Receivable/Accounts - Information for Credit and Collection Issues

Friday, May 30, 2014

Collection Tip - Ending the Endless Call

It happens to all of us … we occasionally get stuck in a feedback loop on a telephone collection call.  Sometimes it’s someone arguing in circles, sometimes it’s someone who doesn’t truly understand what you are saying, and sometimes it’s someone who wants to keep talking, even though you do not.

The first thing is to personally identify when a call is going nowhere.  Large call centers set arbitrary call time caps like three minutes, but I believe it should be a personal decision on whether a call has gone from productive to unproductive – this could be after 30 seconds, or it could be after eight minutes, it really depends on the circumstances.  Regardless, your precious resource is time, so you want to make sure you aren’t wasting it.

Here are a few examples of an ‘endless call’ I’ve seen or experienced over the years.

The rambler – a consumer or business representative who takes an extreme amount of time to make their point.  What they are saying may be valid, but it’s going to take a long time to get there.

The crazed consumer – the consumer who is agitated to the point of being irrational.  I actually deal with this scenario in detail here

The eternal optimist – the consumer or business representative promises you payment arrangements, ad nauseum.  Every single call you have with this consumer consists of promises, in detail, of how they will resolve the account, but yet nothing ever comes of it.

The arguer – this consumer or business representative is completely convinced they should not have to resolve their account, and singlemindedly want to convince you of the same, with facts, emotion, or sheer willpower, and nothing can deter them from their goal of swaying you to their opinion.

The staller – a person who wants to take the time to explain in great detail why they aren’t resolving their account.  They may be in the process of creating a lengthly explanation they 100% believe, or it could be a person going into a level of detail that just isn’t necessary.

The distraught debtor – a person who has had bad circumstances happen to them, and they want to share their stress with you.  This is completely different from the crazed consumer who wants to rant and target you with their stress, the distraught consumer is seeking an empathetic audience.

The lonely person – at the core of it, this person is just happy to be speaking on the phone, and they want to tell you about what their cat did this morning, or their health woes, or anything that comes to mind.

In any case, there are a number of ways to identify these sorts of calls and end the call – but the very first thing that needs to be done identify when a call is going nowhere.  This is obviously a learned skill, but the collection agent should not be on mental autopilot – as the call progresses, they should be self-evaluating the situation and making smart decisions. 

To help the collector, the first thing they need to do is present the call properly even before they start talking.  If you present your call as a factual situation, without emotion, and offer the debtor an “A-B choice” of repayment or consequences, you set the tone of the call, and direct their response to either choosing to resolve the account or accept the consequences displayed.  When a call starts going off the rails into left field, and the consumer wants to argue about the state of health care in Canada, how unfair it is that they should be expected to resolve this account after losing their job, or the problems they have suffered with their colostomy bag this morning, you can always gently bring the call back to the beginning, and diplomatically re-present the “A-B choice” without being emotional or abrupt.   This allows you to end the call with the consequences, and get out of the call.

If that doesn’t work, either because the consumer won’t listen or act reasonably, or they simply won’t stop talking to let you have a word in edgewise, you may have to be slightly more abrupt.  This should never, and I mean never, mean yelling or getting emotional.  If still confronted with a difficult consumer who won’t end the call, you should speak clearly and slowly with intent, advising the consumer of the consequences – even if you have to speak over the consumer.  And then end the call.

Sometimes, it’s not just the consumer – often collection agents will get trapped by their own patterns of behavior.  You might be an optimist that wants to listen to extensive promise payments, or an extremely polite person who doesn’t know how to extricate yourself from a conversation with a shut-in cat person, or the collector who is determined to win an argument with a consumer, even if it takes 25 minute to do so.  Watch for personal behavior, or try to overcome it when it drags calls out repeatedly, with no result.

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, feel free to give us a call.

Blair DeMarco-Wettlaufer
Kingston Data and Credit
Cambridge, Ontario

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