Over the last decade as Simon’s Agency has grown into a highly successful collection agency, we have prided ourselves on how often we hire first-time collectors as opposed to “seasoned,” lifelong debt collectors. While we have certainly required collection experience for our managers and supervisors, our Level 1 and Level 2 agents have more often than not come to us with little to no collection experience and there is a very important reason for this.
First and foremost, it is much harder to break bad habits of longtime collectors than it is to teach the Simon’s way of performing this service to people who are starting with a blank slate. Secondly, in this day and age, there is very much a right way to do this job and every other way which falls into a negative bucket. Our philosophy from the very beginning has been treating consumers and patients with the dignity and respect that they deserve as human beings. Our team is not here to judge anyone or to demand compliance. Instead we are here to help these people who are the very customers and patients that our clients serve every day. Surely our clients expect us to collect their outstanding receivables, but they do not expect us to leave a sour taste in their customers’ mouths, or in the extreme case, lose these patients forever.
As an agency that concentrates on healthcare collections, this is doubly important and why, from the very beginning, we have ascribed to the doctor's code of having good bedside manners with our debtors. Not only have we utilized this philosophy, but we have found that it works very well, especially with the number of repeat patients we work with. A little kindness can go a long way, even in the business of debt collection.
So, who makes a good candidate for collections? The first resume piece we look for is customer service experience and there are many examples of this. Receptionist, appointment booker, sales agent, customer service representative – shoot, even a hostage negotiator if I’m allowed to dream a little bit! The key quality is that they can communicate very well verbally and they have an even-keeled demeanor. They don’t frustrate or panic quickly, but on the same token, they don’t buy into everything that anyone says either. We want people whose first instinct is to help someone, not demand of them or otherwise initiate a negative tone. This instinct is very hard to teach, but when someone has it naturally or has developed it over time through positive interactions it becomes a crucial starting point for our collections strategy. Therefore, previous experience that has put the applicant in front of people in any form is a great starting point.
And with this “raw material” we start the process of “creating a collector”. 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 with a veteran Collection Manager who 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. Experience with negotiations can be helpful, but this is also a skill that we teach in very specific terms that ascribe to our overall methodology.
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 months. 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.
Some of the effective training methods our managers utilize rely on innovative tools they have access to such as call monitoring and call assisting. They will listen in on a live call as it unfolds and provide appropriate responses to the questions or issues being raised that only the trainee can hear. When the collector repeats these responses, and experiences their first successful call… well, it’s an amazing thing to see in their eyes – the realization and belief that they will be an effective collections agent! We live for that moment for each and every person we train.
Related Article: "Negotiating with a Debtor Part 1: Using Standard Criteria"
But training doesn’t just stop with the first successful payment or arrangement. Over the ensuing months, many situations can (and will) arise which leave the new employee with questions regarding procedures, legalities, follow-up techniques, and more. By now they have been assigned a collections mentor, who is an experienced colleague and role model, who will provide the on-the-spot guidance this new collector needs to continue their successful development.
Next, the “real work” begins. The novice collector joins our Level 1 incoming calls team and receives daily monitoring and feedback as to their progress. As the Collections Manager works with this individual over time, they are able to note any improvements that will indicate a readiness to learn more about handling disputes and larger balances and matriculate to a Level 2 Collector – or, in the case of a lack of improvement, to provide additional training and further guidance that will enable this new collector to continue to progress in their job at an appropriate pace. Additional training might include listening to examples of good calls versus bad calls; or it might be a discussion on effective words and phrases or a review of regulations, compliance and technique.
The point is, we don’t just throw a body in a chair and hope against hope that a professional collector will grow. And it should be noted that this process continues for everyone for as long as they work for Simon’s Agency. We are always looking for ways to help improve even our most veteran employees’ techniques and ability to do their respective jobs. In an ever-changing collections environment this may be one of the most crucial pieces of our training… it never really ends!
Our average collector has been with the company 3 or more years. They matriculated through our process and they make us proud every single day by exhibiting the core values of the company – a good bedside manner with lots of TLC for every caller and the ability to utilize that goodwill through negotiations that yield payments and arrangements that are acceptable to everyone involved.
In a world growing increasingly reliant on advanced technology, this methodology for including the human element in our strategy has proven to deliver a much higher level of success over the years. Even with the best automated systems and technology, a human touch is often the difference maker in a very competitive industry. Keeping all of this in mind, this is why we don’t hire 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.
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