Seven Tips for Making an Effective Collection Call
Let’s face it, no one gets up in the morning excited about making collection calls, except perhaps me. In my 39 years of bill collecting I have trained over 200 people in the art of collections and let me tell you what I have seen time after time.
Some collectors go through the motions of making the phone call but while it is ringing they pray to God that no one will answer the phone. Sometimes they even hang the phone up when someone answers. You can watch and see a sigh of relief when the heavens smile down on them and they get the beautiful voice mail. You might think only new collectors do this, however, some spend their entire collection career hanging up the phone. If trained bill collectors are afraid to talk to a customer perhaps you might understand why your employees don’t feel comfortable doing it either. It’s downright fear that they won’t know what to say. I’ll give you seven tips on how to make an effective collection call, then at the end, I will reveal the one most important thing that you never, ever say to a debtor.
* Schedule a regular time or day each week to make collection calls - Alternate weeks making your collection calls in the early morning, coffee in hand, after 8:00am and then in late afternoon before 9:00 pm. Watch your time zones based on where the debtor lives. I have an aunt that gets up at 8:00am and calls me at 6:00 am my time, if I was her debtor and she, the collector, I would never pay her a dime!
* Have all account information on hand - The worst thing you can do is get the debtor on the phone and then you begin to fumble for “how much does he owe?” There is not enough antiperspirant in the world to keep you from sweating as you shuffle paper and the longer you shuffle the longer it gives the debtor to come up with a better excuse.
* Leave messages, but do not reveal that the call is about an unpaid bill. People who do not pay their bills are accustom to collection calls because the majority of them sound just alike. They go something like this: “Hello, I am trying to reach Ms. Won’tpay, this is Ms. Donewrong at Brown’s Furniture. I need to talk to you today! My phone number is blah blah blah.” They can spot a collection call a mile away because they all sound the same. If you were avoiding paying a bill would you return that call? To be successful in getting return calls you must throw the debtor a curve. Use first names for both you and the debtor, tell her you just need to chat a moment and most importantly slow down your speech pattern. So, you do it something like this: “Hello, Sonny, this is Cher, can you call me back? Just need to chat for a second.” Which phone call would you return?
*Get the debtor to acknowledge the debt by asking if there was a question about the charge. Normally, they will not say they don’t have a clue what you’re talking about and when they don’t, they have just acknowledged the debt and that they knew about it. Do this BEFORE you ask them to pay the bill!
*Offer to take a credit card over the phone for the debt. We now live in the world of debit cards, almost everyone has one. If they promise to pay you but won’t cough up the numbers, they are simply attempting to get you off the telephone. If you are waiting for a check in the mail, you will grow old and die before that comes in. The debtor may tell you they do not want to give the card information over the phone. You can reason with them that had they paid when they were in the store, they would have given the same information. About 98% of the payments we handle are with a credit/debit card, anything else is just a stall! The exception to this is older people. Bless her heart my mother still sends out several checks each month and even keeps them recorded in a bank book. If an older person tells you they will put a check in the mail, you do stand a chance of receiving it.
*Ask when they will pay - and wait for an answer. Time and time again I have heard trained collectors ask when they will pay and continue to talk until they talk the customer out of paying or at least getting a commitment. Ask for a date they will pay and then shut up! Statistics show that after you ask for the money, whoever speaks first loses. If the customer is the next one to speak he will pay you, if you are the next one to speak he will not. I’ll wait as long as I need to until the customer answers the question, that 15 minutes of silence is golden. Once, while training a collector, she asked the debtor when they would pay and they hung up on her. She held the phone for 20 minutes in hopes of putting the odds on her side. Believe it or not, she was not successful with this technique!
*Let them know you are documenting whatever commitment they make about a payment on their account. Take thorough notes. Something the debtor tells you today might not sound significant, however, later on it may be very helpful information. Once, a debtor told me 5 times in one year that her grandmother had just passed. Either she is using this as an excuse for not paying or we need to call Sam and Dean, burning bones might be necessary!
At the beginning of this blog I promised to reveal the one thing you never ever say to a debtor and if nothing else, I’m a woman of my word. If these five words come from your mouth, you have no business in collections. Do not feel too badly about it because seasoned, well trained bill collectors say them every time they get someone on the phone. They are, “How much can you pay?” Never ask a customer how much they can pay! It is human nature to suggest an amount that does not affect their daily lives. Their answer will always be $10.00 or $20.00 dollars. Instead of thinking to themselves, “If I skip those 3 cups of coffee at LuckyStars every week, I could pay $150.00 per month.” Instead, they think, “If I give them the change left after my 3 cups at LuckyStars every week I can pay them $10.00 per month.” They are drinking LuckyStars while you are drinking yesterday’s coffee. You first ask for payment in full, remember you can negotiate down but can never negotiate up. Control the conversation and you decide what payment you will accept. They may have to get out of line at LuckyStars but so be it!