Updated: Jul 22, 2020
Empathy has been the buzzword in business this year and for some of you, it may have you shaking your head and wondering, What exactly is empathy and how does it apply to my business?
Empathy can be as simple as sensing how consumers are feeling about their accounts. Understanding even just the basics will help change the way your collectors relate to consumers when consumers enter calls with fears and frustrations.
Having a debt is a psychological and emotional burden, one that gets in the way of people living the life of their dreams.
Once I made that realization, I decided I wanted to help people feel good for paying their debt instead of bad for having a debt. In other words, consumers’ happiness became my new North Star.
I had tried many collection strategies before that – such as trying to sell the consumer on the idea of paying the debt – and I would fail because none of those strategies addressed the real issues which were the emotional effects of having a debt.
When people are in debt…
They are likely feeling overwhelmed and dealing with other challenges like job loss, illness, or family pressures.
They can feel hopeless, like they will never have what they really want in life such as owning a home or providing for their family.
They can feel a lack of control over their day-to-day and month-to-month finances, just like they’re paddling upstream.
They can feel ashamed and unworthy for having a debt
Consumers’ struggles with debt are further explored in a recent report from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
All of this can lead consumers to enter collection calls already on edge and affect their ability to stay calm on the call, trust collectors, and be open to solutions from them.
Really, just hearing the words “debt collector” can cause a consumer to enter fight-or-flight mode.
The good news is, I see a real shift in the industry towards encouraging collectors to be empathetic with consumers.
To me, empathy is all about understanding consumers’ feelings and speaking in a way that lifts them up and motivates them to pay off their debts, instead of tearing them down.
Empathy is important because…
Labeling emotions can give people relief from them – According to Matthew Lieberman of UCLA, the act of labeling a feeling instantly makes people feel better by reducing the stress response. When collectors can acknowledge consumers’ feelings, they help consumers move on in calls and become emotionally ready to hear solutions. Connecting phrases like “I completely understand your concerns” or “I can see why you would feel that way” can effectively cancel a fight-or-flight response and instantly build a level of trust that gets consumers to want to engage with a collector further. It’s like people have checklists in their minds, and until they feel heard and understood, they cannot emotionally move forward.
Ultimately, when consumers are engaged, they are more likely to resolve their debts.
Connection drives cooperation — Empathy creates connection, which can result in consumers being cooperative rather than combative. Sometimes, consumers can be reluctant to open up to collectors. Empathy builds rapport that can help collectors gather important information so they can assist consumers in finding the best solutions. An example of how empathetic collectors build rapport is by asking consumers feeling questions. Alternatively, when collectors indulge in negative emotions or play on consumers’ fears, that can cause consumers’ to go on the defensive and end the call.
As a collector, you know you are in the connection zone when the consumer is engaged and answering your questions in a calm way. The consumer may even be stating their appreciation, and the conversation is moving forward toward a solution. There is a distinctive and electric positive energy in the connection zone.
The bottom line: When your collectors can establish rapport with consumers, your complaints go down and payments increase.
It motivates consumers to take action and pay off their debts – Empathy is an important step in getting consumers to see a collector as an ally or someone who is on his side. When consumers see a collector as ally, they are more receptive to what he is saying and are more likely to take positive action like getting on a payment arrangement or paying their debt in full. The idea is to get consumers to see paying as an opportunity instead of a consequence. Furthermore, new data reveals that people are 6 times more likely to make a deal with someone they like.
“Fear drives escape, and hope drives positive action.”
Creates less GRRR – Empathy can cut down on 80% of pesky consumer complaints by avoiding them in the first place. Any collection manager knows the pain of handling escalated phone calls from angry consumers. It’s a serious and expensive problem. Empathy saves your agency valuable time and energy.
From Theory to Practice
Fifteen years ago, when my goal became making consumers happier at the end of calls, I was trying to solve a few universal problems that every agency deals with from time to time:
Tense and angry phone calls that are ultimately escalated to managers or clients and can lead to lawsuits
Collectors loudly walking around the office venting about their calls
Collectors exhibiting fear and anxiety over asking every consumer for payment in full
What I discovered was that empathy solves all of these things.
In the Collection Advantage online training program, the focus is on understanding consumers’ fears rather than playing on them. This approach is not pandemic-specific. In fact, I believe it is the direction the industry needs to shift to change the negative stigma associated with collection agencies and alleviate broader concerns.
If you want to stay in consumers’ good graces and ultimately collect payment, then now is the time adopt a strategic approach to leverage the power of empathy and move toward trust-based influence.
To learn more about the Collection Advantage program and creating high-converting and empathic scripting that increases your revenue immediately, book a call with me today.