Debt Collection Got You Feeling Stressed? Read This!

| Mary Shores

When I first got the idea to create The Collection Advantage online training program, one of the driving forces that inspired me to execute my vision was the constant stress my team and I were experiencing each day on the collection floor. I often tell a story about how one day in 2005, I just looked at the phone and said, “I just want the next person to be happier at the end of the call than they were at the beginning.” From that moment forward, creating happiness and connection became my new North Star.

A year later, I was served lawsuit papers, and the stress and anxiety I felt almost broke me. I had many sleepless nights dreading this day. I knew one slip-up, one infraction of the rules, or one upset consumer could lead to this. By that point, my team had taken baby steps toward increased connection with consumers. The moment I received these papers, I knew we still had a long way to go.

Constant stress takes a major toll on the body, and back in 2006 when I was dealing with a stressful lawsuit and personal issues, I could definitely feel the weight of the stress I was constantly carrying.

Let me put this into perspective. The American Psychological Association says chronic stress can create muscle pain, shortness of breath, and elevated heart rate.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg because the mental toll of stress can be just as debilitating. According to CAMH, prolonged stress can increase the risk of mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression.

My point here isn’t to give you a health lesson; I just really want to drive the idea home that the constant stress we experience in the industry can be overwhelming, and if you’re experiencing it right now, you’re not alone. I’m excited to tell you there’s a better way to communicate that will cut down on the stress significantly, and I spent 15 years figuring it out so you don’t have to!

Are you ready to cut down on the constant stress too? Are you ready to ease tension on even the most difficult collection calls? Are you ready to reduce consumer complaints?

Then let’s dive in because I have some amazing tips from years of trial and error that I am excited to share with you.


Ditch Negative Language

When I first started my agency's communication transformation in 2005, the first thing I did was eliminate negative language on the collection floor.

I created a list of negative words and told my collectors to never say them.

Why did I do this? Well, one of our first reactions to a difficult call is to mirror the consumer’s tone and verbiage.

We’ve all done it. We’re frustrated, and our first instinct is to resort to negative language. Whether we’re talking poorly about a consumer after a particularly negative call or we’re giving a consumer a laundry list of things we can’t do for them, negative words can pack a punch.

In a 2010 issue of Pain, an article outlines exactly how negative language can affect us. Spoiler alert: the effects are pretty devastating. In fact, negative words create stress and anxiety. This means if you’re speaking negatively about or to a consumer, both you and the consumer will be affected. Conflict will arise, and tension will skyrocket. At that point, the call is likely going nowhere.

I teach all of my Collection Advantage students to avoid using negative language—specifically negative water cooler talk and, more importantly, telling the consumer what you can’t do. And each time this comes up in my training, I get the same question:

“But Mary, what if there’s nothing positive to say to the consumer?”

Here’s the truth: there is always something positive to say to the consumer. The problem is that when we aren’t thinking in terms of solutions, our problem-solving skills fall to the wayside, and we struggle to ditch the negativity. It's like we're tunnel-visioned on the roadblocks instead of actually helping the consumer. As a result, we end up telling the consumer something like this:

“No, I’m sorry, I can’t do that.”

Do you see all of that negative language clogging the conversation? That negative language isn’t only frustrating to the consumer; it’s also stress-inducing for you because negative words create conflict.

This week, try to avoid saying words like "no" and "can't" to consumers and pay attention to how it affects your stress levels. My agency has done it, and the changes have been phenomenal.

I haven’t told you the best part yet…

When we eliminated negative language at my agency, our revenue rose 34% in the first year alone.


Focus on Solutions

Ok, you’ve ditched negative language…

“Then what do I say instead?”

That was the question my collectors asked me when we first eliminated negative language. To be completely honest, I wasn’t sure how to answer that question.

Think about it: you can’t just tell someone to stop using negative words. After all, responding with negative language in a stressful situation is often human nature. The solution is to determine what to say instead, and to do that, you have to engage your critical thinking and focus on solutions.

Think about the top 10 challenges that come up on your collection calls. For example, here are some of the top challenges my Collection Advantage students have shared with me:

  • The consumer says insurance should have covered their bill.

  • The consumer says they can’t pay because they just lost their job.

  • The consumer is on a fixed income.

Once you have your top 10 challenges written down, it’s time to do some brainstorming.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  1. What is the problem?

  2. What is my agency’s policy?

  3. What solutions can I offer the consumer?

Once you’ve answered these questions, congratulations! You’ve come up with a solution to present to consumers! Try out the solution the next time the pain point comes up. You’ll be surprised how often you can stay in control of calls, connect with consumers, and collect payment just by using critical thinking and offering manageable solutions.

The Collection Advantage online training program includes a much more detailed version of this exercise. Since my team and my students’ teams have started to apply this exercise at their agencies, they’ve felt the stressful phone calls melt away. I’ve even had supervisors tell me that escalated calls have reduced significantly, which allows them to focus more on other important tasks, including their own professional development. It’s a win for the agency, a win for your stress levels, and a win for the consumer!


I’d Love to Teach You More!

I wholeheartedly believe we’re entering an era in our industry where training on soft skills like communication, emotional intelligence, critical thinking, and negotiation will be a must. I would love to introduce your team to The Collection Advantage to give your team a jump start on filling up their toolboxes with these skills.

If you’re ready for a collections makeover, let’s chat. Book a call with me today to discuss your current training needs.

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