I opened my debt collection agency in 1998. From day one, the stressful phone calls started to take a toll on me. Sometimes I would lose sleep at night because I was stressed about potential lawsuits, consumer complaints, or losing clients.
In 2005, all of that changed. One day, after a series of frustrating collection calls, I just looked at the phone and said, “I want the next person on the phone to be happier by the end of the call than they were at the beginning.”
That was the day happiness became my new north star.
The truth is, I didn’t know at first how I was going to achieve that goal. After all, anyone who has been on a collection call knows that a collector can lose control in a split second, and the call can go spiraling into conflict in the blink of an eye.
In other words, I knew I wanted to incite positivity on collection calls. I just didn’t know how to do that without sacrificing the bottom line.
So, in 2005, I turned my agency into a laboratory to conduct my communication experiments. The goal? To develop an empathetic communication strategy that wasn’t too aggressive or too passive and wouldn’t negatively impact the bottom line.
My first experiment was to eliminate negative language. And guess what? It worked.
The Power of Eliminating Negative Language
Words hold so much power, no matter what our intentions are. What scientists now know is that the words we say actually cause certain reactions in the brain. For example, one study shows that when participants were monitored in an fMRI machine, hearing the word “no” caused activity in one part of the brain, and the word “yes” caused activity in a totally different part of the brain. In other words, “no,” which has a negative connotation, has a vastly different neurological impact than the word “yes.”
Why does this matter in debt collection?
Truthfully, the words we speak to consumers can determine the roadmap of our calls. For example, negative language can cause conflict, and positive language can build trust and prime the consumer for a solution.
I learned this all the way back in 2005 when I implemented the first part of my plan to transform my agency’s collection calls. We started by eliminating 6 negative words. In fact, I completely banned the words at my office. To this day, we never say them.
The words are…
At the time, I didn’t know what the impact would be. I didn’t know what my collectors would say instead of the negative words. All I knew was I wanted to decrease the negativity on collection calls. What I didn’t expect was for my revenue to increase by 34% in the first year alone.
The reason eliminating these words worked was because we stopped planting seeds of doubt in the consumers’ minds. Instead, we used words that planted seeds of hope and trust. We were able to build deeper connections with the people we spoke to each day, which ultimately resulted in more payments.
And, there was magic in eliminating negative language and trying to find other phrases to use instead. This process actually increased my team’s critical thinking skills because they were able to focus on solutions rather than roadblocks. It was a win-win for both the consumers and our agency.
The great news is, other agencies have implemented this method too, and it has worked! Even if it seems too good to be true, try implementing the Do-Not-Say List at your agency, and watch how it transforms conflict into connection. You’ll love the results.
Luckily, I now have additional tips to make the Do-Not-Say List easier to use, so let’s dive into the second tip: bringing humanity back to the process.
Bring Humanity Back to the Process
I wholeheartedly believe that the debt collection industry was built on a baby boomer mindset of pride and responsibility. In the 1900s, people were motivated to pay their debts because that’s what they felt they were supposed to do. Now, we’re in the millennial era, and people make decisions based on how they feel. Whether you’re a millennial or not, this mindset change likely affects you.
With that in mind, we can adapt our collection strategies to bring humanity to the process to appeal to the emotional needs of our consumers. The best way I’ve found to do this is to focus on connection.
While avoiding negative language can start the process of connecting with consumers, we can take additional steps to solidify that connection on almost every call.
A great way to do this is by following this simple connection equation:
Connection = Trust + Rapport + Confidence
Let’s start with creating trust.
Debt is a sensitive topic, so many consumers are on the defensive when our collectors speak to them. Consumers need trust before they can reach a solution. A great way to build this trust is to listen and validate the consumer’s concerns to make sure they feel heard and understood. Sharing this vulnerability with the consumer will help them soften up and trust the collector more.
Next, we need to build rapport.
Rapport-building is a very easy step, yet it’s often forgotten. We build trust with the consumer and then try to rush to a solution. This is a common mistake that can ultimately affect a consumer’s desire to pay because even if a consumer trusts the collector, they still need to feel comfortable enough to reach an agreed-upon solution.
The best way to build this much-needed rapport is to humanize the conversation. The collector can let the consumer know they’re excited to help them find a solution or that they have great options available. Usually, this can be done in one sentence or even just a few words, and it works because the prospect of a positive outcome can build that human-to-human rapport the consumer needs to feel comfortable paying your agency.
Finally, the consumer needs to feel confident before they can feel fully connected.
I mentioned earlier that using the Do-Not-Say List helps collectors think in terms of solutions. This step of the connection equation is when thinking in terms of solutions is the most important.
The consumer needs to be confident that the collector can help them, and the way to build that confidence is by discussing the solutions instead of citing policy or explaining what can’t be done. When the collector speaks in terms of solutions, the consumer really believes that “they’ve got this,” and they can finally relax and feel fully connected and ready to pay.
While the first two tips were largely communications-based, the final tip is more strategic. Let’s get into the last way to increase collections, which is all about making the collectors themselves feel valued.
Embracing Professional Development
All of the tips so far will help your collectors embrace communication that converts. Beyond that, we need to make sure we’re investing in the collectors’ voice to keep increasing collections over time.
Think about it: we can’t connect with consumers without our collection teams.
I’ve learned over the years that collectors appreciate when we invest in them, and investing in our veteran collectors is just as important as investing in our new hires.
Whether you invest in industry conference tickets or online courses, your collectors will appreciate your interest in their professional development. They’ll feel supported and valued as an employee, which will, in turn, benefit morale and motivation.
When morale is high, collections usually follow the same trend. After all, it’s easier for collectors to make connections with consumers and eliminate negativity when they feel excited about their careers.
Remember: the most powerful tool in our industry is the collector’s voice. We can invest in other areas of our business, such as technology to see positive change. That said, investing in our collectors’ voices is essential to scale our agencies.
Educate, Invest, Connect
I’m going to make a bold statement:
You have the power to transform your collection floor one conversation at a time. The secret ingredients are to educate and invest in your collectors and teach them how to create those strong, meaningful connections with consumers.
Want to know more about creating connection with consumers? Start your journey with The Communication Code for Collectors, a 5-video online course designed by collectors for collectors.
This post was originally published on PDCflow.com with an accompanying video.