… manage your staff after you buy it

How many readers have bought software for their debt collection business believing that it would do away with all the problems that the business experiences only to find that things have not improved after the installation of the software?

Lets face it, software should only be purchased in order to

(i) improve productivity,
(ii) improve accuracy
(iii) reduce expenses and
(iv) to secure clients.

If your software is not capable of achieving these goals, you have bought the wrong software. However, it so often occurs that a business actually buys the correct software, but fails to make things work, and then the software often gets blamed for the absence of an improved environment. In reality, the problem often lies with the business owner.

Success in a debt collection environment depends largely on six factors, being

(i) the acquisition of the correct work,
(ii) the appointment of the correct staff
(iii) the proper management of ones staff,
(iv) the implementation of a solid infrastructure,
(v) the use of the correct software and finally,
(vi) an intimate understanding of everything that happens and is done in your business and debt books.

Often, the owners of a debt collection company is introduced to a specific program and decides to purchase it, as they believe that it addresses all of its problems, only to find out that there are certain shortcomings afterwards. An example can be found in the story where a Pretoria-based debt collector wanted to purchase new software in order to address the volume of new work received from a new client. The debt collector realised that the increased volumes of work necessitated the acquisition of a robust system with all the functionality. The software also had to include automated debit order mechanisms. He called on numerous software vendors to demonstrate their systems to him and spent two days interviewing the various vendors and analysing their products. At the end of the process, he called for quotes from two of the software vendors whose programs seemed to address his needs the best. He then settled on the cheaper option between the two and arranged for the installation.

This process seems diligent enough and one can hardly criticise the debt collection for his process of decision-making. It is, indeed, the correct way of taking a decision. But, things went wrong where he confused the debit order functionality seen during one presentation (i.e. vendor As software) with that of the other software. He assumed that the same debit order functionality seen in software A was also available in the software provided by vendor B. He bought software B under the incorrect understanding that it provided the same functionality that was available in software A. Software package B did not include any mechanisms for automated debit orders.

Shortly after installing software B he realised his mistake and decided to replace it with software A; which immediately inflated his expenditure of software. In the end, he could blame no one but himself as he assumed that the software he initially purchased would be able to do what the competing software was capable of.

The lesson to be learned out of his experience is that business owners should make sure that they buy the correct software needed. Take the extra time to draft a checklist of the functionality that is required and then ask all the questions in order to ensure that the correct decision is made. In short, one should know the software very well by the time a decision is made.

I have also seen, on numerous occasions, that, even though the correct software is acquired, the business owner does not see any improvement in productivity after the installation thereof. This problem normally also lies squarely in front of the business owners door. So often a business owner sees the software for the first and last time during the acquisition phase; and never has anything to do with it after it is installed. In a sense, many business owners believe that their staff members need to be able to use the software, but that they don’t. I bet you that you may have said, somewhere in the past, that you don’t need to know what the program does … as long as your staff members do. This approach is certainly doomed.

If you don’t know how your software functions you will never be able to manage your staff and their performance properly. I recall how, as a young(ish) lawyer in a very large corporate law firm, I noticed how easily staff members could use the functionality (or apparent lack thereof) of software to achieve their own goals, as opposed to those of the business.

Software purchased in order to reduce staff members in the administration department seemed to have had the opposite effect as the work was never completed and more people needed to be appointed. It eventually became evident that the manager in charge of the administration department had never bothered to get to know the software installed. It was then easy for the staff members to fabricate flaws in the system, justifying the appointment of additional staff members (most likely family members of the already-lazy admin clerk).

Once the lack of system knowledge on the part of the manager in charge was addressed, he immediately realised that the staff members were abusing his lack of system-understanding to fabricate a problem that never existed in order to have their family members appointed as additional team members. Job-creation, one would think.

After getting to know the software intimately, he was able to reduce the head-count in his department and achieved the initial goal. His intimate understanding of the software was everything. It was the crucial missing component required to achieve the goal. Without understanding his software, he was unable to manage his staff and to know when they were taking him for a ride.

The moral of the story is to know the software well before you purchase it and to remain involved in it after installation thereof. Your business is, after all, your responsibility, not that of your staff members.