For a monthly fee, we have the ability to run an unlimited number of credit checks through Credit Focus, an online tool we pay for through Barclays. Seeing as it’s the season of unpaid invoices, I thought I’d post a quick run-down of what it is and what it can do to help.
What is Credit Focus?
Credit Focus is essentially an interface to Experian. It allows you to check credit scoring, monitor changes in credit scoring and engage a solicitor for no fee if you see a problem.
Over time, we have changed the way we use Credit Focus. We used to use it retrospectively, which wasn’t very effective. By the time we realised there was a serious problem, it was normally too late to do anything. Now we try to check anyone who we extend credit to before things go too far. It helps us to see any problems well before they happen, and if a client isn’t being entirely truthful with us, we can decide whether to continue working with them.
Although I think it’s a potential very powerful service, I have a number usability issues with Credit Focus. The layout really lets it down. For example, you can use their logos on your stationery, but when you go to the page to grab one, they’re not there. Half the screen is hidden until you click a checkbox that you have to scroll down to find.
On the main UI, there are no controls in the actual screen itself. The graphs you get are fine, but the display isn’t very versatile and the tabs across the top (not visible here) are the same colour as the background until clicked. All the boxes in each screen can be collapsed, but for no reason – you can’t move the boxes around or remove them from view.
There’s not much in-app help at all. The help is provided in the form of a PDF link, and any tool-tips that are provided are very non-specific. This is a bit of a problem when the layout is poor. For example, have a look at the top left: it appears to say ‘Experian credit score 71, below average’. Actually, it means that the score is 71 and the risk level is below average.
Also, note that Welcome text at the top: not only is it waffly, but it wastes space on every page. If this area was used for mouseover help text, it would be so much better.
The process of involving a solicitor involves filling in details for a draft letter which the firm print and sign. It works in the same way as the LegalManager software in MyBusinessWorks, except that the fields in the preview letter don’t update as you’re filling in the details – unlike LegalManager where you can actually see what’s happening. This is a bit confusing, and had me wondering if it was actually working. When I came to the last screen, I was surprised not to see some kind of preview.
Our final reminder reminds the client that we retain copyright for work until it’s paid for, but there’s nowhere for me to add this on the letter. I also want to specify additional fees and charges, but I can’t see anywhere to do that.
Is it worth paying for?
I do think Credit Focus is a good tool. We do get some value from it, but it could be so much better. I would find it easier to understand and interpret the data if the help was more comprehensive, and more thought could be put into how different panels are arranged. I wish we could customise the layout and tweak the solicitor’s letter – or at least see it before we commit to sending it out.
Having said that, if you’re struggling with unpaid invoices, there is a free version on the Credit Focus website which is definitely worth a try. If nothing else, it will arm you with knowledge you may not otherwise have, and that can help you to collect bad debts more effectively.
Update – November 2012
We have now discontinued our use of MyBusinessWorks and Credit Focus; we didn’t feel we were getting adequate value from either. Since writing this review, we’ve found that invoice chasing and deposits are a more effective method of credit control.