Updated: Jul 6
Certain professionals like journalists are taught the art of asking questions. The rest of us rarely think about perfecting our questioning techniques or understand how asking better questions lead to more productive calls.
As a collector, much of your success in collecting payment is determined by the quality of the questions you ask consumers.
Along with helping you gather important information that moves calls forward toward payment, asking powerful questions will help you build rapport and increase your likability with consumers, mitigate risk, avoid miscommunication, and become a stronger negotiator.
Let’s break down each of those benefits a bit more:
Gather information and move calls forward toward payment – Asking the right questions can help you collect information that gets to the root of an issue. One of my favorite questions to ask when I’m trying to determine a problem and a solution is, “Can you help me understand...?” As long as I'm sincere in my tone, I’ve found that this question helps me get the clarity I need without coming across as insensitive or abrasive. For example, a similar question that some consumers might perceive as rude and argumentative is, “What makes you say that?”
At the end of the day, everyone wants to feel heard and understood; when people don't feel heard, they're going to have a hard time moving on in the conversation or being receptive to a solution from you. Asking consumers to help you understand something communicates that you do want to help them and makes them more likely to engage with you further.
Build rapport and likability – Consider when you meet someone new, and he only talks about himself. He doesn’t ask you anything about you. How does that make you feel? Pretty awful, right? Research shows that asking questions actually increases your likeability. And, according to former FBI hostage negotiator Chris Voss, people are 6 times more likely to make a deal with someone they like.
Additionally, consumers can often be reluctant to engage with and open up to collectors. A great way to get a reluctant consumer to open up is to ask him a question such as, “How are you feeling about your finances over the next few weeks?”
Mitigate risk and avoid miscommunication – You don’t know what you don’t know. If you’re not asking for more information or clarification, how do you know you and the consumer are on the same page? You can avoid a lot of miscommunication by asking the right questions. And in our industry, the cost of misunderstanding consumers is very high. One way I see this play out is when collectors are confirming demographic information. You would be shocked by the amount of consumers who will agree to a closed-ended demographic question like, "Do you still live at 505 Skyline Drive?" because they assume you have the right information. To get the correct demographic information, I encourage my collectors to phrase their questions in a way that cannot be answered by a simple “yes” or “no” from consumers. What that sounds like is, “Would you please verify your current address and phone number?”
Become a stronger negotiator – The quality of your questions determines your results. One of my pet peeves is when a collector uses passive language to request payment from a consumer. For example, a collector will ask, “Is there any way you can make a payment on your account today?” or “Will you be paying your $500 payment today?” When asked in this way, most consumers are going to respond, “No.” Instead, I encourage my collectors to say, “Your payment of $500 is due in full today. How would you like to take care of that? Cash, check, or credit card?”
Can you feel the difference between the statements? The latter is more direct and to the point. It’s more persuasive than passive phrasing and is going to result in more payments.
Now that we’ve gone over the benefits of asking questions, let’s talk about the four types of questions every collector should have in his repertoire:
Closed-ended questions – These questions prompt “yes” or “no” responses. The best time to use these are when you’re asking directly for payment. For instance, “Can you pay half your balance as a down payment?” Phrasing your question in this way typically elicits a straightforward response; it doesn’t leave much wiggle room for the consumer to try to negotiate or go on a tangent.
Open-ended questions – These questions cannot be answered with a simple “yes” or “no” response. Open-ended questions require more thought and invite a longer, more detailed response. As I mentioned earlier, it’s helpful to use open-ended questions when you’re managing demographic information such as, “Would you please verify your current address and phone number?”
Reflective questions – These questions encourage critical thinking and are helpful when you’re trying to gather information to help determine the problem and the solution. The question, “Can you help me understand… ?” falls under this category.
Calibrated questions – These are “how” and “what” questions that prompt the longest responses and help promote goodwill and connection. In Voss’s book on negotiation techniques, Never Split the Difference, he explains that asking calibrated questions allows you “to introduce ideas and requests without sounding overbearing or pushy.” One example of a calibrated question I mentioned above was, “How are you feeling about your finances over the next few weeks?” Another example is, “What is the outcome you are looking for?” People remember the way you make them feel, and asking consumers calibrated questions is a great way to open up a conversation and foster connection.
For some people, questioning comes easily. Their natural curiosity, emotional intelligence, and ability to read people put the ideal questions on the tip of their tongue. However, most of us don’t ask enough questions, nor do we pose our inquiries in an optimal way.
Follow these tips to ask better questions and move more calls forward toward payment.
One last piece of advice: Remember to listen attentively to consumers’ responses to your questions. There is no point in asking consumers these questions if you’re not going to fully listen to their responses so that you can effectively move your conversations forward.
For more information on how The Collection Advantage online training program can help you build a team of high-converting collectors who ask meaningful questions, book a call with me here.
If this content resonates with you, I also encourage you to check out a recent Training Bytes video I recorded with accountsrecovery.net that explores this topic further.