In the last 6 months of 2020 during the most trying time in the world, we at Simon's Agency, Inc. have found that we could work, hire, and train remotely. We have always prided ourselves in promoting the "Simon's Way" of debt collection throughout the industry by using empathy and emotional intelligence in working with our clients' patients and customers.
Our team approached this with little idea as to how we were going to continue to grow the collectors we had just hired with no experience in debt collection remotely. But, where there is a will, there is a way, and we found it. We have also found that our team has adapted to this change and discovered new ways to communicate as if we were still in the office. Clearly, none of us at Simon's knew when we left the building on March 20, where we would be in 90 to 180 days. We would never have imagined that we could hire seasoned collectors strictly out of our area, to train in the "Simon's Way" and to do so remotely no less. So we expanded our search radius. Working virtually allowed us to consider applicants from other areas of the country like never before. We revamped our training program and our method of teaching to be more interactive and engaging as if they were in the same building sitting right next to their instructors.
Recruiting in the industry is difficult, and we thought it would be difficult to interview candidates virtually. We usually have applicants come to the office and did not know how this was going to work. What we discovered by virtual interviews is that the applicant in their own environment is more relaxed. So, as interviewers, we found that we got to see the "real" person and that they were much more open and honest to our questions.
We can see the qualities that we are looking to have in our collections team. The key quality remains the same as always, the candidate can communicate very well verbally, and they have an even-keeled demeanor. They do not frustrate or panic quickly, but on the same token, they do not buy into everything that anyone says either. They have a basic "meter" that forms a solid foundation for the fine-tuning they learn during this process. In the same way, we want people whose first instinct is to help someone, not demand of them or otherwise initiate a negative tone. This "meter" and this instinct are very hard to teach, but when someone has them naturally or has developed them over time through positive interactions, it becomes a crucial starting point for our collections strategy.
After a thorough overview of our system, policies, expectations, and compliance manual with a facilitator who has been in their shoes, our trainees sit side-by-side virtually with a veteran Lead Collector or Collections Manager. This mentor can begin the process of introducing them to calm, yet effective methods of steering conversations through positive negotiations that result in payment agreements or short-term arrangements. Our methodology is still the same, but with more empathy, compassion, and understanding of what the 2020 enigma has brought to the individuals we are speaking to daily.
As each new employee brings a different level of skills and temperament to the company, this side-by-side process may take days, or it may take weeks. From the beginning, we remain open to questions and feedback as well as allowing the trainee ample time to "test the waters" and learn from actual experience. There is no set time frame for this. If we see promise in someone, we will continue to work with them for as long as it takes to put them in a position to be successful. Our hands-on approach and continual monitoring only work to reinforce this practice.
We have found that our candidates respond well to this updated strategy and can do so from locations all around the United States. The world has grown much smaller than the protracting size we all remember from a few short months ago. The pace of this has increased exponentially, and so our response must mirror this change. By remaining open-minded and diligent in teaching the "Simon’s Way,” we have discovered a better way to do this in an ever-changing environment.
Related Article from the Archives: "We Don’t Hire Debt Collectors. We Create Them."
Top 5 Qualities You Should Look for in a Debt Collector:
- Oral communications experience – Be it sales, customer service, translation specialist, hostage negotiator – excellent verbal communication is the very foundation on which a successful collector is built.
- Literacy – this may sound a little obvious, but how well someone communicates in writing usually translates to how well they communicate verbally. Plus, with collections some written communication is necessary and as with any job, reading comprehension is very important.
- Diversity – America is truly the melting pot of the world and as such we have consumers and patients from all walks of life who communicate in a variety of ways. Having a diverse, multi-lingual team means that Simon’s can communicate with all of them. So, having a unique background in relation to the rest of the current call-center staff can be a great advantage.
- Thick skin – Collection agents need to be prepared to be yelled at, called names, be racially discriminated against, verbally bullied, personally threatened and more! Sounds like fun, doesn’t it? It’s not, and some people, fairly enough, are just not cut out for it. It takes a special kind of person to be able to compartmentalize this abuse and keep a pleasant tone and demeanor before, during and after these kinds of experiences. Because a consumer can say literally anything they want to a collector, but a collector is legally prohibited from returning fire. It’s not fair, but it’s very much true. This may be the most important quality of a great debt collector.
- A willingness to learn – This job is all about learning and adapting to change. No one walks into the collections world knowing everything and no one walks out knowing everything. There is one very specific reason for this – it all changes. Whether it’s laws, regulations, technology or the way in which different generations wish to communicate – it changes; and a solid collector must be willing to learn and adapt at every step along the way.
Related Article from the Archives: "We're Not a Typical Call Center , We're a Finely Tuned Operation"