Receivable/Accounts - Information for Credit and Collection Issues

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Ten Things Collection Agents Should Do

Since we are coming up on the end of the year, it might be worth speaking out to the collection agents out there to perhaps make the following New Year resolutions, or at least make an effort to avoid the following pitfalls when making collection calls.

I have trained over 300 collection agents over the last 20 years in the Kitchener and Hamilton area of Ontario, and some of the best people I have ever had the pleasure of working with are those who started out with no experience, but learned on the job.  Some of the best advice I was able to give them is below.

1.       Don’t Stop Thinking!:  This is the first and most important rule to follow.  Don’t fall into a rut, and don’t stop thinking, about your own technique, about your successful calls, your unsuccessful calls, and information that will make you better at what you do.  If you assume you know everything you need to know about collections, whether you have been doing this for one year or twenty, you are limiting yourself.  There is always room to grow and improve.

2.       Don’t Cross The Line: Make sure you stay within the bounds of collection laws, make sure you don’t act outside of your agency’s rules, or the guidelines set down by the client.  Don’t make inaccurate or false notes on a debtor file, don’t try to ditch files without an honest attempt to collect them, and certainly don’t tell tales to your supervisor or manager.  Don’t kid yourself – you will get caught, and cost yourself and your agency in the long run.  Be honest.

3.       Check Your Ego at the Door: A sense of self-confidence and authority carries over the phone, and will generate more payments, but you are not too good to do your own trace work, work files under $5,000, communicate with your team, follow the rules everyone else should follow, or listen to your managers.  By letting your ego run rampant, you are actually breaking rules #1 through #3.  This is a dangerous pitfall for the “experienced” collection agent.

4.       Keep Your Cool: No matter what, no call, no individual file is worth damaging your calm and your mental well-being.  If a debtor starts yelling at you,  frustrating you with broken promises, or with bounced payments, take a deep breath and relax.  This is just one file of a hundred that you will work today, and one of three hundred to a thousand in your personal portfolio, and one of millions of files at your agency.  Is this debtor going to pay?  Make a dispassionate decision, and process the file accordingly.

5.       Don’t Waste Your Time: If you have spent 30 minutes on the phone with a debtor over a $100 payment, you may be wasting your day.  The best use of your time is arranging payments.  Again, take a deep breath and decide – is this debtor going to pay?  Make a dispassionate decision, end the call with consequences if you can, and process the file.

6.       Listen!: Do not railroad debtors with your pre-packaged dun.  Yes, you have a message to deliver, but the debtor will often say things that will assist you in collecting the file.  If they are venting, let them vent to some point, and if they are offering to make amends on their debt, work with them, and keep track of key things they offer you on the phone.

7.       Take Your Time: Collectors make this mistake all the time.  Especially those who have been doing the job for a long time.  Slow down.  Speak in a calm, even, well-paced voice.  You will carry more of a sense of gravitas and authority, your phone messages will be clear and well-understood, and you will perform more effectively.

8.       Speak With Feeling: Yes, this is the fiftieth answering machine message today, but don’t ramble through it in a monotone.  If the debtor has not returned your last five calls, make sure your tone carries a sense of urgency, your discontent at being ignored, and your authority.

9.       Understand Your Job: The role of a collection agent is working file after file, but understand the big picture.  What liquidation does the client expect?  What are you doing compared to the other agents at your agency, or the competing agencies also working the same client portfolio?  How much gross revenue is necessary to achieve the clients’ expectations?  As well, if you are not one of the best collectors in the office, watch and listen to what they do.  Often key phrases that motivate debtors, a specific tone or approach may be necessary to succeed.

10.   Help Your Co-Workers: If you can, offer advice and experience to other less-skilled agents in your office.  Your agency will only succeed through teamwork, and it is not “every man for himself”.  Friendly competition is one thing, throwing your co-workers under the bus is another.

The best collectors out have a motley assortment of skills that make them successful – intelligence, intuition, the ability to be objective, quick thinking to adapt to new situations, good diction and communication skills, a memory for numbers, the ability to problem-solve, and some charisma.  However, collectors with these skills will not succeed unless they constantly strive to be better, and learn.  Anyone can be an excellent collector, as long as they have the ability to listen and take direction.  

If you have any comments or questions to share with the collection community, post an anonymous question or statement on the blog below.

Blair Wettlaufer
Kingston Data and Credit


  1. I instruct my staff to treat all debtors as they, themselves, would like to be treated if they were in the same position. Owing money does not make you a BAD person...divorce, loss of job, downsizing and many other situations in life may put an otherwise responsible person in a difficult position.

    1. I agree. Having found myself in a bad position before that I had to deal with a collection agency, I simply told the truth and made payments according to our agreement. However, you do feel bad when it happens. Plus, I hate when collectors scream or try to make you feel inferior when talking to you. At some point, we're all humans with lots of things to pay. Treating others like you want to be treated is key in every part of life.

  2. Absolutely Patrick. That should be the subject of a complete article on it's own ... how to wield authority responsibly, while still treating people with dignity and professionalism.

  3. It's easy...too easy, to forget some of the basics. All the right stuff we do in first months and years of collections. Develop your own list, post it close by and be sure to check it at least once a day. The best athletes don't let a day go by without at least a review of 'the basics'.

  4. Great article.....Thank you for sharing

  5. I read the article with much interest and have also benefited. I run a new debt collection agency and most times have applied professional aproach. It seems that the third world is quite a different environment. They are quite difficult to deal with.
    Some times many of the creditor companies have no sound data for their claims.

  6. educative..profound points. thanks for sharing

  7. Great article Blair. The one thing I would add (that you mentioned to a degree in #10) would be to Educate. And that would encompass the debtors in that as well as your fellow co-workers. So many people do not even know what their options are. They don't understand the consequence of not paying (how much more they will owe due to interest for example). Thanks for the reminder & prociding your Top 10.