3 Easy Steps to Handle Those Long-Winded Collection Calls

| Mary Shores

We’ve all been there.

The consumer you’re speaking to on the phone is a rambler. In other words, they’re telling you a long, drawn-out story that seems to be unending. The clock is ticking by, and you’ve barely gotten a word in yet.

For most of us, our first instinct will be to interrupt them.

I’m going to make a bold statement: Avoid interrupting at all costs.

Let me explain why:

When you interrupt a consumer, the consumer will feel misunderstood, which will usually result in one of two outcomes:

1. The consumer will get angry and hang up

2. The consumer will repeat the entire story

Either way, when this happens, we’re one step farther away from collecting a payment.

So, what’s the solution? How do we handle “rambly” collection calls without triggering the consumer?

My Collection Advantage students ask me for tips to redirect these calls all the time, and I’ve come up with some great ways to get the consumer out of explanation mode and into solution mode.

Here's my 3-step strategy to redirect these calls and come to an agreed-upon outcome with the consumer. Let's begin with step 1...

number one step in collections agencies is to listen

Step #1: Listen!

If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you know I’m a big proponent of listening. In fact, I wrote a whole blog about it last year. You can find it here.

All humans have a universal need to feel heard and understood. If we don’t meet that need on collection calls, consumers will not be able to move on in the call.

Consumers can’t feel heard and understood if we don’t start with listening.

So when a consumer is telling you a long-winded story about why they haven’t paid a debt or how difficult their current situation is, you need to listen!

It’s truly human nature to ramble, so let the consumer finish their story.

The best part is that even though what they’re saying may sound long-winded, you can actually learn from it…which brings us to our next step: Take copious notes.

take copious notes as a collections representative

Step #2: Take copious notes

When the consumer is telling a long story, it’s time to put your listening into action and take notes.

The consumer may tell you several details, and some will be completely irrelevant. Others can actually help you come to a good solution that works for the consumer. Those important details are the ones you can jot down.

Let’s say the consumer is telling you a story about how they recently lost their job.

They tell you the following story:

“I lost my job recently because my company was doing mass layoffs. I’ve been working there for 5 years, so it was really unexpected. I’m applied for unemployment last week, but I’m still worried about how I’m going to pay my bills…”

Let’s pretend like you’re taking notes on this conversation. Which details would be the most important to jot down to reference later?

Here are a few notes you may come up with:

Important Details:

  • The consumer is unemployed

  • The consumer has filed for unemployment

  • The consumer is struggling financially

Do you see how these notes can actually help you come to an agreed-upon solution with the consumer later on? That brings us right to step three: Craft a response that addresses the consumer’s concerns.

Step #3: Craft a response that addresses the consumer's concerns

Step #3: Craft a response that addresses the consumer’s concerns

At this point, the consumer will be done telling their story. Your next few moves are crucial and can determine whether the call moves forward or backward.

The consumer needs to know that you were listening to their story, so make sure to say something to indicate that you were. For instance, you might say, “Thank you for sharing that with me.” Then, it’s time to go into the solution.

Remember the notes you took while the consumer was telling a story? It’s time to put them to use.

Let’s use the same scenario as before. The consumer has just finished telling you about their current employment status. You took notes on their unemployment status, that they already applied for unemployment, and that they’re struggling financially. Now, you can determine the best solution for the consumer based on those 3 factors.

In this case, maybe the best option is to begin negotiating a payment arrangement. Use your intuition here to come up with a relevant solution, and offer it to the consumer.

At this point, you’ve met the consumer’s need to feel heard and understood, so you’ve cut down on the chances of the consumer retelling their story. Instead, they’ll be ready to work with you on the solution you’ve presented. Even if they don’t like your initial solution, you can keep negotiating until you come to a solution that will work for the consumer’s current financial situation and your office’s policies.

Pro tip: During these conversations with long-winded consumers, make sure to show empathy. People typically ramble when they’re anxious or afraid. When we understand the consumer’s experience, we can take away some of their fears and let them know they’re in good hands, which is what these three steps are all about.

Now That You’re an Expert…

Go ahead and try this 3-step strategy on your next long-winded collection call, and watch how transformational a little bit of empathy and active listening can be. You’ll also notice that it transforms your overall attitude toward those “rambling” consumers. Instead of feeling annoyed or frustrated, you’ll feel energized to find a great solution.

Do you want to learn even more transformational collection tips? Book a call with me today to talk about my online training program, The Collection Advantage. And, connect with me on LinkedIn for daily receivables management posts.

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