Credit guru Thea Dudley has spent more than 30 years in LBM credit management. Now she's here to answer your credit and collection questions. Got a question for her mailbag? Contact Thea at

Dear Thea;
I have a small staff. My sales reps and customers really like dealing with me, but some members of my staff don’t. How do I create a more user-friendly team?
Signed: Challenged in Chattanooga

Dear Challenged,

Wouldn't it be great if that "lead by example" quote really worked in application and not just in theory? I have found myself over the years thinking "what about my behavior or mannerisms would indicate that I would ever treat a customer or sales rep in a certain manner acceptable?" I am not saying I want a bunch of clones of myself in the department. Oh wait, maybe I am.

Your company is a reflection of you: How you operate, what you find acceptable, what you don't. Everyone has a personality that will come through in their work, but the philosophy and customer service level you expect is not an opt in program.

I know this may sound like I am Ming the Mericiless, wanting everything my way. Maybe I am. I expect phone calls and emails to be returned in the same day. If not, was there an acceptable reason for it, even if you are waiting for additional information you can at least call and let whoever is waiting know what the status is? I expect situations and reasons to be explained in plain English and not the "because I am the credit manager" tag line.

Know that nothing replaces actual verbal conversation. It is really easy to shoot an email to someone, but you lose the relationship connection. Sure, when I call some people I know I may be on the line awhile, but hey, at least they actually want to talk to their credit person.

The basic understanding they need to have is that credit is a supporting role in the organization. We make no money; rather, we protect and collect. We are sales support. So even if it’s the hundredth time you have explained something to the same customer or sales person, you need to explain it in a patient manner. If the explanation isn't working, try a different approach. Get collaborative. Ask your coworkers how they would approach it.

Spend time with your staff. Explain why you approach things the way you do. It will take time and a lot of conversation.

Address unacceptable behavior as soon as you find out about it. One thing that is really frustrating is when the sales rep tells me how unhappy he was with some behavior from someone on my team and then says, "but don't say anything, I don't want them to be upset with me." Then they ask if they can just call me.

Hmm, let me think. Was that smoke I just felt blowing up my skirt? That is not going to get it. We are addressing the behavior, the philosophy, and the perception. Calling me and then tying my hands doesn't help anyone. So I walk the sales rep through how I will address the issue and minimize any blame game, but I can't improve what I don't know about and nothing will change without some constructive confrontation.

What you have to ask yourself is if whether you’re dealing with a personality issue or a behavioral issue. Behaviors you can change, personalities not so much. So do you have the right person in the right position? You have to have a good grasp of customer service, love of the job, understanding of the industry and credit and collections, and gift of gab. This is a tough job and just like sales, not everyone is cut out for this line of work.

Assess what you have, be straightforward with the individual in question, and lay it out. You may have to make some tough decisions. It takes a long time to build a strong, solid credit department, but don't settle. Stay on the issues, coach, mentor, lead. It will all come out in the wash or you may have to flush it and start anew. You aren't doing yourself, the company, or the employee a favor by keeping it status quo. If it isn't working, it is time to move on...for everyone’s benefit.

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