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Dealing with stalls and objections during debt collection is just part of the job. But there’s a lot more to debtors than simple unwillingness to pay. Kelly Parsons-O’Brien, outgoing president of the California Association of Collectors has spent years in the business learning not just how consumers stall, but why.
In a recent webinar put on by the CAC, she discussed some of the successful debt collection techniques she has picked up over the years. Here are some techniques that can help your agents identify debtor types and relate more positively to the consumer while collecting.
Negotiating a Collection Debt
There are several factors to consider when negotiating a collection debt. Consumers will react differently based on their personality or the emotions they’re feeling during a call. These factors will also impact the excuses they give for nonpayment.
Consumers with different personality types react differently to debt collection tactics. Training your agents to identify debtor personalities and act accordingly depending on type can make their calls much more effective.
This person often will apologize for being in debt. A good tactic with this personality type is to find common ground. They like to help and will be interested in making things right by paying the full amount they owe.
This person has a hard time focusing on money. They like to joke with collectors. “We encourage our collectors to banter in a professional manner,” says Parsons-O’Brien. “We feel that building rapport and communicating on the same level as the consumer helps you get the account collected.”
The most important item to note: dreamer personalities get busy and forget about their debts. It is best to keep them focused and make sure the debt is paid in full before you end the call.
It is hard to convince thinkers of something if they don’t agree. With these debtors, it’s effective to acknowledge their feelings. This helps to move the conversation forward while maintaining a good relationship.
These consumers usually know more about their account than the collectors. When a driver is on the phone, try to do a second talk off right away. If the collector on the call is new, this is a good opportunity to have them listen in. Have a senior staff member pick up the call. If your collector can speak to them without hesitation, that will go a long way towards building trust during debt recovery.
Emotions play a large part in the collection process. Arm your debt collectors with the tools to deal with any consumer, no matter what they may be feeling.
Consumers who are agreeable are a favorite among debt collectors. They understand they owe money and want to resolve their collection accounts. They may seem few and far-between, but these consumers do exist.
Defensive behavior tends to be common among debtors from the Generation X age group. Defensive debtors usually don’t pay but also won’t explain why. Parsons-O’Brien suggests finding any common ground with the consumer. “We really train our collectors to find anything the debtors agree upon. Even if it’s just agreement about their personal information.” She says that small agreements in the call can build up and make it easier to start discussing the debt.
Apathetic consumers don’t care about their debt. This can boil down to circumstances. If a debtor experiences bigger issues than the debt they owe, they may not care about the money. For instance, health issues which created a medical debt may be more important to the consumer. Empathy goes a long way in this scenario. Collectors that can connect with debtors tend to be more successful.
These consumers are the most likely to accidentally engage in call baiting. The worry they are experiencing may cause them to ask many questions that sound suspicious. They often ask about how the debt will impact their credit score or if their wages will be garnished. These and other questions are also used be baiters to trick a collector and may seem suspicious to an agent.
Parsons-O’Brien suggests you allow the consumer to be in control whenever possible. Just be sure you are remaining interactive. This is especially effective with debtors who are prone to be controlling during calls. When encountering this type of consumer, allowing them to guide you to a solution is simpler than trying push back.
Reason for Non-Payment
There are many reasons a consumer may not be willing or able to pay their bill. These can mostly be sorted into four categories.
These unpaid debts are held by people who have fallen on hard times. Getting more information and coming up with a plan is usually enough to solve circumstantial issues surrounding nonpayment. A simple act of empathy can help collectors make a connection with these consumers.
Parsons-O’Brien mentions one of her collectors who has success with debtors in hard circumstances. The agent often reminds debtors that the situations they are facing are temporary. She reminds consumers that coming up with a solution to their debt will make things easier.
Emotional consumers often blame their debt on others. They may feel like they deserve certain things, and may not take ownership for the situation they are in.
Often these individuals are disorganized. This is someone who may have a high education level, but has little experience or knowledge of finances. With intellectuals, it is helpful to show them why they owe their bill. The debt owed may seem trivial to the debtor. Collectors might find it helpful to acknowledge this. Have them suggest the consumer pay right away to resolve the situation.
There’s no set rule for identifying debtors who do not intend to pay their debts. The number of accounts and types of debts a consumer owes might give you a hint about a consumer’s intentions. Substantial medical debt isn’t necessarily a red flag. Consumer or credit card debt, however, might indicate a pattern.
3 Steps to Overcoming Objections in Collections
At Pacific Credit Services, Parsons-O’Brien and her management staff train collectors to follow three steps to overcome objections. These steps are designed to put consumers at ease during the collection process and get them prepared to resolve their accounts.
- Validate the consumer's feelings.
- Make the consumer feel good.
- Tell them what you CAN do for them.
For some sample statements of each step of the process, and information on collecting from different generations, download the overcoming objections guide: