At an early age, we are taught about proper manners. ‘Please’ and ‘thank you’ are hammered into us at home, and then when we go to school, or get our first job, we are taught to defer to positions of authority such as teachers or managers. If we work in sales, we are taught ‘the customer is always right’. Whether we aware of this or not, we have a strong social preference to be deferential to other people.
When I started in the collection industry, I worked with people yelling at debtors and banging their phones on the desk – it’s ridiculous, but sometimes people paid these crude attempts to collect, mostly from fear. It’s still an underlying tactic in our collection industry today with front-line collectors, sweat out periods for payment in full, and so on.
I’ve always thought that authority is more important than fear, and creating a strong sense of authority is key to presenting a debt properly, which will result in payment. However, we need to remove some of our words of servitude and deferential language from our collection vocabulary.
When you ask someone to do something with the word please, you are asking someone to do something as a favour, as a voluntary act. A lawyer would not ask you to please pay a judgment, nor would a bank ask you to please make your mortgage payment on time. In almost every case, this word should be removed from your language. Because we are in a position of authority, we can establish that we are withholding a negative rating from a credit bureau, alleviating interest from accumulating on an account, or withholding legal action when it is necessary.
This is a subtle trap – if you ask a yes/no question like ‘can you pay this bill’, you are passing authority and control to the consumer. You are implying, by asking a yes/no question, that they have authority over your actions and decisions on the account. These questions should be replaced with A/B questions, such as ‘would you like to resolve this account, or shall I report it to the credit bureau?’, which implies your authority, and directs the consumer to understand that there are a select number of outcomes that they can expect from a collection effort.
Once again, a lawyer would not say thank you to a consumer resolving a claim in pending litigation, nor does your credit card company send you a thank you postcard every time you make a payment. Saying ‘thank you’ is a sign that you are thankful or grateful for the actions of a consumer, and should be removed from your vocabulary. In fact, if presented properly, a consumer should be thanking you for being fair and reasonable with them, withholding action, and working with them to resolve their account if presented properly, and you can respond with ‘you’re welcome’.
Please understand that I do not condone or promote rudeness, threats, intimidation, or other overly aggressive collection tactics. What I am saying in this article is that using words of servitude sends a mixed message to a consumer that you are attempting to collect from, and undermines the authority a collector wants to establish. You can be perfectly pleasant and reasonable with consumers, while negotiating with them, without the language traps I’ve described above.
If you are a fellow credit and collections industry colleague, and want to discuss collection techniques, or are a client who want to discuss our approach to collecting debt, which we refer to as the APPRAISE process, as always you are welcome to give me a call or drop me an email – I’m always happy to discuss the science and artform of collecting.
KINGSTON Data and Credit