Navigating Difficult Collections Conversations: Art or Science?

Collections conversations often involve a distraught customer who can’t consistently pay and an agent asking for the past due amount anyway. This blog outlines both the art and science of navigating this landscape.

While navigating a difficult collections conversation isn’t specifically an art or a science, one could argue that it does require a little bit of both disciplines. This blog will highlight some ways that collections operations can enable their agents to become expert navigators of difficult collections conversations.

The Art of Communicating with Empathy: Natural to Some, but It Can Also be Taught

Not everyone has a natural ability to effectively interact with distraught customers. It requires a perfect blend of level-headedness, empathetic communication and job knowledge. Your seasoned collectors may already have these skills, but newer agents are still a blank canvas. Newer agents likely far outnumber the seasoned vets, especially because on average, debt collectors stay in their jobs for 1-2 years.

Building a training program that focuses on empathy will develop your collectors’ ability to listen. Consequently, an increased ability to listen promotes a customer’s feeling of being heard. When a customer feels heard, the likelihood of an escalated or difficult collections interaction significantly decreases.

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Increase the empathy level of your collectors by taking three steps that drive results:

  • Focus on success profiles and behaviors. This ensures that collectors know the required behaviors to drive success in their role.
  • Develop and deploy a consistent call model. This way, collectors follow a consistent call flow with a clear understanding of how to recognize triggers and dig deeper for root cause.
  • Practice and role play with collectors regularly. This promotes desired behaviors to use when speaking to customers.


Documented Customer Journeys Put Collectors in the Customer’s Shoes

There is an art to customer journeys. Though some may dismiss journeys as hypothetical scenarios that do not paint an accurate picture of reality. This can be a true statement if they are generalized. However, if meticulously created to align with actual/known customer behaviors, customer journeys can become a critical component of collector development.

“The more opportunities there are for dissatisfaction, the more opportunities that exist for difficult conversations to occur.”

Viewing a difficult situation from a customer’s perspective is not always top of mind for collectors. Being exposed to difficult scenarios before they happen on a call can be a game changer. Incorporating customer journeys into regular feedback routines acts as reinforcement for collectors. Also, it serves as a mechanism for them to become familiar with unique situations.

We strongly recommend documenting customer journeys. While tangible artifacts are the goal; the process of documenting the journeys may also result in identification of process gaps. These process gaps could contribute to customer dissatisfaction. The more opportunities there are for dissatisfaction, the more opportunities that exist for difficult conversations to occur.


Science: A Robust Hardship Program Ensures No One Is Left Out

The mechanics of a collections call involving a customer hardship can be complex and difficult. The customer will likely be hesitant to divulge details, and to obtain them, the collector must precisely convey the proper balance of empathy and tact. A limited suite of hardship programs to offer the customer automatically puts the collector at a disadvantage; and the call can instantly turn into a difficult conversation.

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A vigorous hardship program includes options for all product types. Options should include varying degrees of short- and long-term solutions and should include some form of a calculated metric in the decision (e.g., debt or expense to income ratio) where applicable.

We recommend having many hardship options in place. But equally important are the decisions to weigh those options to determine which is appropriate. This decision must be objective. A standard set of questions and/or required documentation will prevent any claims of preferential treatment; which could ultimately lead to UDAAP scrutiny. If possible, drive the decision for eligibility and program applicability systematically to eliminate all subjectivity from the decision.


Self-Service and Digital Channels Stop Difficult Collections Conversations Before They Start—Focus on the Science of Exclusionary Criteria

If a call never occurs, then it has no chance of becoming difficult or escalated. Keep customers engaged with available self-service or digital channels. Today more than ever, customers will engage digitally; so make this a high priority if not already established. If given the opportunity, most customers will feel enabled and have a positive reaction to self-service options.

CLIENT SUCCESSAccelerated digital collections implementation

Digital solutions are easy for current customers, but past due customers can be tricky. There are certain scenarios where you want a customer to talk to a collector. Consider your exclusionary criteria from digital and self-service channels carefully. Avoid unjustifiable exclusions that set roadblocks for customers. If engaging via outbound digital channels, target the customer’s preferred contact channel to drive engagement even higher.

Digital or self-service solutions that offer a robust selection of payment options and hardship programs will most likely prevent future difficult conversations from occurring.


Bridgeforce Can Help to Identify the Right Mix of Art and Science for Your Organization

Bridgeforce can help you to position your collectors for success. Whether it be collections operations, technology or learning and development; our industry experts have the experience to identify a number of ways to ease the burden of difficult collections calls. We recognize that not all organizations are the same and that some might prefer different blends of art and science to accomplish goals. Regardless of your organization’s preferences, we can find the balance to make your collectors successful navigators of difficult collections conversations. Contact us to get started today.



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