Can We Teach Collectors Empathy?

| Mary Shores

I was recently a panelist on a webinar hosted by Mike Gibb of to discuss how to teach collectors to be empathetic.

One particular question that Mike asked the panel really stood out to me:

“Can empathy be taught, or is it something people are either born with or not born with?”

This question has been increasingly common lately, especially in the new normal brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. Everyone is trying to navigate the growing need for empathy in the world, so it's natural to wonder if we can teach our collectors to be empathetic.

I've been researching empathy for years, and I’m here to tell you that social scientists now know that humans are wired for empathy. This means that everyone has the ability to experience empathy as long as they have the right tools. The reason it’s not always easy for people to show empathy is because we often unlearn our empathetic tendencies in early childhood. The good news is, just because someone has unlearned empathy doesn’t mean they can’t relearn it.

If everyone is wired for empathy, how can we teach it in our debt collection agent training?

I want to give you a few quick tips to start an empathy education journey at your agency so your collectors will become empathy experts in no time.

Let’s start with the initial key to unlocking empathy: Awareness and perspective-taking.

unlock awareness and perspective talking

Unlock Awareness and Perspective-Taking

If you want to start promoting empathy in your agents skill set, focusing on awareness and perspective-taking is essential. Let me give you an example.

Let's say the consumer is frustrated on the phone, and they're telling the collector all of the reasons they can't pay. Maybe they just lost their job and they're struggling to pay rent this month. The collector has two main choices: To match the consumer's frustrated tone or listen to the consumer's concerns and take them into consideration to find a solution that will work for both parties.

The empathetic option is to listen to the consumer to find the best possible solution. This isn't always easy to do, especially if your collectors are used to using an old-school approach. So, this is where awareness and perspective-taking come into play.

In a collection space, I typically refer to this perspective-taking as understanding the consumer experience. After all, when we can truly comprehend what the consumer is going through, it’s that much easier to relate to them and offer appropriate solutions.

Pro Tip: One thing I want you to remember is that connection is currency. When we teach empathy in debt collection training classes and show that empathy toward the consumer, we can create deeper connections with them. This will help them see us as an ally who has their best interests in mind. When the consumer sees us as an ally, they're more likely to be receptive to a solution.

Something I’ve noticed in my time training collectors is that once they see how effective perspective-taking can be, they naturally start to use it more. When something works, it’s motivating for collectors and helps them continue to use the new method. It really is a win-win for both the collector and the consumers.

Now let's talk about how to start teaching these concepts in an effective, replicable way. After all, if we invest in training, we want to see results. My suggestion is to embrace a microlearning approach on your collection floor when implementing empathy training in debt collection.

embrace microlearning on the collection floor

Embrace Microlearning on the Collection Floor

Have you ever taken a 60-minute course online and afterward, you felt like you barely retained any of the information?

If so, you’re not alone.

In recent years, experts have found that the key to helping people retain new information is through microlearning.

Microlearning is exactly what it sounds like: You learn a “micro” amount of information slowly over time instead of a large amount of information in one sitting. And, each new bit of information builds on the previous information, which means the learners have a solid foundation behind everything they learn.

My online training program, The Collection Advantage, uses this method to teach collectors how to increase their empathy, decrease complaints, and increase revenue. My content is divided into several short-form videos, and a collector never spends more than 30 minutes a day learning something new.

The end result is that collectors will know more about empathy after learning about it for several weeks than they would if they attended a 60-minute training session.

Truly implementing empathy at your agency will take more than just microlearning. The transformations will really begin when you have the leadership team highly motivated as well.

encourage leadership

Encourage Leadership Buy-In

If you want your empathy training to be as successful as possible at your agency, buy-in from the leadership team is crucial. The truth is, your team needs to trust in any program you invest in, and they won’t trust it if the leadership team shows hesitation.

One of the best ways to get buy-in from your leadership team is to make sure you’re being upfront with your brand promises and company values. When your leadership team is familiar with your brand promises and values, they’ll be more comfortable adopting new training and techniques into their everyday work, especially when the brand promises and values align well with the empathy training.

Something I always say is that raving fans on the inside create raving fans on the outside. This means that you can see amazing transformations at your agency when you support your leadership team and make sure they're proud of the work they do. What better way to do just that than to make sure you're always representing your brand values?

When the collectors see the enthusiasm from the leaders, it’s encouraging for them as well, and they can also develop buy-in.

Remember: Positivity on the collection floor will make or break empathy training. It’s extremely important to keep a positive and encouraging atmosphere to make sure your empathy training is as successful as possible.

watch empathy grow within your collections agency

Watch the Empathy Grow

I wholeheartedly believe that every collection agency can use empathy training to transform their collection floor. I've seen the fantastic benefits firsthand, and I know that if your agency has everything you need to be successful, you’ll notice the changes within a matter of weeks.

The truth is, we can teach collectors to be empathetic, and I'm excited to see our industry transform as we continue to invest in our teams. I believe we're heading toward an empathy revolution, and we're going to watch the industry's empathy grow and flourish over the next few years.

These quick tips can help you get started on your empathy training journey at your agency, and I’d love to help you even more. If you’re interested in my online training program, book a call with me today so we can start the empathy revolution at your agency.

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