Linguistic characteristics in debt collection
But first, let’s go back to the strange request for a telephone. Unlike in other languages, your Swiss colleague isn’t asking for a physical device with this expression, but rather a call. A request we’re usually quite happy to fulfill. This anecdote is just one of the local peculiarities that can complicate business relationships generally – and international debt collection in particular. This affects cross-border business between Germany, Austria and Switzerland, as well as companies from other countries that wish to conduct business here.
There are not only linguistic challenges between the three countries in terms of how people speak. The technical vocabulary can also vary. In Switzerland, only judicial collection is referred to as “Betreibung” and the relevant authorities as “Betreibungsämter”. While in Germany, “Beitreibung” encompasses the entire debt collection process. In Austria, collection field staff are called “Inkassanten” – a term hardly recognized in the neighboring countries, even by debt collection experts.
In other words, what people say when planning collection processes can sometime differ considerably from what is actually understood. This can lead to diverging processes, incorrect approaches and “irritations” in practice.
But Switzerland already has its own even greater linguistic challenges within the country. After all, three languages – German, French and Italian – have to be covered there. Fortunately, address directories make it possible to determine which language should be used when communicating with a customer. Having said that, the preferred language isn’t always the same as the official language of the relevant canton, further complicating matters.
In Austria, while there is just one official national language, great importance is attached to titles. These include unconventional salutations like Commerce Councilor or Court Actress, as well as more common forms such as Mr. Director – to name just a few of the list of around 900 titles. What’s more, the spouse always has to be addressed with the same title as the actual title holder, for example Mrs. Director. For customer retention reasons, it’s therefore essential to always use the correct title throughout the dunning and debt collection process.