Updated: Jun 25
Over the past few years, “empathy” and “compassion” have been consistent buzzwords in the debt collection industry, and the new normal has called for an empathetic approach to collections.
The real question is where do we start? How do we change our communication patterns to embrace this need for humanity-plus business in the collections space?
The answers lie in what I like to call the compassionate collections framework. This framework delves into each area that agencies can focus on to foster empathy on the collections floor and beyond.
Let’s dive into each pillar of the framework so you can start using it in your day-to-day collection training and sales practices.
Pillar #1: Understanding the Consumer Experience
According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s 2017 report “Financial Well-Being in America,” there are four signifiers of financial well-being:
1. Control over day-to-day and month-to-month finances
2. Capacity to absorb a financial shock
3. To be on track to meet financial goals
4. Financial freedom to enjoy life
When consumers don’t have the items on that list, they’re likely experiencing financial hardships that can be scary, upsetting, and even traumatic.
We can address this concern with emotional intelligence training.
Something important to remember is that all humans have a universal need: To feel heard and understood. When a consumer calls and seems hostile, the collector can use their emotional intelligence and knowledge of the consumer experience to listen to their concerns and validate them to meet that need.
Once agents have collections training in the first pillar, they’ll be more equipped to handle emotionally challenging phone calls. Next, collectors need training in other top skillsets that will fill in any other gaps that may exist.
Pillar #2: Investing in Top Skillsets
I wholeheartedly believe that to show empathy successfully, collectors need training in three key areas: Negotiation, critical thinking, and communication.
Let’s start with negotiation.
When collectors have comprehensive negotiation training, they become more comfortable asking for higher balances. They also feel better about hearing the word “no,” which will lead to higher payment arrangements that help the consumer pay off the debt faster. It’s like ripping off the debt like a Band-Aid.
Next, let’s talk about critical thinking.
Critical thinking truly helps the collector know what to say when.
When you give collectors a streamlined problem-solving process, they become idea machines. They’re able to come to a solution quickly and easily. They know what questions to ask to gather information, and they know when to use the psychological pause and listen to the consumer’s responses, which will ultimately promote empathy.
Finally, let’s talk about the last crucial skillset: Communication.
Combined with the other skillsets, communication training will really put collectors on the next level. Better communication will lead to increased consistency, which means there will be fewer consumer complaints because no matter who consumers talk to, they’ll hear the same thing, and they’ll always feel supported and understood.
Now that you know the top three skillsets to train collectors on, it’s time to talk about the next pillar: Creating connection.
Pillar #3: Creating Connection
Have you ever been on a collection call where the consumer gets increasingly frustrated and keeps retelling the same story over and over? If so, you’re not alone, and the reason that happens is because you and the consumer were in the conflict zone.
You know you’re in the conflict zone when you feel tension between you and the consumer, and the call seems to go nowhere. Usually, the consumer will either get increasingly aggressive, or they’ll end the call abruptly.
We want to avoid the conflict zone at all costs. Our goal on every collection call should be to get in the connection zone with the consumer instead.
Remember how every human needs to feel heard and understood? When we make sure to meet that need on every call, we’re checking a box in the consumer’s mind that they can move on in a conversation. We’re also allowing them to view us as an ally, which will ultimately lead to connection.
In the connection zone, collectors can use all of their skillsets to navigate the call easily and effectively, and the consumer trusts the collector’s ability to do so.
Since we’ve covered connection, it’s time to move on to pillar four: Establishing credibility in the new normal.
Pillar #4: Establishing Credibility in the New Normal
Since empathy is such a prominent buzzword in the industry, agencies can take certain steps to walk the talk and establish their credibility in the new normal. We only need three keys to make this happen:
1. Establish safety and security
2. Manage a highly competitive market
3. Create a clear ROI
Let’s take a look at the first key: Establishing safety and security. In the new normal, I believe clients will want agencies to collect empathetically. Using a systematic approach to do so, like the one outlined in the other pillars, will make your clients feel confident in your agency’s abilities.
The next key, managing a highly competitive market, refers to making your agency stand apart. Ask yourself a few questions: What makes your agency unique? What makes clients happy to work with you? Assessing those factors and leaning into your company’s uniqueness will help you thrive in the new normal.
Finally, every agency needs to create a clear ROI. What I mean by that is that agencies should take a look at what benefits they can offer their clients. How much money will you save your client? How much time will you save them? Using this ROI to market your agency will be essential in establishing credibility in the new normal.
The Time Is Now
I believe we all have the power to use empathy and compassion to destigmatize the industry. I hope this framework helps your agency embrace the new normal and make amazing strides by implementing small, measurable changes.
The time is now. We can make these changes together, one call at a time.