Breaking the politeness barrier

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Manners are very important in conveying mutual respect. In the professional world, they can make the difference between success and failure. But sometimes the need to be polite and non-offensive can be very costly.

I have been implementing Terms of Trade and credit management systems in the Bay of Plenty for almost 13 years. In that time I have struck the same hurdle time and again with clients being reluctant to implement new terms in existing customer relationships. I call this the “politeness

Clients feel that as they have a long-standing relationship with a customer it would be insulting and disrespectful to have their customer fill out a client information form, indicating a mistrust or dislike for the customer. I say bollocks to this.

We renew our insurances each year, and we update our Wills when we have another child or meet a new partner. This doesn’t mean that the insurance company doesn’t trust us or that we no longer value our existing progeny, now that we have a new arrival.

It is simply that things change and having up to date information is crucial to the accuracy of service and communication.

The fact is that if you don’t  have a completed client information or credit application form between you and your customer, then certain rights and legal devices may not be available to you.

This could include secured creditor rights, caveat or mortgagee rights, and default listing of private individuals, among others.

I have found this to be a fairly easy hurdle to overcome. It’s not what you ask, it’s how you do it. There are three key components.

  1. Give a reason why you are asking for the information that makes sense to a business owner,
  2. make it an easy and quick task, and
  3. provide a timeframe.


We have a new accounting /CRM system and part of the implementation protocol is to ensure all client information records are up to date, during our audit we could not find your client information form.

Our credit/liability insurance compliance requirements are that we have up to date client records and we have been unable to locate yours.

In order to provide our clients with the best service we are committed to operating our business at best practice standard.

Part of that is ensuring we have updated information regarding clients and we have not recieved this from your business.

And never forget the power of  “it’s company policy”. I once observed an electrician changing a lightbulb in a bank. He was around 6ft 5 and could reach the ceiling quite easily.

Despite this he had on a high vis vest, a hard hat, a harness and was on the bottom of a three step ladder surrounded by orange cones. When I asked him why, his reply was simply “company policy.”

Make it easy

Instead of sending out a credit application form, send out an “existing client information update form” – same form, different name, delete the trade references and other unnecessary questions and complete as much of the form as you know to be true.

If possible submit as a pdf fillable form so the customer can easily complete it and send it back.


Putting a time frame of less than seven days drastically reduces the chance of the task going to the end of a very long list.

A statement like “we hope to have our processes completed by next Monday at the latest, so if you can have the form back to us by then it would be appreciated” with perhaps a small incentive such as a voucher can work surprisingly well.

Many clients have told me that sending out forms to existing clients is akin to having your spouse of five years fill out a pre-nup.

On the contrary, ensuring that you have up to date information and are on top of your legislative and best practice requirements actually shows respect to your client and your relationship with them.

If a request is reasonable and asked with purpose and respect, then there is no valid reason that it won’t be complied with.

Just a thought.

Nick Kerr

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Nick Kerr
Nick Kerr
Nick Kerr is the director of IPI Group Limited. He can be reached on 021 876 527 and nick@nzipi.com.

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