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It’s never a bad time to learn new tips or refresh yourself – and your team – on best practices in negotiating debt collection payments. Recently, accountsrecovery.net hosted a webinar with three credit and collections experts to discuss payment negotiation tips for accounts receivable teams. :
- Beth Conklin Account Executive, State Collection Service, Inc.
- Mike Hiller, Vice President of Collections, American Profit Recovery
- Megan Bryant Director of Operations and Client Support, Credit Collection Partners
The panel provided payment negotiation tips on many of the situations a collector might encounter. Here are three common issues you and your agents most likely have encountered, and their advice on how to get the most out of a challenging payment negotiation.
How Do You Negotiate For A Larger Payment?
Due to call blocking and the changing ways in which consumers prefer to communicate (text message, email, chat) right party contact rates are decreasing. Because of this, collectors may feel pressure once on a call to accept any payment terms a consumer suggests. How can you take full advantage of your contact with the consumer?
Mike Hiller - According to Hiller, there are a few things collectors can do to maximize how much they recover during a negotiation. Reframing questions you ask the consumer can help to steer them toward a more helpful answer. Rather than asking “How long do you need to pay the balance?” try asking “How short are you from paying the full balance?”
If a consumer asks about the minimum payment you’re willing to accept, don’t answer with a direct number. Because there is no set minimum, take that as an opportunity to open a dialogue with the consumer about their personal payment situation.
Hiller also says adjusting how you and the consumer create their payment plans can be beneficial to both parties. Someone who gets paid weekly or bi-weekly should have recurring payment plans that mirror that. This is because two slightly smaller payments per month will add up to more paid overall at a faster pace.
Example: If consumers are paid 2 times per month, instead of a $50 monthly payment, ask for two $35 payments per month. This will help you recover $20 more per month, shortening the length of the payment plan and increasing the rate at which you recover the money.
Beth Conklin - Conklin agrees, a consumer asking for the minimum payment you’ll accept can throw off a talk-off, causing a collector to feel pressured to answer. Instead of providing a concrete number, be prepared to give consumers payment options without offering a minimum that may cause problems later.
Like Hiller, Conklin feels that being strategic about payment plans can provide an ideal solution for both your agency and your consumers. Don’t accept an offer of low payments that can stretch on for years. Instead, help consumers become hopeful about getting out of debt in a reasonable time frame by offering larger payments with a shorter payoff window.
This type of negotiation can only succeed when a collector has a complete view of the consumer’s financial situation. Conklin has long been an advocate for getting the most out of the first consumer contact. One way to do this is by getting full and complete information during the call. If agents gain a full view of the consumer’s financial situation and reasons for nonpayment, this can help them overcome objections and resolve the past due account more easily.
“If we’re asking those right questions, we’re negotiating something that makes sense, and not just accepting that blanket payment to get them off the call, this builds more of a rapport,” says Conklin. “It makes consumers more likely to continue to work with you – especially if it’s healthcare and they continue to have other accounts that come into your office. This will set you up for success in future interactions with these same consumers.”
Megan Bryant - Bryant points out that once a consumer has made a payment, they feel more invested in resolving their debt. This can be a good strategy to begin a payment plan. Asking for a slightly larger initial payment can be a good negotiating tool for those who want lower monthly payments.
She suggests asking for a percentage of the total balance as a down payment. Ask consumers to pay, for example, 20% to 30% of their balance during the call as you are also negotiating their recurring payments.
Using this more strategic plan for a consumer to pay down their debt can carry into future interactions too. If you have helped a consumer to efficiently resolve their debts in the past, you are likely to get the consumer’s attention more easily if they have more accounts sent to you later. Make sure you’re working on payments with purpose so you continue to succeed in future calls.
Past Due Medical Debt Challenges
Healthcare collections can present unique challenges. The medical debt consumers you collect from likely will be repeat customers for your clients. They want to keep these consumers happy, so you must take extra care when collecting this type of debt.
- How should you deal with a third party (usually a parent or grandparent) that is asking about a child or grandchild’s debt, or trying to pay this debt?
- How do you address consumers who are overwhelmed due to the volume of medical bills they have accrued?
- How do you deal with consumers who feel their quality of care was lacking or that the bill is inaccurate? What if they are only willing to pay certain portions of their bill?
