In the TV industry, "prime time" runs from 6:00 p.m. to 10 p.m. "Collection prime time is a little different," says Florida collection professional. "Our prime time is from 8:00 to 10:00 in the morning, from 2:00 to 5:00 in the afternoon, and from 6:00 to 8:00 in the evening."
During those hours, she expects collectors to be on the phone. In between, they can work on skip tracing or may bill insurance companies. "Then it's back on the phone for the next prime time."
Staying on schedule is not her only concern. She also monitors what goes into those prime-time calls. To ensure maximum effectiveness, she constantly trains her professional collectors.
Each week, she meets with collection managers and goes through training in a specific area. They, in turn, sit down with each collector individually and pass on the information. In one training session, collectors are given a scenario and asked to request payment in more than one way, rephrasing the demand in response to what the debtor says.
Another training subject is how to handle third-party claims when an attorney is involved. "We're required to deal with the attorney unless we get no response," she says. If you don't get the attorney's cooperation after a series of letters and phone calls, the best move is to send a letter to the debtor stating that the attorney is not cooperating.
But no matter what techniques are employed, the structure of the call remains the same. She tells her collectors:
- Identify the debtor and yourself, and say why you're calling.
- State that the account needs to be paid in full and that the debtor must send a check or money order today.
If the debtor makes excuses or talks about paying next week, the collector replies, "Let me have your credit-card number, and we'll clear it up right away." If the debtor doesn't have a credit card, the collector can say, "I see you're paid on Friday. Send me a postdated check for half the balance this Friday and another for the other half the following Friday, and we'll clear it up."
During the call, the collector should be listening for hardships and thinking about how they might be overcome. One solution might be for the debtor to take a loan against a CD or life insurance policy. "If you have to give a concession, do it gracefully," she advises. "Never let the debtor feel he or she is in control."
Start With the Best
To keep her staff up-to-date on legalities and collection techniques, she reviews performance on a regular basis. But to develop the best possible staff, she also pays close attention to the hiring procedures.
"We use a double interview process," she says. "The candidate is interviewed by the manager who has the opening, and also one other manager or myself. If the two agree that we should hire the person, then we do.
"We used to have just one interview, but that was at a time when it was difficult to get good collectors. Now there's more talent available, and we don't just hire a body. We wait for the right person."
She looks for a moderately aggressive personality--a person who's not docile, but who's in control of his or her temper. She uses role-playing as part of the interview.
"I know it's awkward and that you're not prepared for it," she'll say, "but give me what comes to mind in this situation."
Then she may say that Mrs. Jones owes $500 to ABC Hospital. She will play the role of the debtor--Call and get the money."
The response she receives tells her a lot about the candidate's skills and personality. Very often, she makes the customer tough. When informed of her outstanding balance, she may respond: "Why are you bothering me? Don't call here anymore." Then she waits to see how the candidate will handle the situation.
She hopes for a reply that sounds like, "I understand that you're upset. Let's see if we can work together to get this problem resolved." A person with this approach and the proper references will be invited to join the team.
Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the Credit & Collection Manager's Letter.