Updated: Apr 30, 2021
Plain and simple, conversations with collectors impact consumers’ quality of life.
You read that right: The way a collector interacts with a consumer will impact that consumer’s everyday life.
Think about it: If a consumer is triggered by a collector, he will likely develop fears around collections. When that happens, it’s more difficult for the consumer to pay off his debts because he’s too anxious to interact with a collection agency. If a consumer feels heard and understood on a collection call, he’ll feel more comfortable on future calls.
So, how do we make sure that we are helping consumers rather than harming them? How can we change the negative stigma attached to collections to transform the lives of consumers?
If you sometimes struggle knowing how to navigate difficult phone calls with consumers, you’re not alone. Stick with me, and I’ll show you how to impact the consumer experience in a big way.
Collections vs. Customer Service
As a collector, you’re usually focused on the main part of your job: Collecting money. That’s great because that’s the main chunk of your job description. There’s definitely more to it, though.
Think about any complaints your agency has received. More likely than not, some of those complaints probably stemmed from negative consumer experiences. For example, maybe the consumer felt the collector he spoke to was cold or unhelpful. Of course, the vast majority of calls probably don’t receive complaints like this. That said, these complaints can still affect the greater consumer experience (and your relationships with your clients, but more on that another time).
According to a study by the Association of Consumer Research, when a consumer (not just those in collections) has a negative experience, he’s likely to express his dissatisfaction through word-of-mouth. In turn, more people are left with a negative taste in their mouth, and the industry as a whole suffers.
How do we avoid these complaints to begin with? I wholeheartedly believe it begins by treating collections jobs as customer service jobs. Let’s dive into how to do this.
When you’re speaking to the consumer, always think in terms of solutions. Use your critical thinking skills to determine what problems you can solve for the consumer. For example, you can ask a closed-ended question to gather information and to get straight-forward responses from the consumer. You can also use any of the other questions from your collector tool chest to gather specific information you need to find a solution. Finding solutions for the consumer instead of focusing on what you can’t do is a great customer service method.
At the end of the day, when we treat collections like a customer service job, we’re contributing to an enhanced consumer experience that will result in fewer complaints and more positive word-of-mouth reviews.
Understanding Consumer Vulnerabilities
If you read my blog “Three Things Consumers Wish Collectors Knew,” you probably already know that consumers have the same fears, feelings, and needs as you. Understanding these vulnerabilities is the first step in transforming the consumer experience. The catch? You need to make sure you’re defining them correctly.
In a study by Professors of Business Stacey Menzel Baker, James W. Gentry, and Terri L. Rittenburg, the authors discuss that consumers are often equated to their demographic information and nothing more. When that’s the case, collectors forget to bring humanity back into the process to navigate any potential consumer vulnerabilities.
Usually, you’ll know that a consumer is feeling vulnerable when he shares stories about his current struggles. When that happens, instead of writing off the stories as typical consumer complaints, use them as information to find the best way to help the consumer.
A great way to do this is to ask consumers a feelings question. For example, you could ask the following:
“How are you feeling about your finances over the next few weeks?”
When the consumer answers, make sure you listen to his response. His answer is going to be your key to moving the call forward and finding solutions that will help the consumer. Maybe that solution is a payment in full. Maybe it’s a payment arrangement. Regardless, being aware of a consumer’s vulnerabilities and understanding them is key to offer a top-notch consumer experience.
Remember: When we talk about our feelings, it helps us process them better, so when we’re asking consumers feelings questions, we’re also giving them a moment to process their potential triggers. Read more about this in UCLA Professor Matthew Lieberman’s labeling study. Processing those emotions will help the consumer feel calm and collected, which means they’ll be less likely to make a complaint.
Becoming a Consumer Ally
Because there is a negative stigma attached to collections, many consumers see us as their enemy. One of the main goals with The Collection Advantage online training program has been to teach collectors how to shift that narrative and show the consumer that they’re allies in getting their debts paid off.
Being a consumer’s ally involves earning his trust and connection.
Remember: Connection is currency.
We can foster trust and connection by keeping the consumer’s needs in mind. Every person has a set of basic needs that must be met to move on in a conversation. So, as you’re speaking with a consumer, think about how you can meet the following needs:
If your conversation with a consumer centers on those needs, the consumer will usually feel relaxed and ready to come to a solution with you. When that happens, you’re contributing to an enhanced consumer experience, and you increase your chances of collecting a payment. It’s a win-win situation for both you and the consumer.
Ultimately, every consumer interaction either an opportunity to create connections or drive disconnections. You play a major role in the direction the conversation goes.
You Can Make a Difference
As 2020 comes to a close, you can start to focus on your 2021 goals. I encourage you to add “enhancing the consumer experience” at the top of your list.
Because of COVID-19, every industry is entering a paradigm shift—one that fosters empathy and humanity. Collections is no exception, and enhancing the consumer experience will be a fantastic step in the right direction.
You have the power to make a difference.
To learn more about my empathy-focused collector training and to uncover step by step how to bring more humanity into collections, book a call with me today.
Also, hear me and Jose Castro of Capital Accounts discuss this topic some more in this Training Bytes video with accounstrecovery.net.