Receivable/Accounts - Information for Credit and Collection Issues

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Constructive Growth For Collectors

Collections is a measurable, real service – the volume of collections recovered for a client is tangible, empirical, and can easily measured.  However, measuring the methods in which those collections are made can sometimes be a little more fluid.

Getting away from KPI’s such as call counts, average time on a call, or ratios of cures or conversions to right party contacts, I’m talking about the effects of the human element and personality on our collection methods – how a collection team member might represent themselves by tone, language, or pacing.  You could even delve into even more subtle nuances such as decision processes during the call, how they treat certain consumer demographic segments, or how their tone might shift through the day, or be affected by a previous call.

Putting all this fancy terminology aside, measuring and evaluating people is hard.

The reason it’s hard, is because everyone reacts differently to situations, and while a manager might have a textbook process for collecting on behalf of XYZ Financial, they don’t have an individual textbook for each of their team representing the highly valued client.

So, getting everyone to be on the same page for the company’s collection model, as well as the client’s collection requirements, all at the same time encouraging team members to be productive and cooperative in a team environment requires some fairly deft management skills.  If you want to avoid a rotating door of staff, it’s in your best interests to groom and nurture management skills in others, and encourage them to grow while they work with your agency.  Here are a few things I’ve learned (sometimes the hard way) in working with others, when dealing with the issues surrounding constructive criticism.

Don’t Scare Away the New Folks

Let’s face it, collections requires a really odd golf-bag of skills that most people don’t receive comprehensive training for in school or in other employment outside of the collection sphere.  New people coming into the collection business often are overwhelmed with regulations, company culture, learning a new way to talk to people, fighting butterflies in their stomach because they think they will get into confrontational situations, working alongside some pretty interesting alpha personality types, and so on.  So we should really take it easy on the newest people in the office.

When training new collection staff without experience, I think it’s important to lay out a roadmap of your expectations, and what you want to work at along the way.  Explain to them that you will want to correct them on about 34 different, subtle things, but you will limit your criticism to one or two things at a time, to give them a chance to master these skills before moving on to other items.

This means you probably want to start with the basics – regulations, opening dun, and client requirements such as verification of identity, and give them lots of opportunity to stumble and learn.  The best opportunities are the ones that the collector themselves can identity and learn from, so it requires patience and explanations of the big picture – sitting a new collector next to an experienced alpha personality superstar for half a day is not sufficient, nor is it productive.

Superstars Require Super Efforts

Which brings us to the next segment of our collections staff population – the superstar.  You might recognize these folks as bringing in the highest numbers, and having survived the ebbs and flows of the company.  Unfortunately, if you aren’t careful, you nurture an environment where these collectors don’t want to learn, don’t feel that constructive criticism will help them, and may not even be willing to change.

I’ve had the pleasure of working with some folks like this, and they aren’t bad people – however, they are products of their environment, and if allowed to run off on their own tangents, they cause chaos and disruption to a professional organization.  So whether you have a full-blown superstar, or the inklings of a developing one, there are a few things you can do to help them grow into better collectors.

The first thing you will need to do is level the playing field – this is the most painful, and difficult part of working with a superstar, but the other staff can’t grow and learn and develop if they are having to compare managerial advice versus practical evidence of the superstar’s display of ‘survival of the fittest’ skills – this split culture will undermine everything you want to do, unless you want a room of superstars, which is in itself probably another article.  So -- you can address team equality by bringing on newer or developing staff to a client-based team, and encouraging the superstar to train and build them.  You can direct some of the superstar’s knowledge into training or critiquing.  You can get buy-in from the superstars to change by exposing them to client audit reports, stair step performance charts, and so on.  In other words, broaden their horizons, and they will grow.

You’ve seen it in the movies – headstrong, cocky young hero/heroine is taken under the wing of an elderly mentor figure, who fights their advice and wisdom until they realize they are a small part of a bigger world – this is exactly what you need to do, but perhaps without having your superstar wax the floor in order to learn kung-fu.

Having People Change Because They Want To Is Easier

Because you see the big picture, you understand why the collectors need to log more time in the day on the phones, or why a specific recurring reason for non-payment needs attention, or why you have a certain assignment batch reworked.  You have seen the reports for end of day, or live feeding across your screen, so you know why you are going out to the collection floor to correct a trend, or encourage an agent who is failing to collect when they get a consumer on the phone.  But your team might not see everything you see.

You can attack symptoms, and try to encourage better collection techniques, but if the people you are managing don’t see *why* something needs to be done, they will resist you, or complain to others about it, or avoid following your direction – you don’t have buy in from the people that matter most, the collectors.  It’s far better to attack the problem itself, and that can be done as a team effort.

As a parallel example, when software developers run into problems, they collaborate – either through alpha- or beta-testing groups, or through a team of developers working cooperatively together. 

So, if the problem is a ‘bug’ in the process that is causing you to fail to a competing agency, or not meet liquidation expectations, you can involve the whole team in the big picture, by showing them what a liquidation dashboard report looks like, and explain where the shortfalls are.  It takes more time, and requires a lot more effort on the part of the manager, but ultimately, if you can show your team *why* you want to change their approach, they are far more likely to cooperate with you and willingly change, and there is even an outside chance they will come up with better solutions than you had in mind.

As you are encouraging better results or more positive habits, make sure to show them the results of change, the milestones that the company has achieved through improvement, and the overall track record of growth and development.  Build some reports, share some statistics, but always find a way to provide positive reinforcement and feedback for the people who put their trust in you and try to do a better job, or shake off bad habits.  Everyone deserves to know they are doing a good job, and not just receive a stream of criticism, never achieving your expectations.


A lot of this article is vague – because it needs to be geared to individuals.  Not everyone can be approached in the same way, and not every company has the luxury to build peer groups or custom dashboard reports.  However, in the years I’ve worked in big agencies and small, treating your collection team like thinking, reasonable human beings always has won out over assuming everyone is a piece of ‘meatware’ wearing a headset.

If you are fighting the same management battles over and over, and your staff aren’t getting better, perhaps it’s time for a change, and your strongest resource are the people who work with you – talk to them about the challenges you all face together, and see what solutions you can achieve together.  That’s where constructive growth for your collectors, and your company will happen.

If you have any questions or comments, I’m always willing to talk about training collectors, and some of the challenges they face on an ongoing basis – feel free to call my office or drop me an email.

Thanks kindly,

Blair DeMarco-Wettlaufer
KINGSTON Data and Credit
Cambridge, Ontario

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