Updated: Aug 12
Do you ever speak to consumers who are already upset when the call starts? Like you just caught them on their worst day ever? And no matter what you say, you can’t seem to move the call forward? Their negative emotions are a roadblock to taking the call from point A to point B.
As a result, we often mirror those emotions, which leads to increased conflict. Usually, these collections calls end with no payment, and in a worst-case scenario, they end with a complaint.
If you’ve been in this situation time and time again, and you’re desperate for another way to handle these challenging collections calls, you’re in the right place.
The truth is, it took me 15 years of reading neuroscience research and conducting communication experiments in my own debt collection agency to figure out how to communicate effectively without triggering the consumer while still moving the conversation forward.
Before that, I was on daily stressful phone calls too, and I felt stressed out, tired, and defeated.
Luckily, you don’t have to spend 15 years developing communication techniques to connect with your consumers. Stick with me, and by the end of this article. you’ll know how to turn around stressful collection calls.
Let’s do this!
Unlock the secret to turning around a collection call using the following keys:
Let’s start from the beginning of the call—that moment when the consumer is already upset—with the first key.
As collectors, our debt collection agent training tells us to focus on keeping our call times short. What we sometimes forget is that if we don’t start off the call on a high note, the call may actually last longer because the consumer may go on and on about their current situation, which makes it difficult to get to a solution. And if the consumer started off the call already upset, it’s even harder to get a shorter call time since we may get into a philosophical debate trying to get the consumer to agree to a solution.
So, when the call first begins, I like to train debt collections agents to use the first key. ANALYZE the situation by identifying the consumer’s emotions.
You may be reading this and thinking, “Mary, why would I waste time doing that?”
Social scientist Matthew Lieberman has done several studies on the power of labeling emotions. According to his study “Putting Feelings Into Words,” when humans label the emotions they’re feeling in a given moment, they can actually process those emotions faster.
The same is true if you label another person’s emotions. You’ll be able to understand them better, and they’ll be able to process what they’re feeling better as well.
While it may not seem this way on the surface, this is incredibly relevant on collection calls. What I’ve learned is that when we train collections agents to identify the consumer’s emotions, we can relate to their experiences more. This, in turn, makes us more empathetic.
Once we analyze the situation, we’re able to put ourselves in the consumer’s shoes and begin the process of moving the call forward.
The next key will explain how to apply the empathy you gained by ANALYZING.
You’ve labeled the consumer’s emotions. Now what?
The way I see it, if you have proper debt collection agent training, you can simply tell the consumer you understand how they’re feeling.
It really is that easy.
Here’s a quick and easy example:
You’re speaking to a consumer who is upset at the beginning of the call. They share with you that they’re having a hard time because they just lost their job.
Take a second to think about what emotion the consumer may be feeling. Jot down a quick note.
Once you have an answer, wait for the consumer to finish talking (the last route you want to take is to interrupt them). Then, say, “I completely understand how upsetting [replace with the emotion you came up with] this is for you.”
When you employ debt collection agent training, you can ensure the consumer knows that you hear and understand them. They’re then able to check the box in their mind that their emotional needs have been met, and they’re able to move on in the conversation.
Letting the consumer know you hear them and understand them is the definition of EMPATHY. And without EMPATHY, a conversation gets stuck. So EMPATHIZE with the consumer to turn the call around and move toward the desired solution.
Speaking of solutions, let’s go on to the next key I use in debt collection training, which is all about finding incredible solutions for the consumer.
If you’ve been following my content for a while, you know I’m a huge advocate for cultivating critical thinking skills in collections training.
Critical thinking can make or break a collection call because it allows the collector to quickly and easily brainstorm the best possible solutions for the consumer. Critical thinking also empowers the collector to know what to say, when to say it, and how to say it.
That’s why the third key to turn around a difficult collection call is STRATEGIZE.
When I’ve spoken to seasoned professionals in the ARM industry about critical thinking skills, they’ve always described an instinct they’ve built over a long period of time. What if I told you this instinct could be taught? The good news is, it can be. I actually have a 4-step problem-solving exercise that will train your brain to think critically in difficult situations with consumers:
1. Gather all the facts: What information is the consumer providing? Write down any notes, even if you think the information you’re recording is insignificant.
2. Determine the outcome: Based on the information, what outcome would you like to see?
3. Determine the path to your desired outcome: Reverse engineer from the solution to where you are in the call. What steps do you need to take to get to the outcome you chose?
4. Plan the conversation: When you’re first starting to develop critical thinking skills, pre-scripting will be your best friend. Plan out the exact conversation based on the roadmap you created in step 3.
Eventually, these steps will become second nature. You’ll build that collector intuition that will allow you to STRATEGIZE in real-time on every call with every consumer. And as you become a strategic expert, you’ll notice how much easier it is to take the call from stressful to smooth in only a few simple steps.
Are you interested in fast-track training to transform your communication with consumers? Visit maryshores.com to learn all about The Communication Code for Collectors, which is a self-guided online course designed to up-level your everyday conversations with consumers and cut down on stress.
Or, if you want training for your entire team, book a call with me today so we can talk about your company’s specific training and development needs.