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Are Your Collectors Making These 5 Mistakes?

Updated: Apr 30, 2021

how to avoid using triggering language

Mistake #1: Using Triggering Language With Consumers

Fifteen years ago, when I began my journey to make consumers feel happier at the end of calls than they were at the beginning, I had no idea it would lead to an obsession with neuroscience.

Neuroscience, according to, is “the field of study encompassing the various scientific disciplines dealing with the structure, development, function, chemistry, pharmacology, and pathology of the nervous system.”

In other words, I love learning how the brain works and applying that to how we as collectors communicate with consumers.

Since starting my journey of geeking out over neuroscience, I’ve learned that negative words plant a seed of a negative outcome. Negative words literally place the consumers on the defensive by activating stress chemicals, such as cortisol, in the brain.

By the time these nasty invisible neurochemicals invade, the consumer has put on their boxing gloves and will beat your collector to smithereens by using hostile or defensive language. Every collector on the planet has had these calls.

When I had my “aha” moment 15 years ago and started to think more about how to avoid those reactions, the first thing I did was create a Do-Not-Say List, which is a list of words banned from my office. Each one of these words triggers consumers and causes them to put on the boxing gloves I mentioned before. My reps could sense this coming, and it usually caused what I call the "fear of the freak-out."

Reps typically respond to aggressive consumers in one of two ways:

  1. With total fear; they freeze and become passive. These reps don’t last long in the industry because the anxiety gets to them, and they resign after only a few weeks or months. They will also avoid asking for payment-in-full, or they will ask for it passively. For example, they’ll ask, “Is there any way you can pay this today?” The reason this passive approach doesn’t work is because the consumer will almost always say no.

  2. They put their own boxing gloves on and enter a psychological boxing ring, determined to win the fight.

The problem with these two scenarios is neither of them are effective tactics that will actually work to collect money, and the triggered collector can actually invite opportunities for lawsuits.

It took my agency about a year to figure out how to fully eliminate negative language, and the result was well worth it. I actually saw 34% revenue growth in the first year alone.

It wasn’t easy, and it took a ton of research to learn how to replace each one of those words on the Do-Not-Say List with positive replacements that would lead to connection.

The science backs up this process because keeping the stress chemicals at bay allows the consumer to stay in the problem-solving area of the brain. Simply put, we cannot be both in the fight-or-flight area and problem-solving area of the brain at the same time.

why you should treat people with kindness in collections

Mistake #2: Treating Consumers Like Second-Class Citizens Because They Have Debt

If you are anything like me, this one is hard to hear; I’ve struggled with this one myself. I have spoken to many agency owners who report their veteran collectors often come across as high-and-mighty with consumers.

We all like to believe our collectors are kind and professional with consumers on the phone.

It’s time for a reality check.

Ask yourself the following question: Are there any calls that would make you cringe if your client was listening in?

I wholeheartedly believe this mistake is a throwback to old-school collector training that used psychological tactics, such as praying on the pride of the consumer and urging them to do the right thing.

The problem is this is no longer 1950, and our culture is way different. Simply put, this is not your father's agency.

What I discovered is that consumers carry a deep psychological burden associated with having a debt, and in our fathers’ day, this was motivation to pay. It’s a different story in today’s world. Now, the underlying shame and unworthiness consumers feel leads them into avoidance.

Once again, through research and testing, I learned the antidote to consumers' emotional pain was to make them feel good about paying the debt instead of feeling bad about having a debt.The result was shifting the conversation from challenging to empowering.

In today's economic climate, consumers are more educated than ever, and with bankruptcies on the rise, plaintiffs’ attorneys are ready to pounce. We may miss sight of how slight shifts in our methods will keep predatory attorneys off our backs, increase our payment opportunities, and maybe even motivate a helpless consumer avoid bankruptcy court.

Ultimately, if we’re mindful of the consumer experience, we’ll see positive shifts on the collections floor.

To learn more about how to do this, check out my blog post about the consumer experience here.

top skills you need to succeed in a collections agency

Mistake #3: Meeting Consumers With Inconsistency Each Time They Call

Have you ever called a customer service hotline to request something and the first representative you talked to said one thing and when they transferred your call, the next representative said something else entirely?Think about how you felt in that moment. I know this has happened to me several times, and I always feel frustrated and confused, especially if I was never given a concrete resolution.

I see the same pattern happening on collection floors all the time. The collector tells consumers one thing, and when the call is transferred to a supervisor, the supervisor says something entirely different.

Think about how frustrating this must be for consumers, especially consumers who truly want to pay. If you can increase consistency on the collections floor, I wholeheartedly believe that will increase payments as well.

The way I increase consistency at my agency is to pre-script top pain points. All my collectors have scripting cards that help them address specific concerns the same way every time.

I encourage you to take some time to think about your agency’s top pain points and write your own scripting cards for your collectors. Then, watch your consistency increase and your complaints decrease!

how to negotiate in the collections industry

Mistake #4: Negotiating From the Bottom Up

If you have minimum payment arrangement guidelines at your office, it’s likely that at least some of your collectors are starting payment arrangement negotiations with the minimum offer.

This used to happen in my office, and I only noticed when two of my collectors had significantly different payment arrangement structures. I realized the problem after doing a root cause analysis. The collector with the lower payment arrangements was always starting with the lowest offer, and the collector with the higher arrangements was starting with much higher offers.

You can hear this entire story in an episode of my Training Bytes series with here.

Bottom-up negotiation is a mistake so many collectors make because they don’t have negotiation training. If a collector is never taught how to negotiate effectively, their first instinct may be to offer the lowest possible arrangement. Or, they may feel uncomfortable asking for a higher arrangement because they’re projecting their own beliefs about the consumer’s ability to pay onto the consumer.

If you invest in negotiation training, your collectors will feel more confident in their ability to negotiate, and they’ll likely end up with higher overall payment arrangements. That’s exactly what happened at my agency and other agencies I’ve helped.

From my experience, I can confidently say the investment in training is truly worth it.

debt collection and communication

Mistake #5: Your Collectors Lack Communication-Based Training

Since I started my online communications training program, The Collection Advantage, I’ve heard many of my students ask the same question:

“What do I say when…?”

The reason this is such a common question is because many collectors don’t have formal training on how to confront specific pain points. Sure, they may have scripts for certain situations. What about those situations that aren’t scripted though?

The answer lies in communication-based training.

Communication-based training covers a variety of areas. For instance, my communications training teaches collectors how to pre-script for pain points, how to speak empathetically, and how to speak with confidence to stay in control of calls.

Once collectors complete a comprehensive communications-based training, they’ll have increased critical thinking skills, which will make them idea machines. In other words, they’ll be able to problem-solve effectively in real-time, and they’ll be able to answer the question “What do I say when...?”

From Theory to Practice

If anything on this list is something you’ve noticed at your agency, you’re not alone. I can identify these issues because I’ve had to address all of them during my 22 years as an agency owner.

The good news is, the solutions are easy to implement into your training, and I’d love to help you do that. If you’re interested in learning more, book a call with me today.

For some quick tips on many of these issues, make sure to register for my upcoming webinar with Creditsafe. You won’t want to miss the exclusive conversation about compassionate collections.

book webinars for effective collections strategies

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