Speaking to consumers about their delinquent accounts can stir up many (oftentimes negative) emotions. This can have a big impact on your debt collection calls. Retraining yourself and staff to replace negative or neutral phrases with positive language can produce the best call outcome possible.
To optimize your consumer interactions through positivity, first focus on tone, intentional language and breaking old habits that impact calls.
Intentional Positive Language and Tone
People take many conversational cues from body language. When these cues are absent – as they are during a phone call – this increases the chances of a misunderstanding. These chances rise even higher in collection, where many consumers are defensive about their overdue bills.
“Recognizing that having a debt is an emotional and psychological burden was my motivation to study how I can lessen that burden on consumers,” says Mary Shores, CEO and President of Midstate Collection Solutions.
She, like many other collectors, has acknowledged the struggle of turning tense calls around and convincing consumers you want to help. It’s a difficult task but it can become easier using the right tools.
Your voice is the most important tool you have when you spend your day on the phone. It is worth the effort to pay close attention to the tone you use with consumers.
A strong, friendly voice builds trust with consumers, which simplifies closing overdue accounts. Sounding warm and approachable, while still confident shows those you speak to that you care about their situation and you are capable of providing the help they need.
Language that makes consumers feel ashamed will cause them to shut down or lash out. Role play with agents and review your call scripts to identify opportunities for improvement. Everywhere you can, you should make deliberate choices to show more compassion and build more connection with consumers.
Replacing these negative words with positive ones doesn’t just cut down on complaints. It puts consumers in the frame of mind to openly discuss their debts. De-escalating language transforms conversations and resolves delinquent accounts.
“After years of personal experience and research in neuroscience and human behavior, I learned that by rethinking collectors’ communication with consumers, we could take a challenging call about debt and turn it into a conversation that was empowering.”Mary Shores
Changing the Course of a Call
Shores sees the shift to compassionate collection as more than a simple trick to increase receivables. She believes that creating stronger connections with consumers is the future of the industry.
“Where I see the industry moving is greater emphasis on EQ, or emotional intelligence,” says Shores, “and that starts by communicating with people’s fears, feelings and needs in mind.”
Positive Tactics to Collect on Delinquent Accounts
By nature, discussing a delinquent account feels negative. Most consumers feel shame, fear and other negative emotions when forced to talk about their financial problems. There are several tactics collectors can use to ease the emotional burden for consumers and foster productive dialogue that leads to more closed accounts.
A consumer’s story about their debt may not be relevant to resolving it – but your reaction is. Most people just want to be heard. Adding validating statements to your routine helps the collection process progress.
With the current reality of record unemployment, agencies are likely to encounter many consumers who have never before had a bill sent to collections. Replacing words like “you” with “lets” or “we” will put them at ease and let them know they are not alone.
Replacing Negatives With Positives
You should take any opportunity you can to replace negative words with positive language during a collection call.
- Turn ‘can’t’ into ‘can’ - telling a consumer you can’t help them with their request may derail any progress you’ve made. Instead, take this opportunity to tell consumers the options you can offer them.
- Eliminate ‘unfortunately’ from your vocabulary - When a statement starts with the word unfortunately, consumers brace themselves for bad news. Taking this word out of the collection conversation eliminates another chance for consumers to become upset.
Changing Habits Through Training
Changing deeply ingrained habits is challenging. How can your agency make the shift to intentional, positive collection tactics? “A great pivot that can be made – especially now as we look for ways to thrive in a post-COVID world – is to focus on training and investments in collector development,” says Shores.
Agents hoping to succeed in the changing landscape of collections should make training a priority. Managers and owners can look to online training programs like the Collection Advantage, offered by Shores, to learn how to create and execute high-converting scripting focusing on communication, critical thinking and negotiation skills.
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