Think about some of your closest friendships. What people are you the most connected with? Now, think about why you’re so connected to them. Maybe your friends are loyal. Maybe they’re honest. Maybe they make you laugh. Maybe they bring out the best in you. Whatever the case may be, there are reasons why you’re more connected with them than anyone else, and that connection feels special to you.
What if I told you that you can be connected to anyone, even a consumer you’ve never met and know very little about?
Well, I have a secret: You can. You can forge a connection with any other human being, even the strangers you talk to on the phone. All it takes is a special equation of specific attributes that create a human connection.
The best part? This equation can drastically improve your overall attitude toward work, as well as recoveries. It will also decrease complaints to clients.
It seems like a dream come true, right?
So what is this magic equation? It’s actually pretty simple:
Believe it or not, these variables are essential on the collections floor in the 21st century.
The way many collectors are currently trained showcases a baby boomer mindset—one that focuses on pride and responsibility. That said, we’re now in the millennial era. Consumers are more likely to make decisions based on their feelings. It’s important that we begin to accommodate that mindset.
Because consumers are going to make emotions-based decisions, we need to appeal to their emotions. We can do this through connection.
Let’s dive into how each of the equation variables works together to create strong human connections.
All humans have a basic set of emotional needs that need to be met before they can feel comfortable talking to another person. Trust is one of these needs.
Think about how your friendship with your best friend started. How did you develop a sense of trust with him? Maybe you complemented one another. Maybe you shared some vulnerable thoughts with each other. Whatever the case may have been, you had to somehow develop mutual feelings of trust to move the friendship forward.
Creating trust with a consumer will be surprisingly similar. Having a debt can be a major source of insecurity, and most consumers feel embarrassed and defensive when they’re speaking to collectors. Luckily, even though you’re a stranger to them, you can still create a sense of trust that will piece together a much-needed connection.
Note: You cannot move on in a conversation with a consumer until you build trust.
Let’s break this down. When you’re on the phone with the consumer, you have a unique opportunity to speak with him about a vulnerable subject in his life: A debt. As he outlines the issues he’s having with paying this debt, you have the chance to make him feel heard.
All humans want to feel heard and understood. You get to decide to make every consumer you speak to feel this way. And the way you can do this is simple: You need to validate what he’s saying.
You can validate a consumer by explaining that you relate to or understand what he’s saying. For example, if a consumer says he’s struggling to pay rent this month and he can’t make a payment today, you can simply say, “I understand what you’re saying. A lot of people are telling us the same thing. You’re not alone.”
Immediately after saying this to the consumer, he’ll feel more relaxed because he knows he can trust you to listen to his concerns and address them appropriately.
After you’ve built trust with the consumer through a validation, it’s important to build rapport.
When you and your best friend were developing your friendship, you had to forge some sense of rapport. After all, if the two of you didn’t get along, you never would have become friends in the first place. How did you create that rapport? Maybe you found common interests to talk about or told each other life stories. Somehow, that rapport developed, and you made it happen.
Now, let’s consider how you can build a similar level of rapport with a consumer. When a consumer is concerned about a debt, it’s not enough that he just trusts you to listen; he needs to feel comfortable talking to you so you can come to an agreed-upon solution together.
Let’s say a consumer doesn’t want to pay an emergency services bill because he feels he shouldn’t have to since he has insurance. He’s clearly frustrated, and you’re not sure what to do to calm him down and get a payment.
Well, after you’ve created a sense of trust by validating his concern, you can try to build some rapport.
You can build rapport by humanizing the conversation. In other words, you can let the consumer know that you’re there for them, and you’re excited to help them.
One way to do this is by simply stating that you’re happy to help the consumer find a solution. You could also say that you have good news before you offer them some great solutions.
At my agency, I call this “planting a seed of happiness.” Seeds of happiness cause the consumer’s brain to release feel-good chemicals, which will usually calm him down so you can move the conversation forward.
In the example of the consumer who doesn’t want to pay his EMS bill, after you’ve validated his concerns, you could say, “I’m here to help you with this.” After you say that, you’ll almost always notice him feel more at ease and less on edge for the rest of the call.
Even though this is the last variable in the equation, it’s one of the most important ones. This last piece of the puzzle helps you reach an agreement—one that both you and the consumer will agree on.
Does your best friend have confidence that you’ll follow through if he asks you to do something? If so, how did you instill that confidence in him? Most likely, you showed it to him through your words and actions. Guess what? You can create the same sense of confidence in the consumer.
By this point in the conversation, the consumer knows you understand him, and he knows you’re a person who’s easy to communicate with. That said, he doesn’t know how committed you are to helping him.
Simply put, you need to show the consumer that you’re his ally.
Luckily, this is fairly simple to do. The way I train my collectors to do so is to speak to the consumer in terms of solutions rather than in terms of consequences.
Think about it: When you tell a consumer all of the things you can’t do to help him, he’s going to feel attacked and hopeless. After all, you’re only focusing on the negative, which will deflate any sense of connection you’ve built so far.
That said, if you focus on what you can do instead, he’s going to have increased confidence that you can actually help him come to a solution. You’re helping him look at the positive side of the situation, which will, in turn, let the two of you come to a solution that the consumer is happy with.
From Theory to Practice
After you’ve added all of these variables together, you’ll reach your desired sum: Connection. Connection is essential in collections because it drives the call from point A to point B. It avoids unnecessary conflict and aggression. And, it gives the consumer the voice he deserves.
Ultimately, if you use this equation at your agency, you’ll notice increased recoveries and decreased complaints. And, you’ll help to bring empathy and compassion into collections as we head into a post-COVID world. What could be better than that?
To learn more about my collections training approaches and The Collection Advantage online training program, book a free strategy call with me here.
This article was previously written for the Fall issue of the Southwest Collectors Association's Collector Connector magazine, which can be viewed here.