DennisBeaverMay 3, 2014   •  By Dennis Beaver

“Dr. Tom,” as his patients love to call him, is a young dentist in California’s Central Valley not far from Fresno. “He is the gentlest person I could ever imagine going to,” his receptionist, Traci, e-mailed You and the Law.

“I am turning to you for help, because Rachel—who handles billing and collections—is doing a horrible job, and he is not dealing with the situation.

“May we talk about this? He will pay attention to what you say, because I often see your column on his computer screen – he a big fan!” she added.

Ten minutes later, I was speaking with the kind of employee who you just wish could be cloned.

Only 22, Traci has maturity, dedication and guts, rare in itself, but exceptional for someone her age. She cares about her employer’s financial interests – while the person whose job it is—does not.

“After working in a group practice for a few years, he started his own, and that was when I was hired.  This is a very busy office but collections are a serious problem, and Rachel—in charge of billing and getting us paid-is a wimp!!” Traci complained.

Patients cry and she cries with them!

“Rachel is a retired elementary school teacher and is extremely nice, but too nice to patients who are obviously trying to take advantage of our office. She is also a childhood friend of Dr. Tom’s parents.

“Many of her calls to past due accounts are on a speakerphone, and I’ve listened as patients come up with the same tearful excuses for not paying which they used months earlier!  They promise to catch up payments, but we get nothing!

“This is so crazy that when patients cry, I have heard Rachel sob with them! She is being conned, and worse yet, she doesn’t flag the chart-or warn the other staff members — so the same, dead-beat patients come back and are treated again!

“When I ask her about this, she says, ‘Well, you need to have sympathy for these people.’

“Sympathy?  Where is her sympathy for our office? Whose side is she on? I have discussed this with the dentist, but he says, ‘We need to be a little more patient with Rachel, she a friend of the family.’

“Dr. Tom does not like confrontation. I am worried that he will get into financial trouble-putting our jobs at risk—if something doesn’t happen soon.”

It takes a very special person to handle this important job

“Your dentist reader has one giant toothache and seems headed for a root canal. This is a far more common situation than most people realize,” were the first comments from a friend of this column, Lake Oswego-based Gary Goldstick. He is one of the nations most successful “business doctors,” and author of a number of books, my favorite which is Business Rx: How to Get in the Black and Stay There.

“Collections are absolutely critical to the survival of any company, but the average bookkeeper or person in charge of billing is not tuned into this,” Goldstick underscores.

“They see collections-especially past-due accounts—as a burden, while the right person in the job looks at it as a challenge, has heard all the broken promises and knows when to turn a bad account over to the company’s lawyer or collection agency. They don’t sit on bad accounts for months, listening to one phony excuse after another.

“Especially critical is being able to tell the boss when to turn off the tap – to stop providing services, just as gutsy young Traci has pointed out.

“It takes a very special person to handle this important job-someone not afraid of confrontation— and few people have the skills plus the thick skin needed to do it well. Having the wrong people performing the billing and collections function can cause enormous damage, even put the business at risk,” he stressed.

“Coming from an elementary school teaching background, Rachel has shown herself clearly unsuited for collections: Teaching young children requires a great deal of empathy and hand-holding. Teachers must be nice to children.

“A billing and collections person needs to be polite, firm but not too nice, for if they are, the door to being taken advantage of by dead-beats is flung wide open. Yes, it’s alright to care- not be an aloof bureaucrat-but they should not care that much. What they absolutely must care about is their employer – holding their employer’s interests paramount.

So, what should an employer look for in this search for the right collections person? Next time we’ll give you a by the numbers checklist, and tell you why it is so risky hiring family friends.

Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.