Working as debt collector has opened my eyes to a lot of things. The most interesting knowledge I’ve gained since starting work in this industry is a view from the other side of the collections telephone conversation. I’ll be completely honest: I’ve been in collections -- twice. What’s interesting to me is seeing collections from the business side, having already been on the debtor side. This insight has set off some lightbulbs and stirred some of my feathers, and over these past couple months I’ve begun to see the error of the collection industry in its methods. I strive to be different. If every collection agency ran at a pace like the one my company is striving for, the industry of collections would change, making it a very different world for both the agents and for the people who owe money.
A Message to Collection Agents from Real People
As a former debtor, and someone who deals with debtors every day, consider this a message to every debt collector out there, on behalf of the hundreds of thousands of people listed with collection agencies. This is your eye-opener. This is what you can do to make things better. This is what will bump your collectors from sub-par to excellent. This is a message to agents, from debtors.
1. We’re not bad people (and we’re not all liars).
Remember that I’m not a criminal just because I haven’t paid my bill, and when I say I’ll have to budget for a payment later this month, I’m not lying to get out of it. Don’t dote on me like a child who can do no wrong; I’ve made a mistake, but I don’t need to be treated like a criminal either. I’m a human, not an ATM.
2. You’re the last stop before the cliff’s edge – Help me!
Beating me right from the start with the metaphorical “Credit Bureau” bat-o’-consequences isn’t going to get us anywhere. Don’t start there and expect me to know what to do. Consider my finances. Take a few seconds to work with me to have this paid as painlessly as possible. Suggest the options you have that are designed to make paying my overdue bill as quick as can be, instead of racking me over coals and hoping money will fall out.
3. Let me wade before diving in.
Most of us are new to being debtors. Remember: sometimes honest people make honest mistakes. Don’t spring it on me like I’ve known about this debt for the last six years and it’s two days before it’s passed the Statute of Limitations so I’m trying to buy time by telling you I’ll call tomorrow. I get it; some people do this, but assuming I know how to handle being in debt starts the conversation on all kinds of wrong feet. Assuming I’m honest will work in your favour nine out of ten times. Assuming I’m a “professional debtor” will work one out of ten times. True fact.
4. Ignorance is not bliss – Burst my bubble!
You know what’s going to happen. I don’t. Educate me. If I’m a young adult, I probably don’t know what having bad credit will do to, and if I’m elderly, I probably believe I don’t have to care. Put all the cards on the table and flip my ignorance into knowledge. It won’t take much convincing to get me to pay my bill if I’m taught (not hounded with) the information on the real consequences of bad credit.
5. “Authority” doesn't mean “bossy”.
Don’t try to be my best friend (that’s creepy) but get to know me a little. Be the voice of reason without immediately throwing discipline in my face as incentive. Don’t be robotic, and if it’s been a week since I promised a payment and you’re calling to remind me it’s due tomorrow, leave me a real message. It shows in your voice if I’m person #68 you’re waiting on payments for. I’m embarrassed about my debt enough; a smile would do wonders to ease my pain.
6. Understand that parting with money isn’t easy.
I didn’t pay this bill before. Likely, I either forgot about it, or I didn’t have the money at the time and now I’ve forgotten about it. It’s safe to assume I haven’t been harboring the cash in my bank account all this time and I’m putting up a fight to pay my bill because it’s fun. Again, consider my finances and empathize that we all have to pay our grumpy landladies, but that we can work together to make everyone happy. Or, at least, a little less grumpy.
7. Laughter will get you everywhere.
Show me you’re human, just like I am. Giggle with me when I can’t find a pen, because they always walk away when you need them most. Smile and tell me it’s alright that my louder-than-thunder teacup terrier is barking in the background (even when we both know it’s annoying). Sound honest when you tell me, “No problem!” when I ask to put down the phone for a second to attend to my upset, juice-deprived child. I don’t care what anyone says: flattery will get you everywhere. Take the small step to show me you’re enjoying the conversation, even if it only lasts a minute while I write down your phone number. It will make me want to call back.
8. Don’t take my common sense for granted.
The ARM industry has a terrible reputation. You know it. I know it. Collecting overdue balances is no more fun than paying those overdue balances, but that doesn’t mean it has to be painful. I know you’re job stinks sometimes – don’t make me feel like it’s all my fault.
9. Give me the chance to make it right.
In an ideal world, all bills would always be paid and no one would be in these awkward, unpleasant situations. But, I get it; you’d be out of a job if people like me didn’t end up in collections, and being in uncomfortable places can make people cranky. Don’t just give me the chance to pay my bill – give me the chance to make your day. Thirty six other people before me may have paid their bills too, but I don’t want to feel like #37. Validate my feelings and give me a chance to make it right, making you happy too.
10. Tell me we’ll never speak again.
You were great, helpful, non-abrasive, and generally a good fella. At the end of the day, I’m hoping I’ll never have to talk to you again, not because something went sour but because I legitimately have no reason to call you. I learn something. I paid my bill. We worked as a team and you’ve assured me that now that the encounter between us is over, I can ride without the training wheels. In an ideal world, even if we’ll never talk again, I won’t forget the kindness and humanity I was shown by a complete stranger whose face I’ll never see.
The Real Reason We Talk To Each Other
In the first call, you have my undivided attention, and for many people, you have them over a barrel of consequences because of what’s already taken place. Don’t lose that opportunity to engage me. If you lose it once, you’ll probably never get it again. The reputation of collection agencies isn’t going to change one morning when you walk in to work; it has to start somewhere, with people like you going in to work every morning and trying to change it. “One small step” has changed the world before. Be awed by the power you hold every time you pick up the phone, and take the first step to make something good happen.
What Doesn’t Kill Us, Makes Us Stronger
If you are a collection agent who is yelling at someone or getting hung up on repeatedly, I hope you see this and take some of my advice to heart. You know I’m right; it’s basic human decency. If you are a manager who is pounding on your collector’s desks trying to get them to collect more, I hope you see this article too – maybe you’ll understand that whatever approach you were taking before, it’s not working now. Change it. No, seriously. Change it, now. Pass this article around the office like a bad cold. Make everyone read it. It will change your numbers completely. How do I know? Because it’s working for us, every day.
If you’re a creditor who gets complaints about your collection agency, give this article to them. Make them read it, and make it part of their training. They have been trained on your business, right? They represent you, and maybe most importantly, they represent your company’s reputation – do you want to have negotiators or thugs as the smiling faces of your company? It’s not always about the bottom line and money collected; it’s about how the work is done, and the potential damage that might happen if your former customers are reduced to sub-human status by your third party agency. We never raise our voices at Kingston Data and Credit, and we out-collect our competition. After reading this, don’t convince yourself it’s just coincidence, or we have some special kind of client, because it’s not the case.
We all have opinions in using empathy and professionalism in business. I certainly do. Talk to me if what I’ve written strikes a chord with you. I want to change the collection industry, and I’ll do it with collection agents or clients. Call me.
Kingston Data and Credit