Mike Hiller - Hiller says getting permission to speak to a third party during a conversation with the right party contact can be useful. If a patient mentions a parent or grandparent is planning to pay their bill, act on this information and get permission to speak with that party. You may even ask to conference them into the current call for quicker resolution. On the other hand, if the third party is the individual on the phone, you may consider conferencing in the consumer to gain permission to discuss the past due account with others right away.
For consumers who don’t agree with some of the items on their medical bills, help from your client can go a long way. Speak to clients ahead of time and ask how they feel about conferencing their billing department into collection calls. If you conference them in during a patient’s objections about the charges or service, it can be very effective in overcoming them and provide a positive patient financial experience.
Beth Conklin - Consumers feeling overwhelmed is something that must be addressed in calls. Many medical consumers with bills in collections continue to accrue more debt. Those who feel overwhelmed may fall behind and even stop paying bills altogether.
Oftentimes, consumers will get set up for recurring billing and collectors don’t check back in with them. Revisiting established payment plans can be a good opportunity to check in after several months. Find out if their situation has improved. If not, perhaps take this time to see if they now qualify for one of the financial assistance programs your clients offer.
Megan Bryant - Some clients give permission for agencies to make deals with consumers about debt during a call, but many do not. “None of our clients give permission to negotiate on their behalf,” says Bryant. However, this doesn’t mean you are powerless if a consumer says they won’t pay their full balance. In these cases, you can take the consumer’s offer to the client and they may or may not decide to accept. Even if they decline, it may still be worthwhile to ask. Clients often provide a counter offer that’s acceptable to all parties.
How Accounts Receivable Teams Can Work With Angry Consumers
Angry consumers are common in debt collection. What are some ways to maximize your chances of a successful resolution during conversations with angry consumers?
Mike Hiller - If you listen to the details a consumer mentions when they are angry, Hiller points out you can often get enough information to move the conversation forward. Whatever your process, train your staff to follow it without getting caught up in distractions an angry consumer may present. Acknowledge what they have to say and then tactfully direct the conversation back to the topics you must cover.
If you find yourself unable to have the conversation you want, say something open-ended. For example, “Help me to understand what has been happening with this situation before the point where they hired us.” This will give consumers a way to tell their story and allow you to gain information that might help in the payment negotiation process.
Beth Conklin - When a customer is angry, be sure you are practicing due diligence to identify a possible dispute. However, Conklin says many times a consumer says they don’t owe a debt, the comment may be a stall.
Using the account details you have at your disposal (contract dates, billing statements, billing cycle information, etc.) may help you provide more data to consumers while on the phone. This knowledgeable exchange usually leads to some type of resolution or plan for payment. Don’t cut conversations short as soon as a consumer lashes out. Ask questions calmly and with empathy to fully understand your consumer’s situation.
Megan Bryant - Bryant explains that while you must remain compliant and address all disputes, a customer’s anger doesn’t always mean they are disputing a debt or refusing to pay. She suggests that you take the time to really listen to what they have to say. Ask for specific information about the points of the debt a consumer disagrees with.
This can sometimes shed light on situations that can help you quickly resolve a debt. For instance, if a consumer claims they don’t owe anything because they’ve already paid, take a moment to look at their history. Perhaps they made a partial payment, but were not aware there was a remaining balance still owed. Simple fixes like this can save a lot of time down the line.
As the webinar came to a close, the panelists each took a moment to give their final thoughts on the best practices to keep in mind while negotiating payments.
Mike Hiller - Roll play in your office. Listen to calls. Develop empathy, build relationships and work on trust. Using your personality and your own personal background during conversations can go a long way.
Beth Conklin - Stay open-minded. Think outside of the box. Don’t take a consumer’s anger personally. They are mad at the situation, not you. They want your help.
Megan Bryant- Try to connect with the consumers and have empathy for their situation. Get invested in each consumer. Build the rapport, and you should have an easier time with repeat consumers in the future.
Another common struggle debt collectors may encounter is not knowing how to communicate with consumers across different generations from their own. To learn more on how to communicate with Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Generation X and Millennials, download our guide.
Download Generational Communications: A Guide for Collections
- ABOUT THE AUTHOR -
Hannah Huerta, Marketing Specialist
Hannah Huerta is a Marketing Specialist at PDCflow. She creates content for the accounts receivable and payment industry.