFire saves time by weeding out busy signals and bad phone numbers, while agents focus on speaking with live customers rather than manual dialing.

CallFire is especially useful for these follow-up calls, Kurth says, because small files result in less effective predictive dialing. These calls tend to be very cost-effective since they’re going out only one or two times rather than multiple times. "The important thing is to get a hold of them and say, 'Hey, we really want to get your next application done, but we've called a couple of times, and you have an outstanding balance.' "

Kurth says using this kind of dialing service is also very time-effective. "If you sent 100 [calls], it doesn't take much time at all," he states.

While Kurth says this particular automation has helped business, the company doesn't use an automated system for handling inbound calls. "Being a relatively small, family-owned business, we still feel the importance of getting a live voice when you call if possible," he explains.

When asked whether customers were happy with the service, Kurth points out those customers generally aren't happy no matter what because the calls are in reference to unpaid bills. "For the function that we're using it for, I don't know I could say they're happy, but I don't think they'd be happy if we're calling them manually either," he quips.

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