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The 5 Zones You Need to Know to Succeed in Collections

Updated: Jul 6, 2021

Picture this: You’re on a collection call. You’ve verified the contact and identified yourself. You’ve also given the mini-Miranda. Now, the call can go in what seems like infinite directions.

Maybe the consumer will be friendly. Maybe the consumer will be hostile. Maybe he will pay. Maybe he will hang up. The list of possibilities goes on and on.

As a collector, you may be overwhelmed by the high number of possible directions the call can go. In fact, I often hear collectors say they feel like they have very little control on collection calls.

What if I told you that you do have control over how the call unfolds? The secret lies in understanding the five zones of a collection call. Let’s dive into each of these zones and how how debt collection training can make or break a collection call.

Zone 1: The Connection Zone

The Connection Zone is where you should always strive to be.

I always say the easiest way to create massive success in the industry is for the consumer to see you as a person who is going to help him survive and thrive. In other words, to increase revenue and decrease complaints, we need the consumer to see us as his ally.

In order to get the consumer to see us as his ally, we first need to create a real, human connection with him. Let’s explore how to do this with the Collection Advantage Pyramid, starting at the bottom with needs...

strategy to improve techniques as a debt collector, pyramid of skills

All humans have a shared emotional need: The need to feel heard and understood. When we’re talking to a consumer, if we don’t meet this need, the consumer won’t be able to move on in the call.

When we make sure the consumer feels heard and understood, we can then move onto the next rung of the pyramid: Creating positive feelings. Here we use words that will literally plant a seed of happiness in the consumer’s mind.

After those two steps are completed, we’re ready to enter the Connection Zone. This zone is characterized by a sense of trust between us and the consumer. In this zone, the consumer is ready to come to a mutually beneficial solution.

Ultimately, we can get to the Connection Zone by being mindful of the consumer’s experience and by being empathetic. You can read more about demonstrating empathy on collection calls here.

Zone 2: The Conflict Zone

The Conflict Zone is where many collection calls can end up, even though it’s a zone we want to avoid.

Getting into the Conflict Zone with the consumer is surprisingly easy. After all, the way we’ve been taught to communicate is often the opposite of what will work, like repeating what we can’t do instead of brainstorming what we can do.

You can end up in the Conflict Zone when the consumer’s fight-or-flight response is triggered, where he doesn’t feel like his needs have been met and he’s experiencing negative feelings like doubt, suspicion or hopelessness.

Let’s take a look at the Collection Disadvantage Pyramid to learn more about how to avoid the Conflict Zone, starting at the bottom with unmet needs...

pyramid of techniques to improve negotiation and communications in the debt collection industry

When the consumer doesn’t feel like a collector hears him or understands him, he’ll begin to experience negative feelings such as doubt, suspicious, and hopelessness. If you don’t turn the call around at this point by using empathy and compassion to decrease the consumer’s negative feelings, you’ll enter the Conflict Zone.

The Conflict Zone is characterized by strong negative feelings, such as anger and fear. When you’re in the Conflict Zone with the consumer, the consumer will feel like he can’t trust you to find a solution, and he may either become hostile or will hang up the phone. In other words, you and the consumer won’t reach a solution, and the call will go nowhere.

It’s common for collectors to end up in the Conflict Zone by accident. They may not realize the consumer is feeling triggered. Luckily, if you use empathy to bring humanity back into the process, you’ll usually de-escalate the call and find a way to reach Connection Zone.

Let’s talk about a third zone that many collectors land in that isn’t aggressive, yet can still result in no payment...

Zone 3: The Friend Zone

The Friend Zone may not lead to any consumer complaints; that said, it definitely won’t lead to payment.

You may be stuck in the Friend Zone with the consumer if you notice any of the following:

  • You’re being sympathetic instead of empathetic

  • You're using passive language instead of active language

  • You feel guilty asking for money

Let’s unpack each of these factors a bit more.

First, confusing sympathy and empathy is extremely common. To tell the two concepts apart, we need to define them. According to, sympathy is the harmony of feeling between two individuals, while empathy is the ability to understand the feelings of another.

In other words, sympathy is feeling sorry for another person, whereas empathy is simply understanding another person’s struggles.

When we’re sympathetic instead of empathetic, that leads to passive language. For instance, if you’re asking closed-ended questions to gather payment, such as “Will you be paying the $500 today?”, then your language is passive. When asked in this way, usually, the consumer will say “no,” and the call will end.

Instead, you should use active language to move the call forward and collect payment. If you ask the consumer for payment instead of asking if they want to pay, you’re using active language.

Finally, you may be stuck in the Friend Zone with the consumer if you feel guilty asking for money. I wholeheartedly believe the consumer can sense when we feel uncomfortable, which will affect whether or not he makes payment. So, if you’re feeling guilty about collecting money, your chances of being in the Friend Zone with the consumer increase.

To battle feelings of guilt, you can remind yourself that at the end of the day, your job is to collect money. When you collect money, you’re helping consumers get out of debt, and you can actually help consumers find solutions that work for them.

In general, to collect money, you want to avoid the Friend Zone.

Zone 4: The Goldilocks Zone

The Goldilocks Zone is a sophisticated concept that can have a few different meanings.

First, the Goldilocks Zone can refer to your connection with the consumer. The Goldilocks Zone of Connection is when your connection with the consumer isn’t “too hot” (too aggressive) or “too cold” (too passive). Instead, it’s just right.

(I have an entire blog post dedicated to the Goldilocks Zone of Connection that you can read here.)

The Goldilocks Zone can also refer to negotiation. If you’re in the Goldilocks Zone of Negotiation, you’re offering a payment arrangement that’s “just right” for the consumer. The arrangement isn’t “too hot” (too high) or “too cold” (too low). It’s an amount that will stretch the consumer just enough while still fitting into his budget.

Ultimately, the Goldilocks Zone is the “just right” version of the zone you need to be in at a specific moment to move the call forward.

Zone 5: The Deception Zone

The Deception Zone is just as negative as it sounds, so you want to avoid it at all costs.

You’re in the Deception Zone when you’re getting a "counterfeit yes" from the consumer. A counterfeit yes is a yes that is secretly a no.

Usually, you get a counterfeit yes when the consumer feels trapped in an agreement that doesn’t fit into his budget, or he just wants to get off the call. You can read more about the counterfeit yes here.

Luckily, you can avoid the Deception Zone. The first step is getting more comfortable with hearing the word “no.”

Instead of reacting negatively to the word “no,” use it as a way to get more information about the consumer. For example, if the consumer says “no” to a specific payment arrangement, it may be that he can’t afford that arrangement, so you can offer a smaller one.

In other words, instead of pressuring the consumer to say “yes,” accept their “no’s” and offer agreements that are more favorable for them. This doesn’t mean the agreement will be too low; it just means the agreement will fit into the consumer’s current budget. To learn more about avoiding counterfeit yeses, I encourage you to check out the previously linked blog post.

Get in the Best Zone on Your Next Call

Understanding each of these zones will be key on all collection calls. When you know what each of the zones are and what causes them, you can collect more money, connect with consumers, and decrease complaints.

Want to dive deeper into each of these zones and create high-converting scripting that will help you get into the zones you want to be in and avoid the ones you don’t want to be in? Book a call with me today to talk about The Collection Advantage online training program.

More information on The Collection Advantage program can also be found on my website here.

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