Thriving in Third Party Collections: An Interview with Kelly Parsons-O’Brien

Thriving in Third Party Collections

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Thriving in Third Party Collections

Throughout this series we have interviewed successful professionals who have made a name for themselves by thriving in their credit and collection careers. A few we've interviewed, such as Matt Logan and Richard Hoffmanhave even been in the industry for decades.

Our latest interview's connection to the industry goes even deeper. The President of the California Association of Collectors, Kelly Parsons-O’Brien, has collections in her DNA. Read on to learn more about this lifelong collection professional for some insight into her success.

  1. The debt collection business has been part of your family for a few generations. What made you decide you wanted to keep up this tradition?

After high school I left to go to college and work in Sacramento, my goal was to be a radio DJ. Although I enjoyed being on my own, and working at a new job, school wasn’t really all that fun. So when my mom called and said she lost her Collection Manager and wanted some help, I took it as a sign that I should be back in town with my family.

That was over 20 years ago and I am very thankful that I took my mom up on her offer and came back to start a career I love.

  1. What is the biggest change in this industry since you started?

The consumers I think. It seems like appealing to someone’s sense of pride or their desire to do the “right thing” has been lost. Not for every consumer, but for many.

I also think that the self-service environment where consumers just want to deal with our IVR or online payment portal instead of calling has also been a big change. And more than ever consumers demand a high quality customer experience. With the rise of yelp reviews, BBB and CFPB complaints, we spend more time talking to our collectors about how we want the consumer to feel after a call than we ever did before.

  1. How have you and your agency adapted?

Of course, we added IVR and our payment portal. Next we will be exploring a dispute/communication portal for the consumers. This helps the consumers communicate with us when they are ready and in the method they feel most comfortable.

In regards to the customer experience we have always been a customer service focused agency and that will not change. One thing we have done recently is implement Mary Shores “Words that Work” program. I originally came across her on the CollectorLIVE! Webinar, and then after reading more about her and getting her book, I knew this was what we needed in our office.

It took our customer service to the next level. It empowered our staff to help the consumers by telling the consumer what we “CAN” do for them. There is no more quoting policy or telling a consumer no, we believe there is always a solution and we show the consumer what we “CAN” do for them. Our irate and frustrated callers have been cut in half.

Our collectors are also seeing this payoff in their totals as consumers that are feeling helped, pay more often.

  1. What technology or tools do you use on a regular basis that assist you in successfully running your business?

We have all the basics: dialer, IVR, payment portal, recording system, and many automated flows in our collection system. We have room to grow in the technology department like speech analytics, a consumer dispute/communication portal, and more automated process, which will all come in time.

  1. You have been a guest on several webinars where you speak about employee motivation. What role does motivation play in your own agency?

It plays a MAJOR role, and I think sometimes that is lost on upper management. We train them to be compliant, how to ask for the money and then we send them out on their own. Of course they are not really on their own, but it sure does feel like that some days for them.

I think that we forget as managers and owners what it feels like to be told no most of the day, to know we have goals to hit that affect our livelihood, and the extreme pressure to be compliant. They have this pressure to be at their best on every account and every call.

At our office we stay focused on self-motivation, how to get over those brick walls, and how to keep our spirits high. This is done through a great work environment, amazing team, and music.

  1. What is your proudest moment in business?

This adventure as the California Association of Collectors President has been really amazing. To be able to help shape our industry is really an honor.

I encourage everyone reading this to get out and get involved, especially at the state level. As collection professionals, we need to get the story of what debt collections is really about out there. You can do this by reaching out to your local legislators and sharing your story. They need to hear about all the great things the collection industry does to help consumers, our communities, and our clients–many of which are small businesses like us.

  1. In life?

This is an easy one, the adventure in parenting. We hit the baby lottery 5 years ago, when we had our daughter. She is so full of life and shows me so much about myself, the good and the bad. I know that I am better person today because of the lessons she has taught me.

  1. What's your favorite vacation spot?

I don’t know that I have just one place. I have been blessed to have lots of fun adventures in my life. Traveling with my mom for business as a kid gave me the opportunity to see many places across the country. My dad, sister and I would play tourist all day while my mom was in classes.

My husband and I have carried on my family tradition and they have started to join me on my business trips. Our last adventure was Nashville for ACA, we had a great time.

  1. What PDCflow products/services have been most beneficial to your business? In what capacity?

Credit Card processing through our collection system was really the first big technology change we made a zillion years ago and have used PDCflow since you started. Adding web payments was the next step and we see more and more people using the web for payments every day.

  1. What do you wish you could do with your payment processing that you can't do today?

Encourage consumers to pay more, have more interaction with them about their accounts. It would be interesting to have a series of questions, like a survey that helped us get the best payment possible, information about the consumer’s finances, and help us understand what we can do to help the consumer resolve their account more quickly.

  1. What resources are most valuable to you with staying up to date on the industry changes?

There are sooo many. My inbox is full of emails each morning with great resources of information. ACA International of course is a great resource, and I really appreciate what Mike Gibb puts out on

  1. What was the last great book you read? Why was it great?

So truth be told, I am not a huge fan of reading. I have discovered audio books and most recently listened to UnFu*k Yourself: Get Out of Your Head and into Your Life by Gary John Bishop. His information reinforces the book before that I read, which was Mary Shores’ book Conscious Communications. Both books really drove home the point of how your internal dialog affects your success or failure. For someone like me that thinks maybe a bit too much, it reminds me about how those thoughts affect the outcome of my goals.

  1. You worked in the family business during high school, but moved away to other jobs during college. What lessons did you learn from your early years of work that you still put into practice today?

The first lesson that comes to mind was one I learned at Sierra Spring Water. The VP came in every morning and said hi to EVERY employee. He remembered names and things about you, he took a moment each morning to connect with each employee. Although my time there was short it is something that meant a lot to me and something I do every day at our office.

  1. What are you most looking forward to for the rest of 2018?

Each day. Sure I have some great things planned for the rest of the year, like my sister having twins in a few weeks, a family camping trip with my best friend of 35 years, and the CAC conference in October in Monterey (October 8th-9th). But the thing I look forward to as I move through the rest of the year and my life, is each day. I am so very thankful to have a great career, family and friends that each day I am given is a blessing, one that I hope I am lucky enough to keep getting.

Parsons-O’Brien is also participating in the August 22nd installment of the CAC’s annual educational webinar series. The course is focused on call baiting, and will also discuss overcoming stalls and objections.

Learn More about CAC's Call Baiting Webinar
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