Receivable/Accounts - Information for Credit and Collection Issues

Monday, March 26, 2012

Collection Advice - Avoiding Conflict

It might surprise many to know that collections can be a stressful job.  For all the publicized stories of collection agents being rude or overbearing, there are a hundred untold stories of collection agents bearing the brunt of emotional debtors’ responses every day.  Sometimes, being the bearer of bad tidings is not an easy job.

Of course, no one likes owing debt, and often people respond to the stress of a collection agency calling them emotionally.  This creates conflict, and an experienced collector needs to recognize this.  As long as there is a confrontational situation, the business of discussing a debt, and its resolution or consequence is not being dealt with.  The business matter at hand is an outstanding debt, and the discussion should center around facts and resolution or consequences, not raised voices or threats.

So, how can an effective collection agent avoid conflict?

1.       Present a Calm Image – A collector should at all times use a calm, professional, and moderate voice, and while it is possible to verbally deliver deadlines or consequences of affecting someone’s credit rating, or initiating legal action, it is important to make the debtor not feel this is a personal attack, or that they are being belittled.

2.       Don’t Make It Personal – It’s a small detail, but if you are telling someone something negative, don’t say “I will affect your credit rating”.  That’s a personal statement.  Better you say “our company will affect your credit rating”, or “our client requires that we affect your credit rating”.  Notice the difference?

3.       Don’t Respond With Emotion – if a debtor reacts by raising their voice, or raising the pitch of their voice up an octave, the last thing a collector should do is respond in kind.  The debtor will think that you are responding emotionally, and will continue to escalate further.  If a debtor is yelling at you, raising your voice is hardly going to help the situation.

4.       Speak The Facts – if you have the power to affect someone’s credit bureau, apply outstanding interest, cancel memberships, repossess cars, or take someone to court, I believe that you should get those facts out up front at the start of the conversation, before you discuss repayment.  This makes the debtor aware of the consequences before negotiation begins.

5.       Avoid Circular Arguments & Tirades – If you have followed the advice of point #3 above,  you have given the debtor the consequences up front.  So, if the conversation with the debtor starts going in circles, or the debtor becomes emotional or confrontational, you can always take the conversation back to the beginning, and restate your position – for example, “you are three months behind on your car payment, and it would be unfortunate if we could not resolve this by March 30th, and as a result had to repossess your car...”

6.       Keep Your Verbal Pacing Even – If you have determined the call isn’t going in the right direction, and you’ve reached the point of saying something to the effect of “Mr. Jones, if that is the way you are responding to our company, you leave us no choice but to assign your account to a collection agency”, odds are you have sped up the pacing of your speech, because you are personally in a rush to get off the phone, to the point where you might actually hang up on the debtor.  This is a mistake – if you have to get your consequences out, do so in a calm, well-paced statement that is not rushing the debtor, because you come across emotionally when you do.”

7.       Give the Debtor The Last Chance – And to continue the thought of point #6, as you are ending the call, give the debtor a final chance to recant their position on the file, by ending it with a statement such as “do you understand the actions being taken today?” or “do you have any questions regarding my decision?”.  It reinforces the pacing statement above, and gives the debtor a final chance to ask how their credit rating will be affected, or what the penalties are for cancelling their membership contract, and so on.

8.       Let The Debtor Cool Off – So, you’ve made a debtor aware of a debt, and they’ve responded with vulgarities and hung up on the phone on you.  Is calling them right back going to solve anything?  Usually the best solution to this is to let the debtor cool off for a day or two, and call back and try to start over.

9.       Maybe It’s You – Sometimes, conflict is created by a clash of personalities.  If nothing you say can calm the person down to speak to in a reasonable fashion, perhaps the file should be passed to another collector to start from scratch.

10.   Don’t Take It Personally – Your role as a collection agent is to professionally and successfully represent your client, and recover their accounts, and take action against those accounts that do not cooperate.  That does not mean having a personal vendetta with someone who got under your skin.  You can’t avoid all conflict, but you can make sure it doesn’t affect you personally, and then pass it on to others when it can be avoided.  Make sure you keep the big picture in mind, and not dwell on individual accounts.

I personally believe that you can’t survive in the credit and collections industry for long without a thick skin, a healthy sense of humor, and a sense of perspective on the big picture.  If any collectors have questions about keeping their cool, or want to discuss techniques that they can use to side-step conflict with a debtor, feel free to post a comment below or contact myself directly.

Blair Wettlaufer
Kingston Data and Credit
Cambridge, Ontario


  1. Great advise! With regards to "Keep Your Verbal Pacing Even", I remember several years back having to inform a client of legal action that was going to take place over the next 24 hours. I was in a rush to get off the phone (not a fun call to have to make), and in my haste I did hang up too quickly. After the call there was some smoothing out to do with this client. Lesson learned to keep my pace even and do not rush. Thanks Blair.

  2. I have sold collection services successfully and I have collected money successfully. Collecting is a lot easier and less stressful than selling. In selling you have to be so correct and so nice to get a client. In collecting you are not trying to make a friend. You can be coldly professional. The law and the power is on your side. Often collecting is a matter of negotiation and you have to have your wits about you because you are the one controlling the relatiohship. A tuned in, experienced, collector knows when to use emotion, logic and all the other tools in their arsenal. The good ones are born actors as they manipulate the debtor to settle the debt. How many jobs can give you the same instant feedback on how well you are doing.

  3. I agree with some of your points, but not all.

    I will agree that you are calling a person not as their friend, but a voice of consequences, and in a position of authority to affect someone, either by affecting their credit rating, or undertaking a court action. It is a matter of negotiation, and you do have a real material way of knowing if you are doing well.

    However, nine out of ten people who end up in collections are not bad people -- they are procrastinators, people living beyond their means, people who are not financially savvy, or people who have had bad circumstances happen to them. While a collection agent isn't there to be kind, they should be professional and can deliver their dire news without rancor.

    I also don't agree about the manipulation. Absolutely, a collection agent should create a sense of urgency, establish deadlines for concrete results such as payment being received, and clearly lay out consequences for failing to meet those deadlines. I believe if a debtor is not willing to resolve their debt, no amount of acting or manipulation, cajoling, stretching the truth, or intimidation will hardly ever change that. If the debtor is willing to live with the consequences, so be it.