Who's Doing Your Debt Collection?

There are some billing and payment providers in the fitness industry proudly touting debt collection as one of their services. While there's definitely value in such a service for health clubs due to the sheer volume of potential follow-ups that may be required, I strongly believe personal trainers should NOT make use of those services.

The Advantages of Debt-Collection Services

Before I argue against using the debt collection services offered by billing providers, I'll first describe a couple of the potential advantages for a personal trainer. Keep in mind that for the purposes of this article I'm talking about debt collection as it relates to the occasional declined debit that everyone experiences now and then. I'm not talking about the more serious matter of bad-debt collection from delinquent accounts.

The act of following up with clients who've had a direct debit fail for whatever reason (e.g., insufficient funds) is considered a 'non-core' task. That is, your job is to be a personal trainer, not a financial bounty-hunter. In theory it can be good business sense to outsource non-core tasks so you can focus on those that are core to your business, like servicing clients and acquiring new ones.

For a health club with 2000 members on a recurring fortnightly membership, the number of declined debits that happen every two weeks isn't to be sneezed at. It's understandable that a club wouldn't want to spend the inordinate amount of time each fortnight following them all up.

Another advantage of debt-collection services is that it absolves the trainer of the sometimes uncomfortable task of saying to your client, "um, your last debit was declined." Some trainers aren't comfortable doing this, and admittedly it takes a certain type of personality to feel at ease with that kind of conversation.

But... You Still Shouldn't Use Debt-Collection Services

Despite the advantages described above, you should still avoid using those services and do your own follow-ups. Here's why. As a personal trainer, do you really want to outsource the collection of failed payments to a third-party? There's a reason our profession has the word 'personal' in it. There exists an intimate relationship between the trainer and client that simply doesn't exist between a health club and their members. Palming debt collection off to a nameless, faceless third-party erodes the personal aspect of this relationship you invest so much time and effort trying to build.

How many people do you know in your life have ever said, "I love receiving those nagging phone calls reminding me I owe money, they make me love that company even more!" Silliness aside, you get my point. Why inject a third-party that has no motivation or incentive to treat your client the way you want them treated into the relationship? Your intimate relationship with your client builds a bond and a loyalty that is absolutely critical to long-term client retention.

If you're the sort of person who feels uncomfortable discussing money issues your clients (how did you make that sale in the first place?), then I have good news for you- this personal relationship makes the act of debt collection so much easier.

Instead of being a nerve-wracking, confrontational experience, it's reduced to not much more than a friendly reminder the next time you see them. Debt collection is certainly much less intimidating for a trainer than the sales process is.

Lastly, the efficiency dividend debt collection gives clubs isn't really a factor for a PT. You're not a health club with 2000 members on a fortnightly debit. You're a trainer with a very manageable number of clients who are all on a first name basis with you. And in my experience, your closeness to your clients often means they give you a higher financial priority than they will the 'corporate' health club.

In summary, I recommend ignoring debt collection services as a factor when choosing a billing provider. On the surface it sounds convenient, but I believe at best it introduces an unnecessary and dispationate third party into your client relationships. At worse, it can erode the special relationship your PT business so desperately relies on.

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