Receivable/Accounts - Information for Credit and Collection Issues

Friday, January 11, 2019

An Argument For Flex Time in the Collection Space

So, I’ve worked in traditional collection agency environments, and schedules are set – hard set.  Because of the demands of clients, or an attempt to be available for inbound calls, collectors are often given crazy schedules.  And it isn’t necessary.

Most legislation says that a collection call can be made starting at 7am or 8am (depending what province or state you are calling) and go as late as 7pm to 9pm (again, depending on where you are calling).  Throw in time zone differences, and you could potentially have collection agents working in an Eastern Time Zone starting at 6am and staying till midnight.  But that’s not practical, so how do you handle coverage?

Doing Things The Old Way

Traditionally, a collection floor might have alternating shifts, where one team comes in at 8am and leaves at 3pm, and another team comes in around the same time and works till 11pm or so.  I know of two former agencies that did so.

Other collection agencies might bounce their staff around, having a collector start at 7am on Monday, 9am on Tuesday, 11am on Wednesday, etc., and stagger the pool of staff to cover a consistent range.

Another situation I’ve seen with agencies is simply work one long day and one short day in there, so a collector might come in at 830am and work till 7pm or 8pm, and have another day where they only work till 3pm.

These are reasonable for covering calls, but sometime aren’t effective, and are rough on the staff expected to be handling the calls, which in turn results in staff absenteeism, burnout, and turnover.

Doing Things The New Way

We now live in the 21st century, and the least used app on a smart phone is the actual phone feature.  There are tools that people have for communication that didn’t exist even a few years ago, and it is changing how people respond to calls, letters, emails, and texts.  In spite of these new technologies, people for the most part still live their lives on a schedule mostly like they did 20 years ago, getting up, going to work, and coming home.   There are people working night shifts, continental shifts, working from home, or just not working at all. 

What this all means is behaviourally, the times that people communicate by phone haven’t changed … inbound calls to the agency might start in a trickle by 7am, but don’t come in any meaningful volume till 8am, ramp up in the morning, dip down mid-day, ramp up again in the afternoon, and peak around 4-6pm, and slow to a trickle by 9pm time local to the debtor.  The same pattern matches for outbound calls reaching consumers, with a small peak in the morning and a large peak in the afternoon and evening.

Outside of calls, emails, company chat windows, and texts can come at any time – 2am, 4pm, etc.  The trick is being available where practical to have a live or near-live conversation.

So where does that leave the collector’s schedule?  I say let them decide.

I know that some collection managers are pulling back now, thinking I must surely be mad to suggest such a thing.  There will be no coverage!  People won’t come in!  Revenue will decline!  That’s outdated thinking, and let me explain how.

According to a study performed by the Government of Canada ( 80% of respondents have a flexible work schedule, or the opportunity to flex their established schedule.  That means that if collection agencies don’t adapt, other types of businesses out there, outside of the collection environment, are changing while collection agencies for the most part remain in traditional structures and schedules.

When we started our agency, we started with a set schedule, then as we grew moved to a late night and an early day, then we let the staff pick their late nights and early days, then we let them flex their schedules with managerial permission, then we finally let them flex their schedules on their own.  It had bumps in the road as we tried different things, but ultimately it’s worked for us, and we have coverage from 730am to 9pm every day, and some Saturdays as well.  Here’s how we did it.

·         We set a baseline schedule of 830 am to 5pm, and expect if we don’t hear from the staff, that’s what they will adhere to.

·         We expect the team to work one day till 7pm and one day till 3pm, any day they wish.  We only ask that they communicate through our internal messaging service so people know when folks are coming and going.

·         We expect every staff member to give us 37.5 hours a week – if they work more, they bank the time, and they can withdraw from it at any point.

·         As staff are responsible for their hours, and may flex it, it’s entirely their responsibility to communicate effectively when they flex their schedule, make sure that crucial time-sensitive tasks get done by someone else.

·         It’s all about meeting goals and completing tasks – if someone is taking time away from the office and things start falling apart, the onus is on the staff member to get their schedule back in order and get the goals met.

So, using our company as a test tube example, here are a few statistics you might find compelling:

·         We actually have wider coverage than we would if we had hard schedules, covering till 9pm almost every night without mandating it, and staff volunteer to come in on Saturdays – not as a punishment for non-performing staff as other agencies do it, but higher performing staff striving to do even better.

·         For staff employed by the company over six months, our turnover is approximately 7% per year.  That’s far lower than any other agency I have discussed the issue with.  By building an environment where people get to pick their own hours, they are more likely to have work-life balance and stay.

·         Our last pay period had an absenteeism rate for the first half of January at 2%.  That includes the three days between Christmas and New Years.  Many agencies struggle with an absenteeism rate of closer to 10%

When I discuss this with agency owners, they still think I’m crazy to give staff that kind of latitude, but ultimately we have hit company goals 11 months out of 12, provided profit sharing to the staff in those 11 branches, and while there have been hiccups with communication now and then, it’s a happy arrangement that is self-managed by the team.

I’m interested to hear what other agencies are doing to manage the time of their staff, and keep absenteeism to a minimum … thoughts and suggestions and comments are welcome!

Thanks kindly,

Blair DeMarco-Wettlaufer
KINGSTON Data & Credit
T 226-946-1730

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