Updated: Jul 26
I’m going to make a bold statement:
Questions are one of the most powerful tools collectors can keep in their toolkits.
Determine whether or not a consumer is interested in paying
Move a stuck conversation forward using debt collection training tactics
Break the ice with the consumer using empathy
Address the elephant in the room during a challenging call
Ultimately, questions have so much power, and they are essential when it comes to communicating effectively to collect payments.
I was recently on a coaching call with one of my Collection Advantage clients. It's a debt collection agency training course I run and one of the collectors told me she struggles to find the right questions to ask consumers to get the outcome she’s looking for.
For example, if she feels like the conversation is going nowhere with the consumer, she knows a question could inch the conversation in the right direction and improve the likelihood of a converts ion. That said, she is never sure what type of question will accomplish that goal. Or, if the consumer keeps saying “no” to her payment attempts, she knows asking a question could help her gather information to determine what solution will work best for the consumer. The problem is, she just doesn't know how to choose a question that will redirect the conversation.
Truthfully, this collector isn’t alone. Knowing what to say, when to say it, and how to say it is challenging. Whether you’re asking a question or just responding to the consumer. The good news is, we can use certain debt collection agency training strategies to make sure we’re asking questions that convert—or questions that will ultimately lead us toward a positive solution with the consumer.
So, let’s dive into a step-by-step process for how to become a "question expert" in a debt collection agency and perfect the art of asking questions.
Step #1: Understand different types of questions.
Research shows that asking questions actually increases your likability.
I’ve written about the different types of questions before, and we can review them here too.
There are 4 main types of questions debt collectors can ask, and each of them is appropriate in specific situations. As you read through the list, visualize the top pain points at your debt collection agency and how these questions could help you navigate them.
The 4 main types of questions are...
1. Closed-Ended Questions: Questions that result in a yes or no answer.
2. Open-Ended Questions: Questions that invite a more accurate, detailed answer.
3. Reflective Questions: Questions that gather more information.
4. Calibrated Questions: Questions meant to get an in-depth response.
If you don’t need a refresher on the 4 types of questions, skip down to step 2!
For the most part, I discourage debt collectors from using closed-ended questions. For instance, when collecting demographic information, collectors should only use open-ended questions to avoid confusion. That said, closed-ended questions are helpful in certain circumstances.
Let’s say a collector has been on a call for 20 minutes that’s just going around and around in circles. The collector has tried everything to get the call back on track. At that point, it may be useful to ask a closed-ended question to determine the consumer’s intentions. A great question to ask is, “Is this something you intend to take care of?” The consumer can only answer in one of two ways—either yes or no—and depending on their response, the collector can reroute the call or wrap it up.
Summary: Ultimately, closed-ended questions serve a specific purpose and need to be chosen with care. Generally, in debt collection training courses, we teach collectors to only use them when asking specific questions about payment.
In step 2, we’ll go into more detail on how to use questions appropriately every time. For now, let’s move onto the second type of question: open-ended.
On collection calls, open-ended questions are generally more effective than closed-ended questions, especially when it comes to collecting demographic information.
For example, when a collector is trying to verify a consumer’s address, using an open-ended question can ensure that the consumer provides accurate information. Let's look at a quick example to share what I mean.
“Would you please verify your current address?”
“Do you still live at 505 Skyline Drive?”
Do you see how the open-ended question above will ensure accuracy? If the collector asks the consumer to verify their address, the consumer will likely give them their most up-to-date address. On the other hand, if the collector asks if the consumer still lives at the address on file, the consumer may reflexively say “yes” without thinking about it.
Summary: You can use open-ended questions to gather specific information from the consumer without leaving too much room for error or inaccuracy.
A collector can use a reflective question when they need to determine a problem and a solution.
Debt collectors don’t always have the information they need to come to a solution with the consumer. Instead of making assumptions, collectors can use their debt collection agency training and implement the power of reflective questions to gather the information they need to come to the solution that works the best for the agency and the consumer.
Here are a few quick and easy examples:
“When did you apply for financial assistance?”
"Do you remember whom you spoke to in the billing department?”
Summary: Reflective questions allow collectors to gather the necessary information they need to move a call forward.
I like to think of calibrated questions as “How” and “What” questions.
Daniel Kahneman, one of my favorite social scientists, says calibrated questions trigger slower, in-depth thinking.
Calibrated questions are perfect for situations where collectors want to promote goodwill and connection with the consumer.
In other words, this type of question allows the consumer to convey any thoughts or feelings they’re having.
For example, if a consumer is dissatisfied with the solutions a debt collector is offering, the collector could ask the following calibrated question:
“What objective are you looking for?”
This builds trust between the consumer and the collector because it allows the consumer to think about what they’re looking for, and it gives them the chance to relay their desired outcome.
Summary: Calibrated questions give the consumer a chance to be heard.
Step #2: Pre-script to plan.
Once collectors understand the 4 types of questions, they can begin the process of becoming question experts. The goal is to know what questions to ask, how to ask them, and when to ask them. So, how do we accomplish this?
I wholeheartedly believe the answer lies in pre-scripting top pain points.
Here’s my challenge for you:
Write down 10 pain points your collectors face every day. Then, script out multi-step responses for each pain point.
Note: A multi-step response is a series of responses that predict how a consumer is likely to respond. This ensures the collector has pre-prepared pivots to additional roadblocks thrown their way during a call.
As you think through potential responses consumers could have to your scripts, you’ll be able to envision scenarios when questions may be beneficial.
If this exercise is challenging, and you find it difficult to predict potential consumer responses, you can listen to past phone calls and write down how consumers responded in certain scenarios. Or, if you’re on collection calls yourself, you can jot down notes of consumer responses and script out multi-step responses that would have worked in that scenario to use later.
I actually teach pre-scripting methods in The Collection Advantage online training program. Online debt collection training classes are a key step in building consistent results within your agency. Book a call with me to learn more.
Once you have 10 sets of multi-step responses written out that include the best questions to ask, there’s a final step to becoming a questions expert: practice.
Step #3: Practice!
If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you know I’m a huge advocate for role-playing. Role-playing is one of the most effective tools you can use to make sure your collectors are mastering new skills. The reason it’s so effective is that there’s magic in practice.
The obvious route would be to role-play scripts with your collection floor. The not-so-obvious route is to have your collectors customize the scripts to make them more unique to them. That way, when you practice, collectors will feel more authentic while remaining prepared to tackle certain pain points.
For example, if you write a calibrated question in a script, your collectors could rewrite the script to use a calibrated question they personally feel more comfortable saying. The sentiment will be the same; the only difference will be increased authenticity on calls with consumers, which will build trust and connection with the consumer.
These 3 steps aren’t a quick fix. They’ll take some time and effort to complete. I can assure you that the results are well worth it. Being able to effectively use the incredible power of questions on your collection floor will allow your team to reach solutions quicker and easier.
The good news is, I have already created fantastic tools to help your team embrace the power of questions in my Collection Advantage online training program, and I want to bring these tools to your collection floor. Book a call with me today so we can strategize together. I can’t wait to hear from you.