"I absolutely guarantee I can out collect hard noses by being nice," says one West Coast retail collection manager, "and it's important to train your collectors to operate that way. Training is more important than ever in the collecting field." Here's how she develops a staff to follow her preferred collection approach:
Basic Training. "We hire employees who like people and can talk easily," she says. "They have to start with that basic attitude.
"Then, no matter what previous experience they have, employees spend the first 90 days as trainees. In fact, we don't even put them on the phone until they've had a week or more of in-depth training by the book, along with role playing exercises and listening to professionals in action.
"Then we gradually let them start making supervised calls."
Advancement. After 90 days, the new collectors are asked to report on the various audio tapes and videotapes they've been asked to study and the many books they've been assigned to read.
"After this discussion, if we believe employees are fully qualified, they become collectors. They get desk nameplates and a bonus," she says. "After completing more studies and training, and showing that they can perform well on the job, employees earn the designation 'senior collectors."'
Certification. "American Collectors Association (ACA) classes include such topics as the FDCPA and telephone collection techniques," she says. "To be certified, collectors must complete a minimum of two ACA seminars and work in the field at least a year.
On her staff, those people who are certified, have the proper school credits, and have proven over a course of time that they can meet quotas without a lot of complaints, are given another promotion to "master collector."
"They're assigned the larger and more prestigious clients, and also are asked to help train other collectors."
Teamwork. "Collectors shouldn't have to work alone," Russell says. "Everybody should be part of the team and should feel excited about it.
"Occasionally collectors lose their good dispositions and feel they just can't talk to anyone. If collectors work as a team, they can pass a call along to another collector while they go get a cup of coffee and try to get back to square one," she says.
Perspective. In all her training, Russell stresses human values. The key, she tells her people, is to remember that a person is a human being first and a debtor second.
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"After all," she says, "we're all debtors the minute we buy a car or a house. And who hasn't written a check and tried to deposit the money quickly before the check is deposited?
"The only difference is that the person you're calling has gotten into more trouble than you have. Collectors are usually dealing with people much like themselves.
"Some people are rude, and swear or hang up on you," she admits. "But collectors can't take that personally. Debtors aren't angry at the collectors, they're upset about their situations.
"If it gets to be too much, take a break. Don't continue when your emotions are high, because that's when you can screw up," she says. "Do a lot of listening. It's no accident that we're born with two ears and one mouth."
If you operate according to these principles, says Russell, you'll not only collect more but you'll get some psychological rewards from your work. For instance, here is a letter her company recently received: "I just wanted you to know what a wonderful feeling it has given one to have your help in our financial problems. Finally, somebody is on our side when it comes to money."
Letters like this are framed and posted on the walls.
Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the Credit & Collection Manager's Letter.
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